Skin burns, and blood rushes to the surface.
There are three paper envelopes fanned out on the countertop, of three varieties, and placed with a certain measure of precision beside a porcelain cup steaming with freshly boiled water.
He’s burned his hand. The heel of it has brushed across one of the burners, as he reached across, and while it will not blister, it is very much red and very much stinging. He runs it under water, and it helps, but it is still red, although there isn’t light enough to tell aside from his own intuition. Everything is tinted blue from the curtains, the fire that heated the water, the mugs he found on the countertop with dust lining their insides, the dish soap he used to wash them out.
He counts five minutes between the burning incident and when he begins to hear the creaking of the floorboards across the house, then into the kitchen, and he’s turning, closing open pantry doors, hyper-aware of the sound of paper being lifted and torn.
“I know you usually drink the spiced kind, but that’s all we have.” His voice sounds like gravel and not as hospitable as he would have hoped. He had considered, after waking up at six-thirty and going through the pantry to take stock of their food supply and finding a dusty old box of generally every tea except the right kind, walking all the way to town if only for that. He didn’t do so, of course, if only because of the lack of sleep. Now, he may be reconsidering, as he pours more coffee for himself, turning back only to slide back across the counter the black and the green envelopes and the husk of the white, not looking up once.
“Did you sleep?” He doesn’t throw out the empty packet, but smooths it out instead and folds it twice, holding it between his fingers so that it would not spring open again. He tries to smile, but without either of them truly comfortable with facing one another, the effort would go unnoticed anyways.
“I trust you won’t tell the Doctor, but his hypospray had been a comfort I had gotten used to.” Deadpan laughter. This house, out in the country outside of Riverside, has no replicator, no sonic shower, and, aside from a very much expired bottle of conventional painkillers behind the bathroom mirror, nothing remotely close to a hypospray.
“You should’ve come out, I’ve been up for hours.”
“I had been taking the opportunity for meditation - in fact, I fully plan to spend the entirety of this day in the same way.”
“I might follow your example. In a slightly more horizontal manner.” He laughs, but it sounds more bitter than intended. He leaves the paper, folded up, on the countertop, and finally turns to face him. “White?”
“The camellia sinensis plant. White tea is made from steaming or frying the new buds and young leaves of the plant. Inactivates oxidization.”
Kirk knows him well enough to recognize the signs of irregularity of sleep. The half-sentences were only the beginning, then the vacant looks becoming more frequent. He suppresses the want to reach across the countertop and comb his hair back into place. The humidity had already started with it.
If he really put his mind to it, he could convince himself that this was the only reason they were here at all, to drink tea - not that he would ever punish himself in such a way - in the morning and sleep all day and to watch his hair curl up in the late summer humidity. Try to bask in some of the warmth of the most halcyon place he knows, a short period of rest before the ship is repaired and they’re on their way again.
There’s a reason. Something he has to get right, that he plans on finishing up here. Even though there’s still the question of what, and how -
Kirk does what he does best - he drags it out. He makes sure as well to drag Spock along, makes sure he always know where he is, though he still can’t bring himself to look him in the eyes. Was it something about the eyes, or something about what his might give away? There’s a pressing sense of his back against his arm, a moment when the eyes did meet, the crook of his arm suddenly cold. That they might have imprinted onto his, that he can’t remove that image.
He steps outside and sits on the porch steps with the rest of the coffee and finishes the report on Neural with some difficulty, keeps mind of the smooth burn at the heel of his palm. It seems like such a surface thing, something hardly real.
He had gotten used to the replicator. You can’t burn yourself on a replicator.
It wasn’t so much because of a fix that he chose this location for shore leave - it was more from habit. Something in him drew him forth as if it were required that he be here, quite soon after the culmination of the last planet survey. Spock didn’t know what, and perhaps that was why he was so reluctant to explain the things that connected this place and the two of them. That, in doing so, he would need to explain more than he is comfortable with.
He has a few days. He has enough time.
They only see eachother once more this day, as Kirk passes Sam’s old room with the door slightly ajar and stops, scans through the crack and only seeing the glow of a candle in the middle of the floor. The creaking of the old wood behind him makes him jump as if he forgot there was even another person in the house to begin with.
Spock’s standing in the hall, with another candle in his hand, a white one in a glass holder, something Kirk has never seen before. “There’s food in the kitchen.” Kirk puts his back against the wall to let him pass in the small hallway.
“I won’t require food until tomorrow.”
“Of course you won’t.”
