Jim Kirk laughs to himself a runs his pointer finger around the fabric's edge. Where did this tear come from? He wracks his brain – a fall, perhaps? That scuffle with a Tellarite last week? Maybe he pulled on the shirt wrong taking it out of the closet. Either way: his command gold now has a small hole, no bigger than his thumbnail, slightly to the left of his Fleet insignia. It's small enough, it may be worth bringing to the seamstress.
For now, though, he just turns the shirt inside-out and tosses it into the washing machine with the rest of his command gold. The other machines in the room kick and rumble, filling the air with sweet soap scents fill the air, fruity and floral and musky at the same time.
A creak of metal and the even pads of regulation shoes on the metal stairs tell Jim someone is coming. He cocks his head to one side, listening for some sign, some tell of who it was coming down the stairs. What better time to get to the laundry room than shore leave, when the room is all but empty?
They weren’t exactly necessary, the big twenty-first century washers and clunky driers; the sonic washers were much more efficient, not to mention cost-effective. But the old washers gave the crew – mostly Terran, mostly from Earth— a sense of comfort. A piece of home, of ordinary, way out here in the black. Science officer Reynolds had told him once, as she pulled a lump of blue shirts out of the drier and set them in her laundry basket for later folding, that the lavender soap the Enterprise stocked was the same brand her sister used, and it made her think of their little city apartment where she’d left her coming on three years ago. Jim had smiled to himself and thought it was a wonderful sentiment; so the next time he did laundry he chose the same flowery smell. He thought, while folding his shirts later that night, of the science officer he knew, and the sister he did not.
It’s another science officer clamoring down the stairs this time; Jim can see the bright blue of their shirt before anything of their other features become visible. The officer is unfamiliar with these stairs, rickety as they are, and so they go carefully, touch their boots to a spot and testing the hold before they step down. When they reach the bottom of the stairs, Jim blinks in the dim light, sure that his eyes must be mistaken.
“Good afternoon, Mister Spock,” Jim says, a smile stretching across his face. Sure enough, his First has a laundry basket in one hand, piled with a heap of science blues and blacks. The Vulcan pauses, taking a moment to process the other man's presence, as it was clearly unexpected.
“Captain,” He says eventually, putting his laundry basket down on one of the washers with an open door, and begins loading the washer with his clothes. “Ashayam.”
A beat of silence passes between them, and Jim feels a swell of affection rising in his chest, watching Spock take each item of clothing out and placing it carefully in the washer.
“Not that I'm not happy to see you, my friend,” Jim says, leaning forward ever-so-slightly towards the Vulcan, “But I admit, I'm at a loss for why you’re here. I would imagine a Vulcan such as yourself would find the sonic washers a logical choice, not these clunky old Earth things.”
Silence falls between them, broken only by the beats and whumps of the machines. Spock purses his lips, thinking through his words. While he thinks, Jim eyes him, boyish curiosity brimming at this unexpected turn up. After a moment, Jim holds out two fingers to Spock, who returns the gesture. Spock’s fingers are warm, a dry warmth, unlike the sweaty heat of the washing machines. Jim smiles. Spock’s eyes smile back.
“I am conducting an experiment,” Spock says when their fingers part. He pads over to the replicator; Jim follows close behind. He scrolls through a few of the options before picking an unscented detergent. “My mother, Amanda, was fond of doing laundry at our home on Vulcan. Vulcan laundering is much different than human laundering, and my mother often expressed a... particular sentiment for the Terran way. I am conducting an experiment to determine which of the processes is most effective.”
“Interesting,” Jim says, grinning, “Is Amanda involved in this process, or will you reveal the results to her at the completion?”
Spock's ears turn a darker shade of green. Jim grins when Spock says, “Our communication about the matter is ongoing.”
Jim looks at his First with a new appreciation and tries to imagine him, stoic as any Vulcan could be, on a weekly holovid call with his mother, describing the merits of different scents of detergent, hot versus cool wash, versus the coarse spice of Vulcan sands, while Amanda looked on and smiled in that wistful way of hers. Kirk finds it hard to contain his delight at this image.
