The Chief Medical Officer of Starbase 001 was a petite woman of indeterminate age with mousy brown hair pulled back in a braid, a freckled nose, and the promise of dimples. She stood next to McCoy, and the top of her head didn't reach his shoulder, and she couldn't have weighed a hundred pounds soaking wet. Neither of them was in uniform, but rather in scrubs.
She was perhaps the most terrifying person Jim had ever seen.
Or maybe Bones was, standing beside her.
They would be here to deliver the outcome of eight hours of surgery on Captain Pike, and Jim was terrified to hear the results. Before they'd left the ship, Bones had told him that Pike was touch-and-go; moments of clear lucidity bracketed by horrifying insanity.
Jim wanted to wrap his arms around himself, but he forced himself to attention. Dr. Groesbeck did, after all, hold the rank of rear-admiral. It was… irregular… that she should address him at all.
"Admiral," he said.
Her eyes, the color of sea glass, took him in with one brief sweep and she shook her head a little. "At ease, Cadet. Captain Pike is fine."
Sagging with relief, eyes stinging, Jim swallowed hard. "Th-thank you, doc-admir-doc… ma'am."
She smiled a little. "Doctor," she said. "And don't thank me. Thank Dr. McCoy. He's the one that saved the Captain's life."
"No," McCoy said. "Kirk saved his life. I just made sure he stayed alive."
"Well, you two can sort out who gets what credit," she told them. "I've got to go report to Command. The reason I came out here, Kirk, is to tell you that Pike is asking for you."
"Yes." She raised an eyebrow. "Go. Dismissed."
"Thank you!" Jim half-shouted over his shoulder, breaking into a run through the doors she'd come out of.
"Oh, for—" McCoy muttered, then followed him. "Jim! You don't know where he is!"
Jim skidded to a halt. "I figured someone would tell me."
McCoy rolled his eyes and pointed. "Down that hall, first door to the right. And don't go jostling him all over the place! He just came out of surgery!"
Jim waved an acknowledgement over his shoulder and found the room, straightening his back just before he stepped inside.
Pike lay on a bed, tubes running into his arms and disappearing down the neck of his gown. He looked very small, and very fragile like that, and Jim tiptoed to his bedside, picking up one bruised hand. Pike squeezed his hand, then opened his eyes.
"Kirk," he croaked.
"It's okay," Jim told him. "It's all okay. We made it. I don't think command had grasped that it was a bunch of cadets flying the ship in. Sulu scraped a wing while docking—it wasn't his fault, we took a heavy battering and not all the controls were functioning, and you know what they say about a good landing being one where everyone makes it but command started having a fit because there were no officers on the ship, well that's not true because Scotty was there and he's an officer, and Spock's an officer of course but Spock's never been in command before and he'd never been in battle before, I didn't know that, he did an amazing job, you know, and Scotty, well, he's Scotty, I hope he sticks around, but none of the rest of us had any business being on the bridge at all except there was no one else and... and maybe if there had been someone else we could have done more…"
Pike lifted a hand and placed his fingers over Jim's lips.
Jim quit babbling.
"You said everything that was important in the first ten words," Pike told him. "You made it. You did what you had to do, and you did well."
A shaky smile wavered onto his lips. "Thank you, sir."
"Your father would be proud. I know I am." Pike gestured for him to lean down. Jim did, bracing his hands on the bed. Pike got an arm around him and pulled him the rest of the way down, never mind his own injuries or the tubes or the bed rails or anything else, and for a moment Jim just stood there, then let out a sob that he'd been fighting all day.
"You're going to make a fine officer, Jim," Pike told him, smoothing his hair. "A fine commander."
"I'm glad you're okay," Jim said, pulling himself together enough to straighten.
"What about everyone else?" Pike asked. "How's your crew holding up?"
"They're okay. They're…" He shook his head. "We're glad to be back. I think we're all going to appreciate the classroom a little more."
"Are you sure they're okay?"
"What do they need?" Pike asked. "Don't shield me, Jim. Your duty is to your crew. What do they need from you right now?"