“I didn’t think you would mind.” He raises the candle, and Kirk imagines it’s something he must’ve found in a cabinet somewhere. None of them had been candle burners - it might’ve been a gift, he really doesn’t know where Spock pulled it out from. He shakes his head and he might've smiled as he brushed past but he wasn’t watching closely enough.
“If you change your mind, there’s plenty in there for the next few days. I...ran into town earlier, but I didn’t find your tea.”
“I’ll live without tea, Jim.” He calls back, already sparking the lighter. The candle is so small already he has to hold it upside down just to get to the wick, but he manages to light it, before sinking slowly to the ground to place it next to the other.
Kirk finds out the next morning that Vulcans might, to some extent, lie once in a while. When his Vulcan finally slinks into the kitchen, it’s past midday, and he is in the same meditation frock-thing he was in the night before, the black one. He imagines sort of off-hand that he would wear black all day if he could, if their usual uniform were not so colorful, and perhaps he wouldn’t object, he had always thought Spock to be the kind of person who was made to be in black. Kirk lays down the padd, mid-message, and turns to the sink.
“What will it be today?” He says, a little jokingly.
“Anything at all.”
If Kirk smiles when he sets the tea in front of him, it’s not at the state of his hair, which, while being relatively neat by human standards, he knows is generally abhorrent by Spock’s personal ones.
“What’s green tea made of?”
“Camellia sinensis again. The leaves are either immediately steamed or pan-fired, only the leaves, not the buds.”
“Why did they decide to call it “green”?”
Spock looks up at him, for the first time, and for no reason Kirk knows in that moment that this is some kind of delusion, that he is really dead and - just like before, exactly like before - he’s day-dreaming a reality he can accept, refusing the natural course of grief entirely.
“The new leaves retain some of their vibrant color even after crushed and oxidized.”
If he were a weaker man, he’d tell him right here and now.
“Whereas the rest is either lighter or darker in color?”
It isn’t absolutely riveting, but it is conversation for the next ten minutes, as he intermittently checks the padd laid out on the counter and reads folded up in one of the chairs he dragged into the light of the window. He thinks fleetingly over the sort of image they must cut, Starfleet’s finest, in a dusty old kitchen, reading Wilde - what an interesting taste he had when he was living in this house - and staring into the grain of a table, respectively.
The computer whistles, a loud, out of practice alarm tone, and he untangles himself from the chair with little grace in the effort to get to the door. Spock, returning to the world of the living, gives him a very specific look he has gotten well used to.
“We have a visitor.”
The ensuing look is cut very short by the arrival of some small, energetic entity turning the corner and pulling Kirk into the bulk of their coat, so quick he has no time to prepare or pull his arms out from his sides. Over the top of an abundance of curly, wheat-colored hair, he catches Spock at the table, rotating the tag of his teabag in his fingers and watching all this with what Kirk might just dare to call amusement.
When he is finally released with a great deal of forehead kissing and cheek squishing, a shell of his former self, Winona is already about to jump upon his first officer, thankfully without the physical accosting he himself had been subject to.
“Commander Spock.” She even makes the effort of a traditional salute, although the intensity of her gaze in his direction would easily be construed by the unknowing third party as menacing at best. “I wish I could say I’ve heard all about you.”
“In our particular line of work, no news is more often than not, as you say, good news.” Kirk knows his smile at the exchange is completely autonomous.
Things are exceedingly normal for approximately half an hour, he lives through Spock’s silent mockeries in the form of glances over his hands every time Winona does something typical, chastising him for not cutting his hair, for not cleaning the kitchen properly before putting it to use. She makes more of the caffeinated tea - the white - being up all the night before on some urgent botanist project - oxymoronic, Kirk points out. He hides the burned length of his palm behind his back only as a precaution.
Spock retreats back into his shell not very long afterwards, under the excuse of work. There’s a comm whistle, and they both check their pockets before Kirk locates his, stepping from the kitchen onto the front porch before flipping it open.
“Captain, I’m here on the bridge.” Uhura’s voice is and always has been an anchor when not on the Enterprise. A surrogate for the twittering ambiances of the bridge itself, which he can now hear muted through the channel. “They say she’ll be ready in the next three days, if you hadn’t heard.”
Winona looks up and they share a look that could mean anything from "wonderful" to "could bear for it to be a little longer".
“I hadn’t heard, Lieutenant, thank you. What are you doing not on some decadent vacation like the rest of us?”
“I didn’t feel like making the trip. You know I don’t like to travel.” She pauses just long enough for his scoff of indignation. “Honestly, sir, I thought Spock may have stayed as well, but it doesn’t look like he did. I don’t suppose you would know anything about that, would you?”