“Does Mrs. Grayson find your research to be, ah, insightful?”
Spock looks over to him and does one of his Vulcan not-sighs. “Yes,” He says.
The replicator squeezes out a portion of clear detergent into Spock’s awaiting cup. Jim leans his weight onto one leg, his shoulders brushing against the softly vibrating wall of the ship. It's pose he learned from his mother, her years of leaning on the walls and doorframes of their Riverside ranch. For a moment, he's teleported back to Iowa, watching his mother lean against the back door and watch while George attempted to pin the bedsheets in place while fighting the hot, late summer breeze.
“Say, Spock,” Him says, as Spock deposits the detergent into the machine, “I’d like to propose an addition to your research.”
“Well, I’m sure Amanda has her reasons for liking Terran laundry—I know I do— but you may find it beneficial if you were to collect data from other sources as well. I know a few engineers who would marry their sonic washer if they could, for example.”
“Your logic is sound,” He says, nodding a fraction. He looks over to him and quirks an eyebrow. “Where do you propose I start?”
Jim opens his mouth and tries to condense his the memories onto his tongue, to translate the Iowa sunlight into language, but it gets stuck in the back of his teeth. He feels silly – he can diplomat with Andorian ambassadors, smooth-talk enraged Class K creatures whose temples they have stumbled over, spout philosophy at the drop of a hat. But this... this far-from-the-vest talk, well... Jim looks away, heat creeping up his neck, “Um.”
“Jim,” Spock says, and even without the thrum of their mental bond, Jim feels like Spock is reading his mind. Spock takes his forearm and squeezes it, “You are one of the most eloquent speakers I know. If you wish to share, your explication will serve only to further my understanding of human tradition, and by extension, my understanding of you. However, if it is easier to – I believe the Human phrase is 'show, not tell', we can engage in a mind meld.”
A mind meld. They’ve done it before, although usually amidst a sexual encounter, or after a particularly harrowing mission. Times of high stakes. High importance. Nothing so mundane as this – a humid afternoon in the Enterprise laundry room. But Jim thinks of the Iowa heat, the hypnotic fluttering of the t-shirts on the clothesline, and how he could never, ever find the words for that, not in a thousand lifetimes.
“Yes. Please, Spock.”
The Vulcan reaches across the distance between them and puts his fingers on Kirk’s face, against his meld points. The familiar tingle begins at the base of Jim's spine when Spock speaks:
“My mind to your mind. My thoughts
to your thoughts
Little Jimmy Kirk fat sausage fingers - something is stuck in his teeth always stuck in his teeth sitting on the back porch, Heat rolling off the wood, Candy, stickymelting in his hands. Momma with her hair blowing behind her pinning one side of a big white sheet on the clothesline, Dadda pinning the other. Summer bugs buzzinghumming in the air, Jimmy unable to look away, his sticky mouth slack. The billowing sheet waving like a flag in the wind, Dadda looks over and tells him there isn’t any air in space so their flags don’t wave like that, and Jimmy asks what about the flag on the moon and Dadda just laughs big deep like the sunshine bleeding through the sheet
Jimmy rushes inside sweat pouring down his forehead, blood caking his knees suctioning his pants to his body stinging hurts hurts hurts. Winona hoists him on the washing machine staticky and still warm from the wash, She tells him to squeeze her hand as she yanks, Jimmy squeezes his eyes shut – his pants pool at his ankles dark with red, red on his knees red spilling down his legs, Momma’s hand soft with soap cool to touch. Winona carries him and his clothes, tosses his pants in the sink and uncaps the vinegar putrid sharp it stings Jimmy's nose but the red swirls down the drain in a soft light pink, Jimmy's legs burn under the bandaids.
His mother stands above him, hair curled behind her ears as sunlight streaming through the window,this moment crystalizes in his memory as she tells him, you can always make something clean again, you just have to know how.