"They need some rest," Jim said. "We've been in one briefing after another all day, and some of them feel like inquisitions—"
"No whining," Jim agreed. "And I'll make the logs available, and I'll answer any questions, and everyone else will too, but they all need to rest."
"Have you told Command?"
"I'm not… it's not my… I'm just…" Every excuse he came up with died on his lips until he nodded. "I'll tell them as soon as I leave here." He blinked a few times. "How? Who do I tell?"
"Start with whoever's closest and bully your way up the chain until you find someone who's willing to listen. Remember, Jim, you and your classmates were called to duty before those desk jockeys. Don't get arrogant on them, but hold your ground and insist that your crew gets what they need."
"How's Spock holding up?"
"I—he—I don't know, sir. He said he wanted to be alone. He's with the other… with the other Vulcans." Jim had almost said 'with the other survivors'.
Pike just looked at him and waited.
"I'll go find him," Jim said. "As soon as I get the rest of the crew released to their quarters—"
"Be reasonable, Jim. You may not get them released to their quarters."
Jim nodded. "Dinner, showers, fresh clothes, beds."
"Then I'll find Spock and…" And then what? Jim had never needed a plan before, but he had no idea what he was going to say to Spock. What do you say to someone who has just watched his entire world be destroyed?
Pike squeezed his hand again. "You'll figure it out," he said.
Impulsively—because did he ever do anything any other way?—Jim bent and kissed Pike's forehead. "Don't worry about us, sir," he said. "You get your rest too. I'll take care of everyone else."
Pike smiled at him. "I know you will." He released Jim's hand. "Now go, and don't forget to take care of you while you're at it. I'll see you tomorrow."
By the time Jim reached the waiting room where the bridge crew was being held, he'd composed himself again. He marched right through the room and out the door on the other side, just as though he expected to be allowed to keep going. When a guard stepped in front of him, Jim planted his feet, crossed his arms and met the guard's gaze head-on.
"I can't let you leave," the guard told him.
Jim nodded for a second, then cocked his head to one side. "What's your name?"
The guard gave him a 'don't screw with me, kid' look, but he answered. "Curry. Lieutenant Curry."
That was supposed to be a cadet's cue to salute and back down, but Jim stood his ground. "Well, Lieutenant Curry, any idea when my crew is going to get out of here?"
"When the debriefing is done," Curry replied.
Jim rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, I already got that. Any idea how long that's going to take?"
"Until it's done."
Jim exhaled, and reached for Curry's arm, directing him to the side a little. "Look," he said, "I'm not trying to cause trouble for once in my life. I'm too damn tired. Do you know what a long day it's been? For all of us?" He lowered his voice a little. "I get that you've got your orders. Just… can't I talk to someone? You know, appeal to someone's humanity? We just…" he fought down a half-hysterical laugh. "We just fought a battle out there. Don't you think we at least deserve some dinner?"
Curry's lips twitched into a brief smile and he nodded. "I'll see what I can do."
Jim clapped him on the shoulder. "Thanks, man. I owe you one." He went back into the waiting room.
"What was that about?" Bones asked.
"Just trying to get us out of here," Jim said.
"Well, why don't you sit down while you're waiting? You look like you're dead on your feet."
"Nah, I'm fine." If he sat, Jim was afraid he'd go to sleep. Now that he knew Pike was okay, the exhaustion was starting to creep up on him. He rubbed his hands together to dispel a sudden chill.
"Fine, huh?" Bones asked.
"Why don't you sit down?" Jim asked. "You don't look so hot either."
"If I sit down now, I'm going to pass out," Bones replied. "I'd rather do that in my bed."
"Yeah," Jim said. "Me too."
A minute passed, then another, and Jim went back to the door. Curry was still outside, but he didn't leap to his feet this time.
"Any word on us getting out of here?"
"I've got a call out to Cmdr. Richardson."
"Does he know it?"
"Well, I imagine he's at din—" Curry broke off, seeming to remember that dinner was one of the things Jim was asking for.
Jim just smiled.
"I'll page him again."
About twenty minutes later, a couple of ensigns started rolling in tables and sandwich trays, and set up a few coffee pots along one wall. Jim rolled his eyes and went back out into the hall. "Looks like they're gearing up for us to stay here for a while," he commented.