“You got me. I dragged him along to Iowa. Revenge for our little escapade on Vulcan a year ago.”
“I see. How is he recovering? I know he was back on the bridge but you know how he is-”
“All too well. He’s lovely, Uhura, I’ll tell him you said hello.”
When they end the call, he doesn’t go inside. Can’t bring himself to, and then Winona slides up fully beside him and hands him more coffee and he stares into the place where they had had a garden when some of them still lived here, the fence and the riggings for the tomato plants still standing up and gleaming in the sun. She asks about him, he answers, aware of how cryptic his answers are. She asks again, about the ship, about the job, about the crew. About Spock. Spock. Spock.
He expected this, the second she announced her being able to stop by, maybe spend a day, and he had to tell her about him, much like he notified the lieutenant, Spock had dragged him along to Vulcan a year ago and this is payback, nothing else. She asks about him more, what it’s like, working closely with a Vulcan like that. Are they really emotionless? For the most part. It’s a lie. So you’ve met them - have you met her, his mother? Once, yes. I remember when it all came out, the media wouldn’t leave her alone. I was just thinking, why is this so groundbreaking that it qualifies such a degree of pestering? Who cares who they are. It hasn’t happened since, though. Well, I imagine it has - they’re just quieter about it this time.
“Would you know about that?” Her face snaps towards him, and he thinks to tell her about...oh, Sylvia from Pyris VI, for instance. Not about love, no. But that prospect is more attractive than what her expression seems to propose, and for a second he believes she’ll just come out and say it. I’ve been here an hour and I already notice how you look at him. You don’t take your officer to an abandoned farmhouse in the middle of nowhere just for the hell of it. And as for the “escapade on Vulcan-”
“What’s with all the interrogation?” He blurts out instead, picture of innocence, full aware it does no good.
You don’t talk to me, Jim! I never know how you’re doing. I didn’t know you were coming until you told me you were here - “
"We hadn’t been within range of Earth for months.”
“I know that. You still can’t blame me.” Her tone drops into something more serious, and she passes a hand over the flaking paint on the railing. “Will you tell me what happened, at least? I know something happened, or you wouldn’t be here, of all places.”
No, it does no good at all.
“We beamed down to a planet, in the middle of a civil…dispute of sorts. We got caught in the crossfire.” He wishes he could leave it at that. He tries to leave it at that, except for her leaning in, giving him that questioning look that says she’s catching on.
“He was injured?”
“More than injured. They were flintlocks.”
"That renowned Vulcan physiology.”
“It was a nightmare nevertheless. I felt like I was still…I felt like I think I did when we were still on Tarsus Four. Maybe it was the fact that it was a gun - maybe it was something else, I don’t know. That I was waiting for some word on it. Waiting to hear something, stuck on that planet, trying to sort it all out and negotiate these people into peace when I didn’t feel like speaking to or even seeing anyone else. I’d have these daydreams, of getting his comm, I was a mess.”
"I know what you mean. You think, if I could just talk to him, one more time.” And for a second he’s forgotten that she does know what he means, almost to a tee - barring, of course, their individual styles of grieving.
“I don’t know what I’d say. I’ve already messed up twice. I still feel the same way, like I did back then, even though I know he’s alright.” He pauses, knocks off a flake of paint on the railing and lets the breeze launch it into the grass below. “I think that’s why I had to come here.” The Spock aspect had been a bit of an impulse, he had known he was going down from the moment they were granted shore leave, during the brief time the ship needed to be at the Earth base for a minor warp drive repair Kirk doesn’t remember the explanation of, but it wasn’t until the night before, as he had packed, that he had crossed the shared bathroom to his door and asked if he would come.
He hadn’t said anything but that it sounded interesting, as if Kirk had been suggesting a trip back to Vulcan to ask Sarek for his son’s hand in marriage. He didn’t try to convince him of the easiness of it, a secluded old farmhouse, no one around for miles, warm weather, but kept those points in mind for his own sense of the logic of the excursion.
“Do you remember when you’d just sit on the porch, for hours, just...waiting for him?” She sounds cautious, cracking the stiff flakes of paint off below her arms. Jim turns his head to the banister of the front steps, the paint on it a bit smoother than the rest, remembers the fear of splinters after he had stripped it single-handedly that resulted in it being repainted.
“Vaguely.” He says, and before she can stop laughing, keeps going. “It’s not just that everything…came back up…something about it, the way it happened, it won’t leave me alone. Every time I see him I start to think about it - and it’s driving me crazy.”
“You should tell him.”
