Codes: James Kirk/Spock, Nyota Uhura, Leonard McCoy
Summary: Starfleet hasn't forgiven him for how he became captain.
Author Notes: This was written for the KisCon 2011 zine. It also has the unique distinction of being the only fic I have ever written while in full writer's block and that is a hell I never want to experience again. Until today, I hadn't actually re-read it after I submitted it, so I was pleasantly surprised today reading it.
Archive: Archive of Our Own
"I hate Babel," Jim says without reference to context, stretched out on his ready room sofa with an expression that might have fit the New Federation Standard dictionary entry for 'sulking'. "I have to be nice to diplomats. I have to dress up. I have to give a shit about politics. Do I look like I care about politics? Do I look like I even know what they're talking about?"
"No," Spock admitted after a moment of contemplation; the neck of his uniform is unbuttoned and he'd deliberately refused to permit Yeoman Rand to polish his boots. While fresh from a truncated but surprisingly busy leave on Risa, the details have already entered public discourse in a way that can no longer be simply considered 'gossip', even though Spock can consider it nothing else. Celebrity and Starfleet commissions were never meant to mix when the subject was captain of a starship and a decade younger than the mean age of those of his peers that had achieved the rank.
Of course, that would assume that James Kirk had peers; his age was also a story of how he could count himself as among the elite but not one of them. The history other officers built with classmates who shared the duties and drudgeries of being an officer before a captain is not one that he can ever share. He has no peers, in the strictest sense; seventy-two percent of them had died with Vulcan, and the children currently filling Starfleet Academy have as little in common with him and his remaining classmates as he does with the older officers who never look at him but to find fault.
He remembers Pike's murmur, laced with regret: He's so young, Spock. Too young. Spock had understood what Admiral Pike had meant then, finding it even more true now than it had been then; the human body Jim wears hasn't yet reached thirty, but the mind within has far outstripped it. It makes Spock sometimes wish that the gossip of Jim's activities on Risa reaching promiscuity most often found in felines--or so the wires suggest, at length--was true in more than simple fact. A young captain is forgiven a thousand peccadillos and habits, and this one, the man who defeated Nero, would be forgiven far more. There can be no surprise in young Jim Kirk acting his age; that, Spock thinks, is the entire problem.
Jim snaps a hand out, finger pointed in Spock's general direction. "Give the boy a prize. God. And McCoy says he won't fake an embarrassing social disease in my file either, not after all the work he did to make sure I didn't have any." Jim glances at him, waiting for disapproval; Spock offers it on command. "You and Uhura are presenting on sound waves, right?"
Spock tilts his head thoughtfully; he supposes mentioning that he is aware of who had accessed their paper since they'd posted the draft to the ship's public boards would be 'cheating'. "The fact that the Devit evolved to use subspace as their primary form of communication is unprecedented," he says to a man who Nyota permits, on occasion, to review her work. "The Academy's xenolinguistic department has been rather insistent that we share our initial findings."
("The benefits of sexual competition in academia," Nyota had said thoughtfully. "It wasn't like Jim was going to stop hitting on me, so why should the physics department get exclusive domain? Xenolinguistics needs genius as much as engineering does. And you wouldn't believe who I had to get to peer review before I got him up to snuff.")
Jim's eyes flicker; his mastery of sarcasm has never been in question no matter the language, and Spock does not think it betrays the beliefs of his people to assure Jim was aware of its manifestation in the Vulcan language. "Sounds boring," he says, closing his eyes. "Tell me when we get there. I have a thing and then another thing--"
"And I understand you've been invited to lecture on situational tactics in combat situations," Spock adds with a careful lack of expression. "I admit I look forward to it."
That gets Jim's undivided attention. The blue eyes flicker open. "It's at eight in the morning. On the last day of the conference."
Spock looks his acceptance that Jim understands how to utilize a schedule.
Jim rolls his eyes, sitting up in a single fluid motion. "You're welcome to show up, but trust me when I say, I’m pretty sure my hangover is going to keep me in bed for the remainder of the day. Possibly two, and with any kind of luck, no memory of anything I did but maybe a commemorative tattoo." Jim ponders. "Maybe I should work up a design now?"
"You could avoid overindulgence."
Jim grins, leaning an elbow on the arm of the couch. "Now Spock, why would I want to do that?"
The Babel Conference began its existence as a diplomatic exchange by United Earth that grew into something both more and less; diplomacy may be still considered its most important purpose, but its position as a neutral territory for the various members of both Federation and Unallied worlds had expanded its influence in academic circles, both within Starfleet and within the various universities and educational institutions that made up the explored quadrant. Even rare Klingon emissaries were known to bring along their Thought Masters in the rare time between armed neutrality and armistice, because politics may be the province of governments, but academia bows to no one.