"Cmdr. Richardson said to tell you that the debriefings may last the rest of the night, but he said he'd try to get you all through in time to go back to your barracks after breakfast."
"Oh," Jim said, telling himself to be reasonable, that Lt. Curry could not control the situation. "Can I talk to Cmdr. Richardson?"
"Let me guess. He's off duty now, right?"
Jim bit back another laugh. "Who took his place?"
"Can I talk to Cmdr. Vargas?"
"I'll page her."
"Thanks." Jim went back inside and sat down, too irritated to be sleepy now. He watched as the decimated crew picked up their sandwiches in silence and retreated to the corners of floor that they'd claimed.
"Here," Bones said, handing him a plate. "Eat."
"This is ridiculous," Jim muttered, shoving half the sandwich in his mouth. "We should be eating steak, not ham sandwiches."
"I can't understand a word you're saying. Don't talk with your mouth full." Bones settled in next to him. "How go the negotiations for hostage release?"
Jim just glared at him.
"Don't take it personally, kid. We're all in the same boat—"
"You know what? That's what has me so pissed off. I mean, hell, if they want to march me to the principal's office that's one thing. I wasn't supposed to be on that ship in the first place and I didn't act like a good cadet, but they need to let everyone else go to bed. What time is it, anyway?"
"Around nine. If they turned you loose, would you go to bed?"
"I might," Jim replied. After I finish my assignment.
"What is this really about, Jim? We're in Starfleet, not kindergarten. We'll survive."
"That's the point," Jim muttered. "We already survived."
Bones ate a few more bites of his sandwich, then asked, "Do you think it would help your cause if a doctor weighed in with her opinion of the state of well-being of the crew?"
"Want me to see if I can get Groesbeck on our side?"
"I'll see what I can do." He pushed himself to his feet and went to page the admiral.
In the meantime, Jim got up and went to poke his head out the door again and ask Curry, "Is she coming?"
"She said she's got a few meetings—"
"Okay, look, I'm trying to be reasonable here, but you've got to work with me, Curry. Take a look in there. Does that scene look to you like it conforms with Federation regulations on the treatment of war criminals?"
"You're not war criminals."
"Damn right, we're not! We deserve at least the minimum standard reserved for war criminals!"
Curry was starting to look a little less friendly.
"Call Vargas again."
"I want to speak with your superior, Lieutenant."
Curry's expression hardened, but he took out his communicator. "Cmdr. Vargas? Lt. Curry here. Cadet Kirk is demanding to speak with you."
Jim leaned over and said into the communicator, "That's right, Commander. I have complaints about the treatment of my crew."
Jim figured the pause was due to the commander trying to decide what to address first—a young upstart cadet addressing her in such a fashion, the same cadet referring to six hundred other cadets as 'his crew', or the audacity of the same cadet complaining about their treatment.
"What's the problem, Kirk?" she asked.
He folded his arms, even though he knew she couldn't see him. "I want them released to barracks."
"Out of the question."
"Has been going on for nine hours now. Schedule us in shifts."
"You may not recognize my authority, Commander, but these people risked their lives out there today. The least you can do is get them a warm bed. I would have added a hot meal to the list, but we've already been served our ham sandwiches. Did you have a good dinner, Commander?"
"We've got protocols to follow--"
"Designate a barrack for us and keep us sequestered somewhere with beds. No one's been called in for two hours anyway."
He was met with silence, and he tried not to guess that everyone who was charged with debriefing them had already called it a night.
"Come on, Commander," Jim said. "The Federation treats criminals better than this."
"It's out of my hands, Kirk. I'll see if I can get—"
"Do not say you'll see if you can get us bedrolls. I want beds."
"There's nothing I can do about that."
"Fine. Then find someone who can."
"I'm the officer in charge right now…"
"That's the nice thing about Starfleet, Commander. There's always someone with more brass. Find me one of those people, or I swear to God I will force my way up the chain. Kirk out."
He didn't have the pleasure of snapping off the communicator, but he did walk away and sat back down with a huff.
A few minutes later, Bones joined him again. "I left a message for Groesbeck. They wouldn't page her."