“You don’t think it would help?”
“I know it would help.”
“Well, shouldn’t he understand?”
He doesn’t stop to consider or tell her that he hardly wants to talk to Spock anymore. He’s thought about it for close to two days now, and he still hasn’t the slightest clue as to how to begin something like that. He doesn’t want to talk to him.
Kirk looks back over at the garden, a wide, square plot of dirt, and a little farther back, a more rectangular space that remained visible to him even under layers of brittle grass. She sees him looking. She looks at it too, then raises her cup to her lips and turns away.
It still astonishes him sometimes, when they pass each other in the big empty house, everything so quiet sometimes when they’re in the same room, that he can almost feel him there, like there is some shred of telepathy left behind from their occasional mind-melds that makes him sensitive even to the rhythms of his blood. It serves as a much-needed reminder, as ridiculous as the idea is, just to his life. That he’s alive, that Kirk could simply round the counter or walk down the hall and find a beating heart, that he could find him at the table in the mornings and search for his pulse, and find it, he could go right up to him, press his fingers to each of the wrists and his forehead under the jaw and the thumping, just a little faster than a humans, would stay consistent. But the last time he touched his wrists, they had been slightly different people. The last time he had touched him at all, he had been unconscious.
Kirk doesn’t think he’ll ever forget how it felt to be so close to losing it.
He finds him late that afternoon in the bathroom with the door wide open, gripping the sink edge with one hand and pressing against the thick white bandage at his back with the other.
“Would you mind?” He cocks his head in the direction of the bandage, hardly acknowledging Kirk’s place in the doorway. Kirk steps inside somewhat cautiously, approaching him like he might on the bridge, coming to stand behind him just as if this were a relay of some sensor scan.
“What, you want me to rip it off?“
He stands behind him at the sink, making a conscious effort not to look up into the mirror, and slides his fingers underneath the edges of the adhesive paper, doesn’t consider two inches down and to the side, but is in fact, so focused on not considering it, he doesn’t take much mind of the hand that touches his arm as he does. "On three?”
“That shouldn’t be necessary.”
The fingers of that hand he hadn’t noticed cut briefly into the skin above his elbow before reconnecting with the edge of the sink, and he feels like he should’ve done it on three.
“These things really hold on, don’t they?” He stares down at the now-sealed aperture where he had pulled the latex-cotton dressing away from, just a prick, just the entryway, and Spock’s nodding in front of him and he has to force his eyes away. Kirk holds it in his hand, the cotton stained abnormally green, halfway between clenching it in his fist and holding it out with the tips of his fingers, and asks about the front.
His forearm begins to sting around the same time Spock reaches to remove the bandage, pulling it clean away from the blown-out star around his sternum with some effort. He can’t look at that one, the dark green and black, cut out of the skin, but looks at the floor until he’s buttoning a shirt over it and suddenly it’s as if it were never there at all.
“How would Bones feel about this?”
There are crescent marks in his forearm that he didn’t notice at first, a pink streak where they tore away.
“The Doctor knows as well as I do that keeping a closed wound under a dressing will do no good to aid along the healing process.”
“You’re still...sure that this is okay, exposing them to the air? It hasn’t been that long.”
“Why do I feel like you’re lying to me in some way?” He can feel his own heart as if it’s thumping up into his throat, lodging itself in, a tangible heap of muscle in the way of his breathing.
“Vulcans do not lie, Jim.”
“Hiding something, then.”
He comes very close when he turns around, taking the bandage out of Kirk’s hands and sliding it into the bin with the other.
“When was the last time a crewmember sustained a lead bullet wound?”
“Can’t recall.” Kirk answers, not coming any closer, but not stepping away either. Maybe it was more telepathic detritus, but he had this feeling that what Spock was getting at was about to make him very upset.
“Exactly. In all the frenzy about how to treat it, we all neglected to see the possibilities of…”
“You have lead poisoning, don’t you?”
“I cannot make a diagnosis. There is a significant probability, however.”
“How long have you known this probability?”
“Since approximately one point three five days ago.”
Kirk could hit him, if it wouldn’t be the most counterintuitive action of his entire life. That first morning. He had known that morning, and Kirk thought it was sleep deprivation.
“What are you doing to help it?” At least Kirk has the grace to move back now, pacing to the doorway, if only to hide the sudden bitterness he feels towards him for hiding it, and for the obvious, unspoken answer to that question. Spock leans against the sink, arms folded, and looks at the floor. “Of course you’re riding it out. You’re the expert, of course.”