Spock and Lieutenant Uhura accompany Jim and Dr. McCoy to the welcoming reception; Jim's relationship with the formalities and courtesies of Starfleet officers is strict in letter and calculating in spirit. Tradition has long restricted the reception to Captains and all ranks above, men and women who stand alone in space and command Starfleet's outposts and ships; the only guests were spouses who share the burdens of marriage to the Starfleet's elite in tightly knit clusters that scatter the room. This is where the loneliness of command is discussed in singular, because the accomplishments of a ship belong to the Captain alone.
Jim brings his three highest officers and Spock wonders if Jim would ever admit the implicit message that his crew has long understood. Jim is the most famous captain in Starfleet history and has proved in three years that his place is in the Captain's chair; what he tells them when he introduces his officers is that what he has accomplished belongs to his crew. What he doesn't say is what they do not wish to hear: a captain's success is the success of his ship, and no Federation captain stands alone.
Jim thinks they indulge him in flouting tradition; Spock has yet to inform Jim they understand the compliment and the honor that Jim would be horrified to admit. He can't deny, however, that he does look forward to Jim's expression when he tells him; he has promised Lieutenant Uhura and Dr. McCoy they may be present to see it as well.
"Eight o'clock in the morning on the last day of the conference. And here I thought we weren't students in the Academy jockeying for position," Nyota says acidly when he invites her to share his evening meal after the formalities have been observed and they return to the ship before the morning's open ceremonies. The end of their physical relationship has changed very little between them but where they spent their nights. "It would probably help," she adds, with the faintest trace of malicious pleasure, "if he'd stop being good at his job and rubbing their faces in it. One good failure and Starfleet would be happy. They really thought he'd coast on Nero and prove Pike wrong."
"We were scheduled for the hour before the midday meal," Spock says, not needing to glance at the schedule on the datapad in Nyota's hand. "Lieutenant Commander Scott has been assigned to present his transporter theory against the ambassador's reception."
"It's almost like they want to make it clear that the Enterprise crew don't have much worth talking about, isn't it?" Picking up her fork, she stabs a vegetable with unnecessary force. "Not that I'd accuse the Babel committee of being dicks--"
Spock raises an eyebrow; not for the first time, he recognizes the applicability of psychological theory when it relates to sons and their methods in choosing their partners based on familial familiarity.
"--but this is getting ridiculous." Tossing down her fork, she frowned at the datapadd. "He's going to skip it and piss them off instead of letting them finally get a semi-public and completely aboveboard way to go after him. He should have been a diplomat; we'd either be in the middle of a galaxy-wide revolution or a new Pax Romana by now." She frowns. "I don't blame him, don't get me wrong--"
Nyota sighs, leaning an elbow on the table. "Pike's recruitment for the Academy has been controversial; he's been pulling hard from the colonies and the newer Federation member planets and less from the traditional sources for Starfleet officers on Earth and on the founding member planets. The Academy is protesting they have to lower the educational standard--"
"Most of not all of the recruits have easily surpassed the traditional Academy students by their second year--"
"Education in this case isn't about academics." Nyota reaches for the bread absently, splitting it between her fingers before absently beginning to shred the interior. "It's an open secret Jim didn't complete his secondary education and the Academy didn't even bother asking for transcripts when he presented his application. He's had a place there since the day he was born."
"Captain Kirk completed coursework in command with an academic emphasis on linguistics and applied physics in ship engineering in three years."
"And now you know how Jim Kirk reacts to being told it's okay if he's stupid, they'll give him a ship anyway. You know, when they're ready." Nyota's smile fades. "They think Jim's fucking with them when he attributes everything to his crew; they also think it's true. They have to, they have to think that he's not any different than any other Starfleet legacy coasting on his family name, no matter how smart he is. This," she picks up the datapadd, "is supposed to be a message. To his crew."
Spock lets out a breath; despite being the son of a diplomat, familiar with all the machinations of politics in both the abstract and concrete, he'd still chosen not to see. "I had wondered--"
"He knows it, too." Putting the datapadd back on the table, Nyota looks away. "Are you still considering Captain Voltain's offer? Not every day you're guaranteed a captaincy in three years on the Laurentian Fleet's flagship." Her eyes flicker up, mouth curving in a rueful smile. "Communications is twice the size of the Enterprise. So maybe I toured it when I was on leave. I liked the ship. And the increase in rank isn't anything to sneeze at."
"True." Spock folds his hands on the table. "I sent my response when we received our orders. Jim was rather insistent; apparently, he felt his efforts at a recommendation letter should be rewarded."
Nyota wrinkles her nose. "Same. He pointed out he'd spellchecked it and everything." Picking up her glass, she raises it in playful salute. "To Jim Kirk, who believes 'letting go' and 'kicking people off his ship' are the same thing."
Spock picks up his glass. "Indeed."
To no one's surprise, Jim shows up at their presentation with the general impression that it was the first room with an available chair, of which there are unsurprisingly many. Subspace lingual theory is an extremely narrow field, and few have either the interest or the ability to follow Lieutenant Uhura's leaps in linguistic theory; fewer still see the value of being seen attending the lecture at a conference where as much importance is placed on what you choose to attend as the actual content of the lectures. Those with the academic background and interest, however, care very little for politics, and Spock is anticipating further correspondence with several of them after the conference is over.