"I bet she's off duty and not to be disturbed," Jim muttered. He leaned his head against the wall and counted seconds until he thought about five minutes had passed, then he climbed to his feet again and set off for the door—
And ran smack into Admiral Mays, the superintendent over the Academy. Jim wondered if the woman ever took off her uniform. Not a hair was out of place on her head.
"Cadet," she said.
He sighed a little. "Admiral Mays. You're not the brass I was hoping for."
"Well, I'm the one you got, Cadet. I understand you've been complaining your way up the chain of command."
It was easier to cop an attitude with someone who didn't decide if he passed or failed, but hell, he was in this far, might as well keep going. "I do have some complaints. We've been up for two solid days. All I want is beds for my crew—er—shipmates. Classmates." He straightened. "All I want is beds."
She studied him for a moment, then glanced across the waiting room. Several cadets had fallen asleep on the floor, some leaning against each other, others huddled against the wall. She looked at Jim again.
"Please," he whispered.
"All right, Kirk," she said. "You've made your point. Now go sit down and I'll see if I can't arrange more comfortable accommodations for you and your…" she looked at them again, then back at him. "You and your crew."
He felt the heat creeping into his cheeks, but he refused to apologize. They were his crew, and every time he said it, he believed it a little more, and they were not sleeping on the floor tonight. Not if he had to orchestrate a jail break.
"Admiral?" Jim called as she started to leave.
"Your word?" Her eyes widened a little in affront. Oh well, he thought. In for a penny, in for a pound. "Earlier I asked for dinner for us. Cmdr. Richardson sent sandwiches."
Mays shook her head a little. "All right, Kirk. You have my word. I'll get you all in beds within the hour. Good enough?"
"And fresh uniforms?"
She hrmphed. "I thought you wanted to go to bed? Wouldn't you rather have pajamas?" She reached out and patted his shoulder. "I'll take care of you. I promise."
She was as good as her word. Within fifteen minutes, barrack commanders started coming in to retrieve the cadets, two dozen at a time to escort them to the showers and then bedded them down in groups of eight. By midnight, Jim was one of just a handful left in the waiting room. He was escorted to a debriefing instead of to the shower.
For another hour, he answered question after question until Admiral Mays called an end to it. "He's told you everything that happened," she said. "You've got the ship's logs to confirm it, and tomorrow you'll have the data downloaded. Is he free to go?"
"Dismissed," the investigator said.
"Go home, Kirk," Mays told him. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Your barracks. Your normal ones." She smiled a little. "Or, if you want to go get yourself a steak, I doubt I'll notice if you're out past curfew. This once."
He grinned. "Thanks, Admiral."
"You and your classmates—your crew—are the ones who deserve our thanks." She jerked her head towards the door. "Now go. Take advantage of my momentary blindness, because I assure you it won't last past Monday morning."
Without any further argument, Jim set off down the street.
It wasn't a steak he was after, though. He didn't even know for sure where to find what he was looking for, but he followed his heart or his gut or maybe even some little voice of reason. However it happened, he found himself in front of the Vulcan Embassy, staring up at the tall, carved iron gates that to his knowledge had never before been closed. They were now.
He reached out to test them and found that they were closed, but not locked. He pushed them open, let himself in, and shut the gates behind him.
He'd only ever seen the embassy from a distance, and that seemed a shame now. It was hard to make out much about from the light from a lopsided moon. The walkway was laid with some sort of stone that gleamed in the soft silver light, and he followed its curving path all the way to the front doors, where a pair of human guards stood, watching him.
Neither spoke until he was near enough to touch the door.
"May I help you?" one of them asked then, so calm that he might have been Vulcan.
"I'm looking for Spock. Commander Spock. Sarek's son."
"Perhaps you should come back," the other guard suggested.
"I know it's… they're in mourning. All of them. I—" Jim had no idea how to explain who he was. "I get it. I do," he said. "But Spock's my friend and I just want to make sure he's okay."
"If you would like to leave a message—"
"No," Jim interrupted. "I don't want to leave a message. I want to see him. Now, if you're telling me he's asleep—"
"It would be expected, given the hour."