“Captain, I do have an idea of the illogic of seeking medical attention when my Vulcan physiology will eliminate the symptoms autonomously within the next few days.”
“You don't know how bad it was, when I finally got over myself thinking you dead, I beam up, and I find you acting captain...when you could hardly even walk, shouldn’t even be out of bed...you know Bones never would have let you out of that sickbay had he been around. You can’t even entertain the idea that you’re seriously risking your health on a regular basis?”
“Your distrust in my judgement does not take precedence over it.” Spock finally raises his head to look at him, nothing accusatory in his expression, but wether thatwas a result of his own volition or the dampening affect of his condition, Kirk can't tell.
“I’m allowed concern for the safety of my crewmen - to act out of that concern. Beyond that, it’s my duty as the captain to prioritize your safety. I’m not going to be helpless in this.”
“With all due respect, I know how to take care of myself.”
“That is obviously not true.”
He looks at the ground and laughs, a blink-of-the-eye occurrence and so harsh Kirk almost bites his tongue to stop himself from snapping.
“If it pleases you to think so.”
He had this image, not of Spock bleeding out against him, or his father’s face the last time they saw each other, but of them being content here, living here for a week, time for him to focus on him, make up for lost time, perhaps, a big middle finger to the forces that almost took him from his life. He had felt helpless on Neural, with him comatose and above them, and now he is helpless again. He had felt helpless on Tarsus, his father a part of the revolt, him barricaded inside the house.
He flat out refuses to be helpless again.
We had a talk. He almost feels like a child again, turning to his mother every time something mildly (or otherwise) inconvenienced him.
Didn’t go well?
Not in the least.
“How are you?”
He doesn’t ask if he wants tea, just sets it down, notices he uses black, and wonders how a tea can be black, as he finishes the last lukewarm remains of his own coffee. He does look okay, though Kirk knows he is not beyond motivation by spite, he supposes any motivation to improve one’s health is a positive thing. He does, however, restrain himself from saying something crass in response.
“I was thinking about walking into town later.” He begins, he fails at the casualty of it, knowing full well that it’s obvious he wants him along. “It gets real pretty around this time of year and at night. They string up lights. If you think a little walking wouldn’t hurt, I wouldn’t mind the company.”
He looks up and Kirk doesn’t look away, even with his neckline slipping down just far enough to expose the edge of the scar. He knows now that it’ll scar, even with his... regenerative tendencies. There was an incident on...Gamma Trianguli...Six. Where he had been, to be straight about it, struck by lighting and had sustained a long, wide cicatrice across his spine in the strangest shade of green. Kirk had never determined the hue, just that it was dark, and sort of like pine. It had faded slightly over the months, but so slowly he had come to accept its permanence, just so much deeper than the regular cuts and bruises that came along with the job. Skin burns just as bad as it cuts. And this he knew at once was going to be the same way, another reminder for him of an instance he had been hurt and Kirk was the one to carry him out.
“I’ll consider it.” That wasn’t fair. He could count three times in which Spock did the carrying, as well, none of which rendered himself entirely helpless. Incapacitated, perhaps. But he knew helpless. That wasn’t it.
He doesn’t even remember the last time he was in Riverside, but he remembers being a kid - a kid post-Tarsus Four - walking the streets, walking home, being sent to the store for a carton of milk and riding his bike past the shipyard, always slowing to try and gauge progress from fields away. He remembers the fall specifically: always his favorite season - the harvest season, he should say, everything coming to fruition as it should, the amount of new food in circulation had been tangible. The rural side was darkening with autumnal color, and the buildings closer to the center of town, the string of shops along first street were just beginning to be decked in Halloween lights, small pumpkins in the windows and doorways. He wants that now, as simple of a pleasure it is, whether to fuel his recent regressive bender, or for some reason at all to move around a bit. He feels he hadn’t aged since then, with the way he’s been carrying on the past few days, as if his soul had been cut short at thirteen and he had only been watching an image of himself progress normally.
Spock does plan to follow him out from the start, he knows that, because he comes across a straight iron in the bathroom half an hour after he disappeared from the kitchen after being all but forced to eat cereal with non-vegan milk. And, after a brief march to Sam’s old bedroom, he comes across a predictably straightened Vulcan.
It’s a bit of a walk, around two miles, if he remembers right, but nothing compared to what it was like just a few weeks before Vulcan, in 1930’s New York, in the dead of winter, having to walk to whatever side job Kirk could manage to pick up - and then Spock, well. Kirk was well-versed in the full range of his physical capabilities - including that to walk two miles without breaking a sweat, even considering his recovering from a bit of lead poisoning.