Jim, being Jim, had skipped out on two high-profile roundtable discussions led by newly promoted Admiral Nogura and Commodore Wilson, entertaining himself with telling highly embellished anecdotes about the Enterprise's most recent missions, most of which seem to involve an unusually attractive native who wished to acquaint him with their local customs and occasionally, a ceremony declaring Jim an omnipotent deity.
Jim's performance of a thoughtless, reckless captain would be more effective if Spock wasn't aware of the datapadd that Jim thinks is better concealed than it is, or that Jim wasn't surreptitiously taking notes with the assumption that the chair in front of him hid his actions.
("Just watch," Nyota says gleefully during the fifteen minute period of refreshment before they begin the second half the lecture and Jim mentions his need for a drink. "He'll sulk until I send him my notes. He was always weak in tonals, you know; drove him nuts.")
Dr. McCoy accompanies Jim back to the room for the second half of the lecture, the emergency medicine presentation being somewhat less informative than he had hoped. With them were several Unaffiliated planet representatives who had apparently escaped a reception the Federation had organized for them with inadequate refreshments that Jim had helpfully provided before mentioning that a new theory on biological processing of subspace wave frequencies was currently in progress.
The Federation did not have have an unblemished record in sharing technological advances with Unaffiliated Worlds for various reasons both practical and philosophical; exchanges such as the Babel conference were one of the few methods by which non-Federation members were able to gain access to the academic theory if not the technology itself.
Jim, smug in the accomplishment of persuading thirty Unaffiliated delegates to leave what he'll term as "the most boring reception in history; even Pike was falling asleep!", returns to tapping something on his datapadd with a look of incipient boredom. Spock already knows it will appear on his console with a "Admit it, you made up 'variations in multi-tonal subspace frequencies' just to fuck with people," and from the look on Nyota's face before she begins the second part of their lecture, she's resigned herself to the same with the implication that knowledge is best shared in inadequate lighting with a musical accompaniment.
("One day, I'm going to say yes just to see the panic," she tells Spock with gleeful malice. "Totally worth it.")
Jim and Dr. McCoy leave just Nyota begins accepting questions, doubtless to prepare for the evening banquet with the assistance of synthehol; when they meet in the transporter room before the banquet, however, Jim's good mood is neither a simulacrum or the result of McCoy's predilection for mint juleps.
"Pike wanted to see the ship since the last refit," is all Jim says, but Spock thinks of Pike in the reception watching Jim charm the representatives of planets who have few reasons to think kindly of Starfleet and many to distrust the captains who were often their first introduction to the Federation, and remembers how many of the ones that at the lecture were from planets the Enterprise had discovered and more importantly, how many were not.
"Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov do not plan to attend?" Spock asks.
"Officer's dinner starts later," Jim says with more than a trace of envy. "I heard stories about those dinners. By dinner, I mean--"
"I know," Nyota says with a laugh as the transporter chief starts the last power refresh cycle in preparation for transport. "Remember when Gaila was invited after she worked out those new algorithms for extended message transmissions in hostile space our third year? Not that she would tell us where she was, but--"
"Yeah," Jim says wistfully. "She still doesn't remember how she got that tattoo." Shaking himself, Jim gives them all a frown. "You can still get out of it. God, I wish I could get out of it." Jim gives Dr. McCoy a narrow look. "But no, I'm perfectly. Healthy."
"And I told you," Dr. McCoy says serenely, "syphilis is extinct."
"When advances in medicine lead to me having to give a lecture at eight in the morning, I'm not seeing the benefit to humanity," Jim complains as the transporter hums. Nyota glances at Dr. McCoy and nods at Spock before following Jim to the transporter pad. Spock positions himself behind Dr. McCoy as the transporter comes online.
They materialize just outside the entry to the complex network of buildings that make up Babel's famous conference and academic center. From outside, the sheer immensity of Babel is invisible; a large but unassuming building that hosts the city's musical and theatrical performances.
"We named it Babel," Jim says softly. "Back then, United Earth had a sense of humor about itself. We'd finally figured out that homogeneity isn't an actual goal to be admired; we achieved union because we'd finally accepted being one people didn't mean we all had to be the same people. We were a people and also a thousand peoples, with a single language and a thousand languages, with the same goals and a million different ones. The Federation was negotiated in San Francisco, but it started here, where we learned that the word 'people' wasn't the exclusive venue of the human race."
"To get here, every planet in the Federation and Unaffiliated space has to petition the Council for admittance and passage on one of only sixteen ships with Federation clearance to even know Babel exists, much less know where it is or how to get there. They have to pass three separate Federation security screens and each delegate's life history is examined in excruciatingly boring detail. And that's just to get you on the ship; permission to step foot on the planet's surface is a whole other circus.
