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            “You kissed me.”

            The note in Kirk’s voice has surpassed hysteria and is now bordering on the calm of utter disbelief.

            “…yes, Captain.”

            The note in Spock’s voice is that of a person accustomed to pointing out to obvious to humans – long-patient, educational. He hears but does not register the gurgling sound that Nyota is trying desperately to cover with both hands over her mouth, about two-point-four meters to his left.

            Kirk is half-slumped against the wall just outside the door of the Transporter Room and staring at him the way some men gaze at their delusions when they have come to terms with the fact they’ve lost their minds. He seems to have forgotten that a mere five seconds ago he was rushing to beam down to the plant surface, most likely never to return alive. “Spock,” he says, remarkably amicably. “What the actual fuck.”

            It’s at this moment that the first tinge of doubt begins to creep in and Spock begins to wonder if he may have misunderstood something. He straightens his spine imperceptibly and clasps his hands behind his back. “Captain, it has come to my attention that there is a spectrum of gestures of camaraderie and fellowship expressed among humanoids, varying based on their degree of familiarity and the duration of their association. The most appropriate gesture at this moment would be, I believe, the one designated ‘for luck’.”

            “You just kissed me, for luck.” That same tone, very measured utter disbelief.

            “….yes, Captain.”

            Kirk’s jaw drops and he stares at Spock a moment longer, then looks over to Nyota without blinking. There is a very uncomfortable silence for a moment, and then the Red Alert resumes blasting throughout the interior of the Enterprise and Kirk leaps back into action. He turns and charges into the Transporter Room without glancing back at Spock; he charges up onto the Transporter Platform, drops into a crouch, and pulls out his phaser, shouting, “Energize!”

¤¤

            Kirk comes back alive.

            Bruised, nearly broken; exhausted, dirty, bloodied, but alive. Spock can smell the iron in his blood from across the room. It grows stronger as he approaches, and he can make out other scents: the soil of the planet, the lingering stain of the chemical weaponry which the locals had unleashed on the landing party (thankfully ineffectual on humanoids), and Kirk’s sweat. The pheromones of fear, stress, anxiety, and adrenaline pouring off his Captain in waves.

            When his boots stop within Kirk’s line of vision, the Captain looks blearily up at him; he’s exhausted but there are no lines of pain, bitterness, or loss darkening his face. “Spock.” He shifts, holding his shoulder and right arm stiffly, and leans back in his chair. “Report?”

            It isn’t an order and that alone tells Spock how exhausted he is. “All systems normal, Captain.” He pauses, collects his words. “That was an impressive feat.”

            Kirk grins tiredly at him. “What, you didn’t think I could evacuate thirty crewpersons and a dozen locals from a heavily-guarded prison under threat of chemical warfare?” He cocks what’s supposed to be a cheeky grin at the way the sentence sounds coming out of his mouth.

            “I assure you that no doubt ever entered into my mind.”

            “Of course not, Spock.” Kirk starts to stretch then winces. “You know I’m one talented, clever, lucky son of a –”

            And with that, Kirk remembers. He sits up again and fixes Spock with a look like he’s just seeing him for the first time since his approach. “Um. Listen, Spock.”

            “Captain,” Spock hedges, attempting to change the subject, because he still hasn’t figured out his miscalculation, and that bothers him. And also his hesitation isn’t due entirely to the fact that he’s made a miscalculation, except he’s not sure why else he’s suddenly awkward, and that bothers him too. He doesn’t fidget, but the impulse is there, and now that’s even worse.

            They’re both undeniably relieved by the appearance of Dr. McCoy, for the first time that Spock can remember. He strides into the fragile moment with all the finesse of a rooster at dawn. “Jim! What in hell are you doing out here? Spock’s had the ship for six hours, he can handle it ten more minutes. No, you’re not leaving until I look at that arm. Get in here and sit down.”

            With a backward glance and a sheepish grin, Kirk leaves Spock standing in the entryway to the Med Bay. Spock watches him go, dark eyes revealing nothing, and abruptly finds himself wondering if Kirk had need in this instance of any more luck.

¤¤

            Nyota isn’t surprised to see him; however, Spock is surprised by the pain evident on her stunning features as she seats herself across from him at the desk – not the bed, where she had previously invited him to sit, prior to today’s mission.

            “Spock,” she said, levelly, intensely. “I just want to know.” There is some great emotion which he cannot name clouding her words; he can hear it, he can sense its presence like a dam, like a pending thundercloud on the horizon. “Kirk. How long has this been going on?”