"You're not asleep. I'm not asleep. Why do you think he is? Just… go check for me, okay? Please? I swear to you, I'm not going to cause problems, I just want to know how he's holding up."
"Sir, you need to leave. The embassy is not accepting visitors."
"I'm not visiting the embassy!" He took a deep breath and forced his voice to a quieter volume. "I'm visiting a friend. If you were in his position, wouldn't you want your friends around you?"
"Ambassador Sarek has requested that no one be allowed inside. That includes you."
"How do you know it includes me?" Jim wheedled. "I'm no reporter, I'm not carrying any weapons, I'm not petitioning anyone for anything. I just want to see my friend."
"We would prefer not to use force—"
"Then don't. Just… just go inside and look for him."
"Oh for—haven't you ever had a friend? Haven't you ever had a friend who's been through a lot? Would you be turned away?"
"He needs me. He lost his mother today. He needs to know he's not alone now. I'm not going to upset him, I'm not going to interfere with his grief, and I'm not going to disturb anyone—"
"You are already disturbing the solitude—"
"Why do you think I'm the one causing the scene? I'm not being difficult!"
A light came on and a weary-looking Sarek appeared at the door. He did recognize Jim, but he said nothing to indicate it. "Is something amiss?"
Jim's throat clenched as he looked at the ambassador.
"I'm sorry, Ambassador," one of the guards said, grabbing Jim by the arm. "He's just leaving."
"Wait," Jim begged.
"Release him," Sarek commanded. "What is it you seek?" he asked Jim.
"Spock," Jim replied. "Is he here? Please tell me he's here. I haven't seen him since… since we…" Jim wormed out of the guard's grasp. "Is he here?"
"Yes," Sarek answered. "He grieves. As do we all."
"I know," Jim whispered. "I'm not going to do anything to make it worse, sir. I just want to know that he's okay. As well as can be expected."
Sarek regarded him for a moment, then stepped aside, gesturing into the foyer. "Come," he said. "But please, be quiet."
Jim nodded and followed Sarek through the reception area, through a private sitting room, past several closed doors and down a hall. Sarek opened a door and ushered Jim inside.
Spock was standing facing a wall, his hands clasped behind his back. He didn't turn as he asked, "Did you discover the cause of the commotion?"
"Yes," Sarek replied. "I found a familiar face. He claims to be your friend. Will you make the same claim for him?"
Even before he turned, Spock suspected he knew who this 'friend' was who had walked so into the embassy as though the Vulcans within had not just suffered an unspeakable loss. He could think of no one except James Kirk who would be so audacious, have such utter disregard for propriety.
Spock turned, battling the conflicting emotions of anger and gratitude, but when he saw Kirk, whatever words he would have spoken withered on his tongue.
It was a trick of the light. A trick of the firelight in his hair, on his face, gleaming in his eyes. The light, and perhaps the black clothing he wore that set his features into such sharp contrast. It was impossible that he would be radiating light.
"Kirk," Spock said, forcing his tone to remain even. He dared not say more.
"I'm sorry, Spock. I know I shouldn't have come here, but I had to know that you're… Are you…?"
"I am uninjured."
Kirk took a few steps forward, away from the disconcerting light, and his features became more human again. His eyes still gleamed with unnatural brightness though.
For a moment, Spock thought Kirk would touch him, as humans were wont to do when they forgot themselves. Under normal circumstances, a step backward was all that was needed to remind the expressive species that their affections were not desired, but Spock's back was already to the wall. He could retreat no further. He braced himself for the inevitable…
Which did not come. Kirk caught himself and lowered his hand.
Spock could have been forgiven if he had experienced relief. He did not, though. He experienced a stab of something far less understandable, regret perhaps. Perhaps the human side of him wished the embrace that his Vulcan side would deny him.
Illogical. You have but one will, he told himself.
"Are you okay?" Kirk asked.
Illogical as well. Spock had no answer for that query. Any response would have been a mere gratification of what Kirk already knew to be true. Kirk just stood there waiting until Spock said, "My condition is as you would expect. If you require further updates, I suggest that you send a message. I shall check messages at twelve-hour intervals. I trust this is sufficient?"