It was never much of a concern to him if they were recognized - while Starfleet happened to be his entire life, and Spock’s, to an extent, he remained aware of the fact that, while within it, the two of them were somewhat of a hot topic, the rest of the world was not well acquainted with their faces. For the two of them to run into a selection of people who happened to subscribe to the latest news in space travel on the one night that they show their faces in public, well, Spock would know the precise chance of that. Kirk supposes it would not be a very plausible event.
Without intention, Kirk finds them going in circles, walking up and down streets while he talks endlessly about the most arbitrary things from his childhood, and things are very much how he used to like them, rambling to each other about nothing of importance as they played chess in his quarters or walked through the gardens - although it was always him doing most of the talking, while Spock would only interject to bring into perspective the clear advantages and sophistication of the average Vulcan child’s life in comparison.
“You’re not trying to tell me you were once a child, Spock?”
He looks away to hide the ridiculous smile that admission brings to his face, and freezes about five yards from a small cluster of teenagers standing in the light of a shop. There’s a moment where Kirk knows exactly what is happening, but doesn’t have the capability to take action. He looks straight at the person, eyes wide and mouth slightly ajar beneath their scarf, fails to shield his face and instead likely provides them all the time they need to know for sure who he is, curses quietly, and puts out his hand to stop them both. He knows Spock already knows exactly what it is, too, because now they’re shaking the people around them, saying something that causes them to turn as well, and he curses a lot more.
When his usual reaction time springs out of shore leave mode, it’s to turn around, pulling Spock along by his sleeve back towards the alley they had passed just seconds before, and while he doesn’t know for certain the footsteps behind them are in pursuit, Kirk thinks he’d die before having to pretend to be civil tonight. And, from how his brief run is matched, he knows Spock probably feels the same.
They make it to the end of the alley and Kirk is now gesturing towards the other side of one of the buildings, just out of sight for someone standing at the opposite end, and he presses his back against the brick and holds his arm out in front of Spock beside him more out of habit than real concern. He allows himself to laugh when he asks Spock if he thinks they lost them, and he responds that he thinks perhaps they did.
“They know for sure, I could tell…” He stumbles out, just a bit out of breath.
“Captain, I’m unsure how I feel about humankind being aware that we take shore leave together.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
Kirk’s arm drops from his chest, and, as he straightens against the wall, there’s a leaning, on either of their sides, the comfortable distance repaired for a moment, before that same arm jolts up again.
“I didn’t even think of-”
“There was no harm done.”
“Are you sure? You’d tell-”
He says something about the running under his breath, craning his head around the wall once more just to be sure they were not followed so closely.
The brick isn’t so clean on this side of the building, rainwater from earlier that day collected in the dip of the concrete, the entire ground still damp enough that when Kirk slides down he makes sure it’s to a path that is still moderately dry.
“This is a lot different than how it went on Vulcan.”
“In more than one sense.”
“You think so? Don’t bother. You’re right.” He can feel a headache coming on, and for a second forgets that he won’t have to beam up and go to sickbay and deal with an interrogation to get ahold of a remedy for it. “I’m not even sure why I care so much that some kids see us.”
“On their own, they aren’t a problem. But assuming at least one of them managed to take a picture, and assuming they distribute the evidence, then approximately 95% of Starfleet will become aware that the two of us take shore leave together within the week.”
“And I believe we are both well aware of the rumors that might provoke.”
“I am not so concerned with rumors.” What a ridiculous instigator. “I am, however, slightly concerned with the effects of such upon…” He actually finds himself at a loss for words, but Kirk is quick to pick up, and doesn’t call him out on it.
“It just disrupts...this sort of...denial we’re keeping up. And I’ve had quite enough disruption for one week.”
Denial is a strong word to use, and perhaps it is one-sided, perhaps Spock is no longer on that same page where any attempt at strict professionalism would create a dissonance of action and feeling. Kirk wouldn’t know - they must just be that good at it, but he knows himself, and that it feels very much like denial even though he knows beyond a doubt it is the logical course of action for both of them.
No more, they decided, because of this. Because of the emotional entailments of any sort of danger either one of them might face. On paper, it had worked.
“It would be easier to understand what you’re experiencing, sir, if you only told me what it was.”
“I’ve had to...come to terms with the fear of losing my mind in the event something ever happened to you.” Kirk finds himself trying to make it sound as ridiculous as he knows it is, measures the tone of sarcasm against the guilt, knowing Spock analyzes all of it in his effort to gauge Kirk’s true emotions. “And then of course, the whole affair had a startling resemblance to an… occurrence several years ago, so I have been skirting around both of these emotional dilemmas for about a week with no clue as to how to resolve them-”
Besides telling you about it.