            He turns his chin minutely in a slight gesture of confusion, knowing she will pick up on it, perceptive as she is. “Nyota, I fail to understand –”

            “You really do, don’t you?” She regards him for a moment, her eyes dark and guarded, and then she sighs and looks down at where her hands are resting in her lap. “Spock, humanoid males don’t kiss like that. Not unless they’re lovers.”

            All the breath goes out of his lungs. He who has been called the emotionless computer has completely drawn a blank.

            Nyota has apparently also been running some calculations of her own, because when she looks up at him again there is a line of pain between her eyebrows, and that same ominous cloud is back in her voice. “Which means you understood the embrace we shared in the elevator, and the kiss on the Transporter Pad, to be of a merely comforting nature as well.”

            “Nyota,” he begins. “There is nothing ‘mere’ about the capacity to share in another being’s pain, and in doing so, alleviate their suffering. You have the quality of empathy to a rare degree in a human being; it is that which not only enables you to perform your responsibilities so effortlessly, but also demonstrates your capacity to maintain bonds of close friendship with many other beings aboard this vessel, which provide support, strength, comfort, and emotional wellbeing of a reciprocal nature. All of these things are not ‘mere’; in fact, they are remarkably significant and belie your warmth and strength of character.”

            When he meets her gaze he is startled by the tears tracking silently down her cheeks. “I have caused you to weep. Nyota, I apologize.”

            She shakes her head, smiles brilliantly at him, though the tears continue. “Spock. Have I ever told you what a beautiful being you are?”

            He watches her closely, then shakes his head. He is aware that there is much unspoken going on here, and yet it does not feel as though the storm clouds are growing closer. The atmosphere in the room, in Nyota’s expression, is surprisingly light and yet surprisingly sad. She swallows, then draws a deep breath but does not move to wipe her tears away. Spock is struck again by the strength of her character, and the depth of her self-knowledge.

            “Spock, for most humanoids, to share an embrace as emotional or a kiss as passionate as ours signals the beginning of a romantic if not sexual interest which is mutual in both partners. While it was my intention to offer you comfort and, as you said to Kirk today, ‘luck’ on both of those occasions, it was also my attempt to gauge your reaction to the possibility of a romantic understanding between us.” She meets his gaze levelly. “I was thinking like a human.”

            He opens his mouth, realizes he doesn’t know what to say, and closes it again. She is watching him, not accusing or inciting, just watching. Her cheeks are still damp. Finally he says, gently but with great feeling: “You are a remarkably beautiful person too.”

            She smiles down at her lap and he sees the spots of her tears land on her skirt. “You’re going to have to give me time, Spock, to have a nonprofessional relationship with you off of the Bridge. I’ve already come to care a great deal for you; I’ve sought to share in your pain, in your loss, in your hardship, and offer that of myself which I thought you might want to take.” She huffs out a laugh. “I guess you’re just not interested in taking as much as I was interested in offering.”

            Spock reaches forward slowly, so as not to startle her, and smooths some of the wetness off of her face. “You have given me an immeasurable gift, Nyota, I will treasure it always. Thank you. It would bring me much joy to be considered your friend.”

            To his consternation this makes her cry in earnest; she looks up at him and sniffs. “I would like to hug you again. I really, really would.”

            Spock gets to his feet and, when she moves towards him, embraces her against his chest. Her arms encircle his waist and she lays her head against his shoulder, sighs, and goes still. She fits, compact and strong, and he is comforted by the feel of her human form, the slow beat of her human heart, the sweet scent of her shampoo, the breaths he feels expanding and contracting her fragile rib cage. The sadness and understanding and warmth of affection that he feels radiating from her. He rests his chin against her ponytail, and simply breathes her in.

            After a few moments, she draws away. “I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable”.

            “No,” Spock assures her. “I find your embrace to be soothing. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

            She grins at him and Spock is relieved to see that the tears have stopped. “If that’s the way you talk about everything,” she says, almost playfully. “Then maybe we wouldn’t have gotten as far as I’d hoped.”

            Spock cocks his head in a gesture than in a non-Vulcan would be construed as playful. “I certainly don’t understand. I talk about everything in the correct way.”

            She laughs at that, as was his intention, and slaps a hand on his arm, her eyes grinning. “Weh! I would be tired of you already.” A companionable squeeze, and then she shoves him toward the door. “Go away. I have to have a good cry over a little crack in my heart, and then I’m going to call Christine and complain, and then by morning I should feel better.”

            “Please do.” He is sincere.

            “I will.” She is too.

            He might hear her sigh but it might be the sound of the door whooshing closed behind him.

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