"The Enterprise was the sixteenth ship given the coordinates for Babel and the codes to get through the security network. It's been thirty years since the last time the Federation commissioned a new ship for Babel duty; no one in the Fleet except the captains of those ships knows who has Babel clearance. Remember our first yearly review and they locked us down? One week, seven days, eight hours a day, they drilled us on every goddamn thing we'd done the entire year, no communication and a lot of seriously humorless security watching every minute. I couldn't even remember half of it, but I still had to defend it." Jim shrugs. "I was pretty sure they were getting ready for a court martial or something and it would have been nice to remember what I did to get one before it started, you know?"
Spock nods, though Jim never looks away from the pitted exterior of the building that was built when the Earth's most powerful empire had just emerged from the remains of Republican Rome.
"The last day, I was called into a room filled with admirals and they told me my ship had been cleared for Babel duty. It's the most open secret in the Federation; the conference that decides admission to the Federation, that negotiates treaties with Unallied planets and Empires, where we share new technology and new ideas because we don't need to be a single people to be people. Sixteen ships in the entire Federation are responsible for the future of the galaxy. And the Enterprise is one of them."
McCoy's mouth quirks. "You keep this up, someone's going to figure out you like being a captain for more than the free drinks."
"I do like that part a lot," Jim says thoughtfully. "Which clashes with consciousness at eight am, but we do what we have to, right?" Shaking himself, Jim straightens, glancing at Nyota in surprise when she takes his arm with a grave formality that doesn't match her grin. "You realize this is just encouragement, right?"
Nyota murmurs a response that makes Jim flush and laugh; as they walk toward the security waiting for them and possibly speculating on why they're lingering in the middle of a deserted city square, McCoy falls into step beside him, letting their pace slow enough for Nyota and Jim to be out of hearing distance. "I don't know what changed his mind, but it wasn't Pike. He was frustrated, but mostly with conference for indulging in petty politics to appease a few Starfleet officers indulging in a fit of spite."
"Thing is," Dr. McCoy says slowly, "you know how he gets when he thinks he's being left out. Like, everything in the goddamn world is a test on whether he really deserves that chair. Can't blame him; Starfleet doesn't mind reminding him exactly how he got it."
Spock stops short. "He will host a lecture that he's well aware will be a forum to draw attention to what Starfleet deems his mistakes during our missions because he considers it a requirement of an officer?"
"It only sounds crazy until you remember this is Jim we're talking about. You haven't heard Scotty's attempts at public speaking, have you? It's a nightmare," Dr. McCoy adds with a shudder. The Q&A? I've seen battles that ended with fewer casualties."
"I do not see how Lieutenant Commander's deficiencies as a public speaker--"
Dr. McCoy grins. "I'll let you ponder the illogical mess that we know as Jim Kirk while I get something to drink. Come on, the Enterprise crew has a reputation to uphold."
Admiral Nogura's promotion was recent enough that even Jim was aware he couldn't avoid direct interaction and with Nyota in attendance offered his congratulations with all the charm that he was famous for both in utilization and more often, in its deliberate absence. Telling Jim that his constant state of armed neutrality with Starfleet's highest officers was only exacerbating the situation had only taught Jim to practice subtlety.
Jim Kirk's attempts at subtlety were not an improvement by any definition of the word. Watching Nogura's slow smile at a remark of Nyota's should not be enough for Dr. McCoy to relax into his seat by the buffet so abruptly he seemed to have lost bone density, but Spock realizes his own breathing has evened and not for the first time, considers the possibility that his time on the Enterprise has eroded his discipline unacceptably.
"The thing is," Dr. McCoy says, having finished his glass in a single long drink, "it's classical conditioning in action right there. "Okay, I'm not saying Jim would ever have been great with authority--"
Spock looks his concern that Dr. McCoy's drink contains something other than synthehol.
"I know!" he answers defensively. "I'm saying--" McCoy pauses, looking at his empty glass. "Actually, don't know where I was going with that."
"Perhaps you meant that Jim's--" Spock pauses, "--relationship with the admiralty and his fellow captains would be less strained if he was more conversant with the unwritten rule surrounding the social and political etiquette involved in the chain of command."
"No, not that. It's more, if he wasn't so conversant with it, they'd forgive him faster for completely failing to even try. He knows what he's doing; what Starfleet wasn't already in his blood Winona nailed into him between missions, trust me. He just doesn't get why he shouldn't have to fight for something his name and Nero handed him on a silver platter."
Dr. McCoy gets to his feet long enough to get two glasses from a passing newly commissioned Academy graduate acting servitor and looking a little dazed. Spock studies the wide-eyed amazement and excitement on the young face and then looks at Jim talking to Nogura. The new ensign is no older Jim was the day he was promoted to Captain, but even then, Jim had not looked this young. None of them had, the smallest class that had ever graduated the Academy since its founding, receiving commissions that should have been years beyond their reach to fill the positions of all those who had been lost.