The wind picks up, flattening them even further against the wall, if that was ever possible. He feels like he is about to start blowing away in pieces.
Spock’s not looking at him, as with most of their serious conversations, both of them end up staring in the same vague direction as if the similar perspective made up for the emotional distancing. Kirk looks down at a certain spot in the concrete and thinks about how he sounds like he may be trying to be delicate.
“Would it be possible to find resolution by way of a more professional opinion?”
“I’ve had my fill of professional opinions, I think.” Kirk launches himself upright with his hands at the base of the wall. Then talk to me, he can almost hear Spock say, as he begins to follow him down the alleyway.
There’s a large fence in their way, that Kirk would normally scale without hesitation, but this time opts to take the long way around and back, to the street that would lead them back they way they came. He also considers getting an aircar, but if this would be the time they had to talk, he feels it shouldn’t be put on any restriction, though it is dark, and though he is tired.
The night here is nothing at all like the halls of the Enterprise with her perpetual neon glow, or San Francisco with its million twinkling lights. If Iowa was a color, it would be sepia. If it were a tea, it would be black. The darkness that meets them outside the range of the nightlife is just enough to give some semblance of privacy, that he doesn’t worry about the look on his face or that every time there is a breeze he shivers involuntarily.
“You know the gist of it. But my dad died on Tarsus Four, too. That’s what it’s about.” Not all of it, he fails to mention. “He was...part of the rebellion, he wasn’t around when I was rescued, my mom picked me up, we didn’t know what had happened to him until...weeks later. He was shot. One of Kodos’ men, we assumed. Another casualty in the grand scheme of it, but not to me, of course, I waited on that front porch for…for hours at a time. Thinking he’d find his way back. For a while I thought I could've stopped it, we could've been more careful. Just as I do this time around.”
Kirk begins to clarify he doesn’t expect Spock to play therapist, but a much more urgent thought pushes it way through before he has a chance.
“I’ve been trying to make up for it, I’ve been trying to be there...more but...really you’re not helping me - and I know you don’t need it, but you don’t let me at least try.”
“Neither do you.”
“I’ve spent too much of my life-” His double-take is comical, and he knows it, but Spock doesn’t appear to, much too preoccupied with the ground in front of them. He knows to point that out would be too hypocritical, but perhaps he is already guilty of such on more than one account. “I do.”
“Need I remind you how I am even aware you spent time on Tarsus Four?”
“I would’ve told you. The only reason I didn’t was that it was - still is - not…exactly enjoyable to remember.” He must pause here, not entirely sure he dares to speak the next part, however innocuous it is at surface level. “I know you understand that.”
His acknowledgement is the duration of a single, fleeting glance, after which Spock only slows his pace - which Kirk can only be grateful for.
“I was not sure you knew I would have listened.”
Kirk comes to a stop, having to turn away to have any chance at hiding the ridiculous smile that comes to his face at that admission. Only when Spock turns several steps ahead, his face a heavily subdued mask of confusion and alarm, does he shake his head and laugh like he had been wishing to.
“How are we - two people who have had hundreds of lives riding on our ability to negotiate with dangerous forces on more than one occasion - so completely useless at communication?”
“It’s a slightly different form of communication, I would think.”
“Never mind that.”
The wind starts to hum again in the distance, harmonizing with the crickets and god knows what other insects that no doubt surround the road on all sides. The only thing Kirk didn’t miss abut Earth was those insects. Not them themselves, but there was always some chance in his mind there could be disease among them, some small but potentially devastating chance.
He was, once, vigilant like that, not so much anymore aside from times like this, where he recalled all at once the realities of death and suddenly everything was dangerous.
There is a spark of comfort in his knowledge that Spock does not think this way, that he is doubtless aware of all the same things, but manages not to consume himself with them. And no matter what, Kirk will find comfort in him, if only the sight of him a step ahead, only the back of his coat that might blend with the dark completely if not for the constant motion that only stops at the gate, moving away only to allow him to step forward and press in the correct code to enter the house.
He would never die, Kirk thinks. He himself would die one day, but long before there would even be the question of his mortality. If Kirk had considered himself the Wildean figure, never to age, earlier in the week, he had it entirely backwards. He wouldn’t worry about him anymore.
He sleeps more than he has in months.
When he wakes up to the sun through the curtains, folded up in blankets so tight he finds it a wonder he wasn’t tied up by some outside force, he considers it a dream that they had left at all. There is no noise in the house, though the light gives away it is past noon before he can even locate the padd on the floor beside him.