Jimmy -- growing pains shooting through his legs at all hours, his hair getting long longer than Winona likes she runs her hand through it and ask when hes going to cut it he brushes her off and says not yet not yet. Jimmy boils with too much anger inside him sharp like vinegar. He keeps a bottle of vinegar under his pillow pulls it out in the dead of night rinses his shirts and pants and socks in the bathroom sink, biting his breath back in his throat. He knows how to make it clean again, knows how to dress his burning red knuckles and busted lips, but he doesn’t know how to tell his parents when he gets suspended for fighting – gets suspended for fighting – gets suspended for fighting. He only hangs his clothes out on the line when George is offplanet and Winona is asleep.
Jim Kirk his body stretching against his bones his shirts have to be resized refitted every few months, adolescent hunger gnaws in his stomach always. He thinks he cannot get hungrier but then – cool summer settler colony fourth from the settler sun, they wash their clothes in cold water stream water – He laughs with new friends, farms and hauls and works with his whole body feels good feels home hundreds of lightyears away from Iowa bedsheets. Woman’s brassiere on clothes line next to man's underwear Jim Kirk blushes and stammers when asked to take them down. Laundry day is Sunday on Tarsus sunlight streaming speckled through sycamores, Jim Kirk smiles kicks the water up soaking his pants cold wet running down his legs, his clothes smell of pine and dirt but are clean always clean laughter spreads like water droplets down his face.
jim has been in these clothes for six days so hungry so hungry so hungry jim tells himself he will be clean again does not believe it does not remember clean does not remember full. he clutches his cousin in the shade of the sycamore while riley keeps watch. rocks her to sleep her birthday is coming up soon was she five or six years old he cant remember so hungry so cold.
cousin dies days later hunger clawing up her throat ground too hard for them to dig numb with cold dirt under fingernails he will never get out but he doesnt want it to his fingernails ran through her hair he misses her already misses her warm laughter, misses soap and stream water.
Rescue shuttle in the dead of night. Shouting. Hunger forgotten in the pit of his stomach jim shakes riley awake the younger boy clings to his arm, hours blur into one another. doctors. hyposprays, measurements worried murmurs, the word genocide hits him in the chest tastes like bile in his mouth. he stands in the shower fully clothed dirt and grime and sweat swirling down the drain, he cannot feel his cousin on him any more can not feel the stream water stands there and squeezes his eyes shut until the water runs cold. he drips sloshes plinks over the floor jim kirk does not care, clothes laid out on the guest bed are too big on him too smooth they are standard issue fleet pajamas so gentle on his skin riley is crying one room over he does not blame him. his cousin was buried haphazardly in the shade dirt thrown over her was she five or was she six he can't remember. when jim falls asleep head splitting eyes burning smelling of flowers he realizes he made it out alive.
James stares at his suitcase wonders how he can condense his entire life into a single bag, a knock on the door Winona with a basket of clean laundry comes and sits on the edge of his bed, touches his chest his new cadet uniform, Starfleet insignia command track gold says he should be proud of himself. he looks in his mothers eyes her smile lines wearing with age, he grins and says, he is.
Academy washers hum and spit detergent at him he laughs and takes care to scrub every sweat stain out, James Kirk is proud of them it means he worked up a sweat, means he can, he stopped sweating on Tarsus and never forgot it after. Academy uniforms are resilient day after day sweat after sweat, his mother's voice echoes in his head and he feels clean again. His hand are calloused shined in oil from his stint in engineering. As he wipes it off he glimpses the star-shaped scar on his knuckle where his cousin clawed at it and he remembers – ten years gone – that he wished her a happy birthday under the cold night sky, and she’d smiled at him and he hummed her to sleep, he was too hungry in the morning to remember, but he remembers it now, pulling staticky clothes out of the dryer: she was six years old. the memory hurts but it has scarred over so it does not bleed.
Jim takes a deep breath, a wave of emotion coming up in his chest. He expects the connection to end, expecting Spock’s volcano-hot fingers to retract, but they do not. They linger, and then—
Spock curled tight in his mother’s arms boneless weightless in half-sleep, he soaks up the warm honey soap of her clothes the smooth eucalyptus of her bodywash her touch on his forehead his smooth green skin, this touch is not yet forbidden. He dreams unvulcan unhuman something a bit of both inbetween infected with mother’s laughter the honey of her shirt fabric pressing soft against his cheek. When he wakes fully his father reminds him Vulcans do not cling.