The glass is abruptly plucked from his hand; Nyota grins at Dr. McCoy's, "You left him alone with an admiral? We'll be court martialed before dessert."
"They're fine" she says, turning enough to direct their gaze toward Admiral Pike and a slim, dark-skinned woman wearing the insignia of Commodore. "That's Commodore Esra; she was one of Starfleet's most successful recruiters in the United States of Africa. She's been working with Pike on expanding the Academy's profile for new recruits." She pauses, possibly to provide emphasis. "She's also currently involved in personnel assignment."
Nyota finishes her drink as Spock watches the conversation between Jim and Commodore Esra grow unexpectedly animated. "Perhaps we should join them," he says as Nyota eases Dr. McCoy unwillingly to his feet. "Captain Kirk seems to find their discussion quite fascinating."
"Think he'd actually ask for recommendations to replace us when we're standing right there?" Nyota asks brightly. Dr. McCoy seems to have some trouble swallowing; Nyota absently reaches over to take his glass before the remaining liquid spills across the millennia-old rugs. "Let's find out."
"I hate you both," Dr. McCoy says weakly, snatching a glass from passing tray. "Right. Let's get this over with."
Attendance at formal Starfleet functions has certain unspoken but nonetheless strict requirements in both the correct time for arrival and the minimum time required to negotiate various mandatory conversations with other attendees before being permitted to retire. Those rules are far less binding for them; only Jim is required to be present the entire four and a half hours.
The first time Jim had asked them to attend as his guests, he'd made that very clear. "Seriously. It's like hell. Or intro to comparative philosophical processes in non-corporeal life, which--right, you probably liked that." Jim gave them a look of disgust. "And you know you don't actually have to come, right?"
"Oh, I wouldn't miss it," Nyota had said as she stepped on to the transporter pad. "It can't be that bad."
She was in error, as was Jim; Spock had not found that particular course enlightening.
Spock pauses in his conversation with Admiral Pike to see Jim watching Captain Voltain intercept Nyota at the buffet table, before he turns back to Admiral Pike. Nyota lingers for a few minutes before returning with two glasses. "Captain," she says, catching Jim's eye despite his best efforts to avoid it, "do you mind--"
"You're going to the fun party now, aren't you?" Jim says with the faintest trace of a whine. Finishing his drink, he plucks hers from her hand. "Go with your deity of choice, Lieutenant. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"I wasn't aware that was possible," she answered, taking formal leave from Admiral Pike before bending for friendly kiss. "Mind if I steal McCoy?"
"Go for it." Jim slumps back in his seat, glancing up at Spock and then away "You too. I don't need handholding to play nice with the admirals."
"Yes, you do," Nyota answers. "But we'll pretend to believe you."
"Whatever." Taking Nyota's other drink with a, "It's not like you need it," Jim wanders toward a knot of people near one of the windows, leaving Admiral Pike free to say, looking grim, "Captain Voltain seems to be under the impression Jimmy's charming." His eyes fix on Spock suspiciously. "Never let me find out why."
"Yes, sir," Spock answers honestly as Nyota starts toward the door. "Have a good evening, Admiral."
Admiral Pike looks at his empty glass with something like regret. "You as well, Mr. Spock."
Jim is one of the last to leave, pausing outside the doors to find his communicator; when the last voices fade into silence, Jim takes a deep breath, expression unguarded for the first time since he was informed of Captain Voltain's offer and embarked on an unsubtle campaign to convince them to take it.
Leaning against the wall, Jim looks at his communicator for a moment, then shakes himself. "Transporter, I'll be out in a minute. Prepare to--"
Jim's head snaps around, blinking at Spock with unconcealed shock. "Spock?"
"If I could have a moment, Captain?"
Jim hesitates before saying, "Belay that,", closing the communicator reluctantly. "What are you doing here?" Before Spock can do more than raise an eyebrow, Jim adds, "You know, I have that thing in the morning, so I'd better--wow, okay, no, even I don’t buy that. You can stop with the eyebrow now." Tucking the communicator away, Jim leans against the wall. "What can I do for you, Mr. Spock?"
"I believe I owe you an apology, Captain."
Jim's expression melts into confusion. "Um. What?"
"Despite your efforts to conceal it, I am aware you are no longer comfortable in my presence. Further prevarication is not necessary; I--understand why you avoid my company."
"Spock, I haven't been…" Jim stops, giving Spock a glance filled with something between guilt and frustration before looking away. "I'm not avoiding you," he says after a moment of thought, staring at the wall just behind Spock's shoulder. "I've just been--" Jim's eyes flicker to Spock uncertainly. "Why would you think--"
"I assume," Spock answers calmly, "that you interpreted my--preference for your company as attraction and did not--"
"No, that wasn't why--" Jim catches himself, and groans softly, tilting his head back against the wall and shutting his eyes. "Never mind, start over. Spock I never thought it was anything like that. Don't worry about it."
"Curious: I had assumed my intent was obvious."