Kirk passes the open door to Sam’s room, the curtains drawn, and a small collection of candles covering the long-unused, sun-bleached desk. His single bag on the chair beside it, still as packed as it was the day they arrived. It does occur to him that they will have to leave for San Francisco again the following morning.
The kitchen is in a similar state, clean and unoccupied, although the counter bears the single cup he had been using for inordinate amounts of coffee the previous days, a plate sitting over the rim. He removes it without question, recalling instances of this kind of thing earlier in the mission, finding a cup of coffee or, on a few memorable occasions, headache medication on his desk when he got up or got in from some meeting. Of course he would drink it without glancing at the coloration of the liquid. He would have no reason to be suspicious of that.
He does almost choke at the first taste, because it isn’t coffee at all, and a quick look at the trash bin beside him would give him the evidence of that, if not that his entire tongue tastes of leaves.
He scans the rest of the house in not quite a rage, but damn close to it, before the truth snaps into place.
“Are you trying to poison me?” He holds offending mug out in front of Spock’s face and he nearly drops the stylus he had been scribbling across the padd on his knees with.
“Excuse me?” He answers with some accusation in his tone, effortlessly turning the tables on him.
“This is green tea.” He points out as Spock lays the padd down on the step bellow him, turning to look up at Kirk with a look that already says that he will win this argument.
“Captain, since we arrived here 4.3 days ago, you have consumed to my knowledge two thousand, three hundred milligrams of caffeine, a full thousand milligrams above the healthy level of caffeine intake which is the doubtless cause of your thirteen-hour crash from the time we arrived here last night to a few minutes ago. Furthermore-”
“I don’t see how that explains me having to drink a salad.” He deadpans, knowing full well that it does explain it in some way or other, still coming down beside him on that front step. For a second he runs his hand over the smooth paint of the banister, as Spock starts to say something about antioxidants but doesn’t quite finish the thought before he braces himself and raises the cup to his mouth, hardly managing a sip.
He moves as if to pick the padd back up, after a long stretch of quiet, but Kirk is already leaning away and motioning at him as if to request something.
“How are the…battle scars?”
Spock looks at him as if he mistrusts that request, but pulls down the collar of his shirt to reveal that burst of scar tissue where there would usually be the heart.
“Still awful.” Kirk laughs, holding the cup against his mouth as if to stifle it.
“I would suggest you to get used to it. The Vulcan style of healing seems to have failed me again.”
“How do you feel otherwise?”
He’s never going to get better at this, he doesn’t think, but he can do what he can. He drinks all of the tea, though with some effort, and stares out at that area of grass beside the garden until Spock finishes whatever he had been working on and rises from beside him. Something catches Kirk’s eye when he does, though, and he nearly grabs that hand in order to hold him back.
“What’s on your hand?” he calls out and Spock stops in the doorway, raising it to see himself, before offering the smallest smile as he holds it out for Kirk’s estimation.
“I had forgotten certain detriments of a conventional stove.” And it is a slight burn across the side of his hand, still relatively fresh and shining, but otherwise unobtrusive, and he laughs for real this time, not trying to hide it at all, and Spock’s eyes roll back and he keeps walking.
Did you figure it out?
Something like that.
Winona sees them off this time, insists on it, very much like she had on his first mission, gushing all over him and touching his hair and making sure he had himself together. She doesn’t mention anything he wouldn’t like to talk about, if only because Spock stands next to them the entire time, staring away into the rush of crewmen, in various states of disarray, boarding shuttlecrafts to take them back to the ship. She does lean in, as he convinces her they must be getting going, if only not to set a bad example for the rest of the crew by arriving last, and tells him to take care of himself and Superman, here - which he doesn’t mind laughing at, Spock would have no clue who that was, and maybe it was rather fitting.
The last thing she does is go to Spock, who conceals his surprise when she leans in in the same way, and Kirk barely catches her words, but catches the raised eyebrow directed at him over her head.
“I’m afraid your mother might have some recessive, minute form of psychic ability.” Spock says to him as they lean against the wall of a shuttlecraft. “She instructed me to ‘try and please take care of you, keep you out of trouble’.”
“Perhaps there’s some other qualities of camellia sinensis besides the antioxidants. You wonder why I hate it, perhaps I know I could never handle the telepathic side-effects.”
Spock doesn’t answer him, the craft gives a jolt and Kirk reaches up and places the smooth heel of his hand against his shoulderblade for balance, only releasing it when they are safely in space once again.