Young Spock hot from the sun legs shaky from standing in school all day, he curses his human stamina his aching knees his flushing face. Father carting laundry in from the warm sand acknowledges him with a nod, tells him it is logical to rest if he is tired. Spock lets his fingers linger on the robes laid out on the bed, the warmth seeping into Spock is pleasant he only admits his privately pleasure is not Vulcan but he feels it anyway.
Amanda purses her lips and snaps sand off the cloth, it flutters away in the wind. Spock questions her: why does she do this,the fabric is made to expel the sand in due time. Amanda's smile at Spock is warm so very human, she says its an old habit from her time on earth one she has not been willing to give up. Spock finds logic in this, he picks up a sloth of fabric and snaps it to the wind beside his mother, her smile dazzling in the Vulcan heat.
The wind changes and sand flies back and rains on them both, Amanda grabs Spock’s receding wrist and insists she is not laughing at him— through the touch her sincerity swallows his embarrassment, he believes her, loves her, loves her, loves her – is it logical to love his mother? Is it not?
that night he lies on cool clean sheets and convinces himself it is, swallows the unVulcan guilt coiling in his chest.
Spock drags his laundry out to the sand pit, the double suns peering leering mocking to see if he is Vulcan enough to do it. His knees burn with leftover pain, he scrubs the emerald stains out of his shirt does not know if they are his or the other boys’. His too-human body aches and smarts under his robes from fistteethnails colliding with skin, his too-human shame wants to rub out the blood as if it will rub out the pain. He drags his robes out of the sand and they are warm dry clean Spock tells himself it is logical to feel accomplishment at a task successfully done. Later he tells himself it is illogical to be disappointed at his mother’s look when he drags the laundry basket back inside, the way she does not say anything but her eyes linger on his bruising lip before she turns back to stare at a desert the color of human blood.
Amanda leans over the railing staring at the vast red hills asks why they cant just use soap and not sand that gets everywhere, gritting her teeth so brazenly human it makes Spock ache. Humans radiate their feelings like heat from the summer sand her homesickness tastes bitter in Spock’s mouth.
Spock is not aggravated not impatient those are not Vulcan feelings but the sonic washers on the ship are inadequate inefficient his clothes are not sunwarmed when he pulls them from the drier. He does not let himself ache. he reviews a blueprint of the ship and calls Amanda later, asks about the practicality of Terran clothes washers and how to operate them—logically one who has had experience with them would be a better expert to consult than a manual—she exudes emotion when she responds, he can not read it through the distance and the holovid, but her eyes are alight and she smiles through the call, he leaves the vid… satisfied.
Spock’s fingers linger on Jim’s face and he gasps, thrown back into his own mind, seeing double, spinning with a hundred emotions, only some of them his own. He looks at Spock and sees him so sharply: the way his free hand lingers on the gently thudding washing machine, the human sweat just barely tingling his neck, the flush of his cheek.
“Fascinating,” Spock breathes, turning his fingers over and studying the short cuticle. If Kirk had to guess, he would say the emotional transfer was more intense than Spock had anticipated. That much was true of Kirk: his face is flushed and he feels the pull on Spock's chest, the longing for hot Vulcan sands and his mother's quiet smile in the twilight.
“Was that enough data for your research?” Jim asks, and despite his best efforts it comes out hoarse, strangled with emotion.
Spock blinks, steading his features.
Jim reaches closer, running one hand over the back of Spock's, while Spock watches the movement.
“I found that rather illuminating, myself,” He says, “Thank you for sharing, Spock.”
Spock does a Vulcan not-smile, and warmth spreads in Jim's chest.
“I hope, also,” He says, eyes glinting, “That you won't meld with anyone else you wish to get information from, at least not without consulting me first.”
Spock looks away again, his cheeks tinging green. “No, Jim, that will not be necessary.”
Jim laughs, and it echoes through the laundry room.