"It wasn't obv--" Jim stops short; for the first time in weeks, when he meets Jim's eyes, Jim doesn't look away. "What?"
"Drop the captain shit, Spock. Chain of command has nothing to do with this."
"The Captain of my ship formally requested an interview where it was suggested I evaluate Captain Voltain's offer in terms of advancing my career in Starfleet--"
"Of course you should be advancing your career; I don't expect you and Uhura--it's a Laurentian fucking flagship! It's a promotion! Why are we arguing about this?"
"Exactly. I’m your Captain. And it's my duty to--"
"Despite your efforts on behalf of what you feel was your duty, neither Lieutenant Uhura or I have any intention of accepting Captain Voltain's offer. I would say your behavior since we informed you of our decision is more than unusually irrational, but you seem to regard that as a challenge."
Jim scowls, pacing a few restless steps away. "I'm not the one that turned down the Laurentian flagship here, Spock. Mirror, Spock, try it. And what the hell, you thought I was throwing you off my ship--"
"Indeed. In light of your assurances, it is obvious my logic was in error."
Jim stops short, eyes narrowing before he lets out a breath and reluctantly smiles. "Point, Mr. Spock. I apologize--I know, not logical, just roll with it. God, I hate Babel. The sooner we're out of here, the better." Taking out his communicator, Jim smiles at Spock. "Ready to get out of here?"
Spock nods and follows Jim to the door.
"…and we never let Scotty present anything, ever. I get he's a crazy genius theorist, but making up new laws for physics doesn't mean you get to make up new words to describe it."
"I reviewed his paper--"
"Been nice if he'd stuck to that," Jim says with a sigh as they wander through the dark, quiet halls. With third shift reduced to a skeleton and most of the crew on leave on the planet, the ship seems deserted, the hum of the engines clearly audible in the quiet. "He was okay up until the questions," Jim says, humor fading. "His old commander showed up."
Spock glances at Jim's face; despite the low light, he can the tight line of Jim's mouth, tension building again. "I do not think the--animosity between Lieutenant Commander Scott and his former commander is due to his service on the Enterprise."
Jim gives him a sharp look. "Where did you get the idea--"
"You are the Captain of the Enterprise; your duties do not extend to taking responsibility for Starfleet's--prejudices."
Jim's alarm is strong enough that Spock can sense it, even with the inches that separate them. "I don't know where you got the idea--"
"If you wish to be subtle, I would avoid kidnapping members of the Unaffiliated planets to listen to a lecture--"
"It's an important advancement in communication," Jim argues. "Who doesn't like technological advancement?"
"Lieutenant Uhura and I were aware when our request to speak at Babel was granted that--"
"They'd use it as a new and creative way to remind you that you're on the wrong ship?"
"It was neither new nor was it creative."
"Old, petty, and predictable, that's much better, my mistake." Jim shakes his head as they come to his door. "Lights," he snaps as he drops on the small couch. "And you went along with it."
"It was," Spock admits, seating himself at Jim's impatient gesture, "a fascinating subject of study."
"So fuck Starfleet, right, that--makes sense." Jim slumps into the cushions. "Scott knew his commander would be there. Not like that was a secret or anything."
"Lieutenant Scott is a brilliant engineer," Spock says. "Perhaps he could use further instruction in public speaking."
"Or just someone else to do it for him," Jim says, staring up at the ceiling. "I want a drink; you want something?"
"Water will be--"
"We did talk about the human custom of strengthening friendship with the application of alcohol, right?" Jim says as he gets to his feet.
"Your soliloquy on the advantages and disadvantages of the 'beer bong' was enlightening."
"I did thorough research on the subject." Pausing at the replicator, Jim murmurs something before two glasses materialize, condensation forming on the translucent surface almost immediately. The liquid within is a pale yellow with a trace of green; Spock identifies mint and sucrose beneath the sharper burn of synthehol. Forgoing the sofa, Jim sits on the edge of the small table facing Spock before taking a drink. "Mint julep. Ask Bones about them one day; my senior thesis was shorter."
"I am curious," Spock says slowly, watching Jim's fingers tighten involuntarily around the glass, "why you have decided to attend --"
"My own lecture?" Jim shrugs. "You know how much I like the sound of my own voice."
"Just because half of Starfleet wants me to think the only reason I'm here is because I got the guy who killed my dad doesn't mean I have to provide the proof. So I'll be a good officer and let them rake me over the coals for the fun of it." Jim looks at Spock over the rim of his glass. "How's that for personal growth?"
Spock thinks of Jim tonight at the banquet and his reaction to Captain Voltain's offer; Jim taking surreptitious notes regarding subspace harmonics and attending Lieutenant Commander Scott's attempt at explaining how the laws of physics are less immutable than nature would have once suggested. " Dr. McCoy has often complained that you do not allow yourself sufficient time to rest. It would be logical to take advantage of the opportunity presented and consider his recommendation."
Jim's glass pauses mid-rise. "What?"
"I understand the closing brunch will begin at eleven hundred hours and continue until the closing ceremonies," Spock answers mildly. "As your presence is not required until then--"
"Are you--" Jim looks at his glass as if he was unsure of its function before drinking the remainder and setting it aside. "You--you--are telling me to blow off Starfleet? To sleep?"
"No." Setting his glass aside, Spock shifts to the edge of the chair, waiting as Jim's expression begins to melt into uncertainty. Carefully, Spock reaches for Jim's glass, aware of Jim's shiver at the brush of their fingers. "I would simply prefer to have your undivided attention for myself."
"You've always had that." Jim's hand closes over the edge of the table, blue eyes narrowing. "You knew that all along, didn't you?"
Prevarication would be an insult to them both. "Yes."
Jim nods, looking away. "Right. So--"
"Jim." Jim's skin is human-cool under his fingers, the faintest roughness of stubble along the line of his jaw, soft at the hollow of his temples. Jim's eyes fall closed, leaning into every careful touch. "I knew. And I wanted more."
Jim looks at him, blue eyes hazy. "I don't think--" Jim draws in a soft breath when Spock tilts his head up. "Are we still talking? Why?"
"I wish to be clear."
Jim eases back, studying him for a long moment before he smiles, slow and pleased. "So this is a negotiation."
"It is not." Spock hesitates; the reasons he has avoided this thus far have not changed. "I understand that humans tend to form--casual attachments."
"Spock, you are the least casual things in my life. Possibly in my entire life from birth on."
Spock attempts not to grit his teeth, aware he's failing. "Do not be facetious, Jim."
"If you're saying you're worried I'll fuck around on you…" Jim trails off, uncomfortable. "I won't. I mean, not that my reputation to date would support that, but I won't."
Spock nods, aware that changes nothing in his reservations, but it also does not change his intent. "Very well," and loses both words and their meaning when Jim kisses him, the angle awkward and uncertain, but no less surprising. It should not be a surprise; Jim throws himself at what he wants without hesitation. It's a skill that Spock could envy.
Jim pulls back, respiration more rapid than their activities thus far can account for. "I won't," he says, softer, more certain. "So could we--"
Spock stands up, pulling Jim to his feet and catching his mouth in a kiss before he finds his balance. Jim's very good at this, Spock is well aware; he has watched Jim with lovers before, the casual, easy skill that is displayed with unconscious, reflexive ease even constrained by the limits of what is acceptable to public view. It does not make his response any less genuine.
"Stop thinking now," Jim says, then abruptly pulls away; Spock has a moment to recognize the sparse accommodations of Jim's bedroom before a foot locks around his knee and unbalanced, he stumbles, reflexively catching himself on one hand as Jim's fingers lace around the back of his neck and pull him into another kiss, slower and somehow warmer. "Or you know, think all you want. About me."
"You are not easily ignored," Spock says, honest; a great deal would be different if the man did not fascinate him as much as the captain he followed. When he'd chosen this ship, he had anticipated that, given time, he'd grow to value a relationship with him beyond that required by duty and their positions on the ship. Perhaps he should have wondered at his own certainty, despite how short and somewhat acrimonious their acquaintance had been then.
Abruptly, he catches his breath, shocked at the feel of Jim's touch, human-cool and sure, tight around him. Jim watches him with an unreadable expression for a few long seconds, then abruptly reverses their positions, leaning forward to bite Spock's lip once, hard, then moves away before Spock can touch him, hands quick and efficient when they slide his uniform pants down and take him in his mouth.
It does not take long; Jim hums his easy enjoyment, and this close, Spock can sense the vague shapes that define the surface of Jim's mind, too vague to be more than feelings; the faintest trace of lingering surprise and wonder, the pleasure of having Spock in his bed, his enjoyment in what he's doing and Spock's response to it. Beneath it is something else, a shapeless mass that Spock cannot quite identify and does not touch, too close to the limits of what is permitted a telepath with the mind-blind without the ability to shield what is private. That limit is not something Spock has ever had to maintain during sex; he's aware of an almost subliminal irritation with it now.
Then the pleasure of Jim's mouth overtakes thought; as if from a distance, Spock hears his own breathing catch, pause, the growing want releasing abruptly in a sensory flood. Jim kisses him, satisfaction rolling off of him in waves, sharing the faintly bitter, metal-edged taste before he begins to draw away.
Jim, Spock realizes, is still fully dressed, despite the fact there is no reason he should be. Jim laughs softly, attempting to assist with the clasps of his uniform before Spock pushes his hands aside. The tan Jim had acquired on Risa has faded back to pale gold, easily discernible despite the darkness of the room. Jim likes to be touched, responding with murmured encouragement, quick catches of breath, fascinating sounds, with everything but his mind, a space of deliberate emptiness, flashed with occasional, involuntary slips, a flare of shocked please when Spock's fingers are inside him. "Spock," Jim says, voice rough, "no one likes a tease. Come on--"
I like to watch you, Spock thinks, deliberate and careful. Jim tips his head back against on a startled gasp, murmuring, "Whatever you want, just don't stop."
It's difficult to stop himself from reaching for Jim's mind when it's like this, teasing the edges of his awareness; it's nearly impossible when he's easing inside Jim and the words trail off into soft gasps and the pull of Jim's thoughts.
"You--" Jim suddenly grins, eyes shocked and blue beneath a fringe of sweat-slick hair, "--you don't have to--" That's teasing. Show me.
Jim's mind opens at a touch, offered without restraint, even the instinctual panic of the mind-blind to the feel of another presence. The few melds Spock had initiated between them had always been surprisingly easy, but the rigid ethics that governed such access had afforded him only tantalizing glimpses that he forced himself to disregard.
Time vanishes into the cacophony of sensation, Jim's pleasure thrumming through him, the complex web that was emotion and thought and sense-memory, the intensity of Jim's feelings for him; he's aware, somewhat distantly, of their bodies, the building twist of tension that releases in an abrupt, blinding shock of sensation that snaps him back into the limits of flesh enough to remember what they were doing. It's just enough, though, to deal with the practicalities, gently ease himself from the heat of Jim's body and shift them both beneath the layers of blankets to avoid the cool of the room before reaching for Jim's face, fingers settling over the psi-points, the words breathed against Jim's skin as his mind opens in eager welcome.
"You still insist on attending."
Jim, seated on the edge of the bed, emerges from his thirty second contemplation of his boots with a blank look, as if he was unsure of their function, then abruptly begins to slide one on. "Kinda in a hurry, Spock, so--"
"The purpose of Lieutenant Commander Scott's lecture was to elaborate upon his recent discoveries in transporter technology; the attendance of his former commander was unexpected, but it did not change the original subject, merely--"
"If you can use the word 'merely', you're seriously underestimating what happened in that room."
"--added to Lieutenant Commander Scott's--"
"Stress level and brogue? Universal translator so did not help."
Spock concedes the point. "However, the reason you were scheduled to speak is being utilized as a forum to erode your credibility, despite the fact that Starfleet found no fault in your actions."
"Public humiliation never goes out of style," Jim concedes, putting on his other boot. "But this is about me, not my ship, and that's why I have to do it. Spock, if it was you, you wouldn't even hesitate."
"What I would require of myself I would not and do not require of you."
"Yeah, and I have pretty low standards myself," Jim says flatly, "so good to know we're in agreement. My crew, however, deserves something better."
"You do not need to prove yourself to us."
Jim get to his feet, looking at Spock for the first time. "My crew is the only one that I should have to." Jim frowns at him, eyes skimming over him in belated realization of what Spock is wearing. "You're wearing a dress uniform. Why--"
"I had anticipated your decision," Spock answers calmly. "If you are ready, there is sufficient time to procure coffee before we--"
"Oh no. So not happening. Spock. I don't think I can deal with you--with anyone--seeing this."
"I do not believe," Spock answers thoughtfully, "that you can stop me."
Jim continues his arguments through the procurement of coffee, continues to the transporter room, and is only interrupted by the few milliseconds of dematerialization before he begins again. Spock considers adding his own explanations, but Jim does not seem to require his input.
"…and wait, what am I saying, I'm ordering you to go back to the ship!"
Spock glances into the already partially filled room; while it is still twenty minutes until Jim will begin, there are few seats remaining. "If you are certain--"
"Beyond. Words." With a final glare, Jim turns toward the doorway and stops short as Nyota waves from the first row. Dr. McCoy, slumped in the seat beside her, gives Jim a miserable glare and types briefly into a datapad before passing it to Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov while Scotty looks wary. "So this is a conspiracy." Then, "Tell me they didn't bet on this."
"I believe Lieutenant Uhura and Lieutenant Commander Scott won," Spock observes. Jim spares him a narrow-eyed glare before returning his condemnation to the other crew. "Captain--"
"You know," Jim says softly, "what they're going to say about me. Having you--all of you--witnessing--"
"You are incorrect; we are curious what they will say about all of us."
Jim turns around. "They're not judging any of you for following my orders--"
"I believe they are judging out actions, Captain," Spock says deliberately. "You have always attributed the success of our missions to the actions of your crew. Logically, if there is fault to be found, your crew shares it."
Jim stills. "That's--that's not how it works."
"I do not believe it just to deny us what is ours by right." Spock inclines his head toward the door. "After you, Captain Kirk."
Jim hesitates. "You don't have to do this. You don't have to--to prove that, or prove anything--"
"You are the only one that we should have to."
Jim closes his eyes briefly. "Yes, this is stupid. And we're doing it anyway. Like all our missions."
"Yes, sir." As Jim starts toward the door, Spock adds, "I find myself--unoccupied for the remainder of the day, if you have no prior engagements."
Jim stumbles, one hand braced on the doorway; it was so slight that Spock doubts anyone inside was aware of it. "Not--really."
"I look forward to it, Jim."
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