"Spock…" Kirk lifted his hand again and Spock braced himself again, and once again Kirk caught himself and lowered his hand. "I know you're hurting. I wish there was something I could say to lessen the pain."
"Such words do not exist," Spock informed him. "I am appreciative of your concerns, but there is nothing more that you can do here. You should leave."
Kirk nodded. "I should." He turned back to Sarek, who had watched the entire exchange without speaking, and made a respectful bow. "I apologize for disturbing…" He turned back around. "Come on, Spock, let's go get a drink or something."
Even Sarek's eyes widened a little. Spock looked at his father in dismay.
Kirk turned to Sarek again. "With your permission, that is? Sir?"
Sarek recovered his control and said, "My son is grown and quite capable of making his own decisions."
"Spock?" Kirk prompted, turning back toward him again.
That moment was long enough for Spock to recover his control as well. "You may not be aware that Vulcans do not drink alcohol. Our physiology is unaffected, which renders the ritual meaningless—"
"Drinks don't have to have alcohol," Kirk countered. "We could get a Coke. Or a coffee. Or I know a juice bar off—"
"It is very late," Spock interrupted.
"I know, and it's an incredible night. It's not cold, the sky is clear, there's just enough breeze—"
"Have you already been drinking?"
Sarek's face registered brief disapproval at the tactless question, but Spock had not spent nine years studying and teaching at Starfleet Academy to not know that irrational humans who were up late were often under the influence of one substance or another, and that alcohol was the most benign of those substances.
"No," Kirk said. "I haven't had time to get drunk. I just got out of my debriefing before I came here. Everyone else is sequestered until tomorrow."
"I see," Spock said. At least he had his answer now. It would be very short-sighted to assume that the humans who had survived would not be affected because it was not their planet they had watched destroyed. Not their mothers who had died with arm outstretched, seconds from transport, fingers bare millimeters from—Logic, he reminded himself.
"You do?" Kirk asked.
"Yes. You do not wish to be alone and your friends are inaccessible. It is… not illogical, given the circumstances, that you would seek me as another comrade—"
This time, Spock was unprepared for Kirk to reach out and grab his arm this time. "No, you—" His hand closed over Spock's arm, which was shock enough that Spock barely heard him finish. "—you're not a last resort. You're—I hope you're my friend." Kirk's other hand circled to the back of Spock's neck, pulling him against him.
Spock stood stiff, battling his emotions as well as Kirk's, and Kirk's were fare more foreign to him. He was exhausted, and Spock didn't know what was keeping him on his feet unless it was the sheer force of everything else he was feeling. Fear, genuine fear of the unknown, a bone-deep sorrow for lives he couldn't save, a tender regard for friends, new friends and old, friends he didn't even know a week ago but loved with every fiber of his being, fierce determination to… to… it was impossible to tell what Kirk was so determined to do but he was determined and…
Kirk wrapped his arms tighter around Spock, almost crushing him. Spock tried to wedge himself away, but it was no use; his knees buckled and his vision blurred with the overwhelming surge of emotions that kept coming, wave after wave, carried from Kirk's skin to his own and taking up residence in a place that he had never thought of as hollow. Kirk supported him and held him all the tighter.
It was Sarek who interrupted them. He removed Spock from Kirk's arms, and urged Kirk to stand aside. "I am certain that Spock appreciates your concern, but I do not believe that he finds such emotional displays to be of comfort."
Spock was shaking as he tried to regain the precarious control that he had fought so hard for over the last several hours. In just two point six minutes, Kirk had obliterated all that he had accomplished.
"Spock, perhaps a walk would be of benefit," Sarek said, then lowered his voice for Spock's ears alone. "For Captain Kirk if not for you."
"He is not a captain," Spock replied in a similar whisper. "He is a cadet."
"What are you two whispering about?" Kirk asked.
"If you were meant to hear, we would have spoken so that you could," Spock informed him. "Very well, we will go for a brief walk."
"How about breakfast?"
"It is not yet midnight."
"Then how about dinner?"
"It is rather late for dinner."
"How about pancakes?" Kirk suggested. "Do you like pancakes? I could go for some chocolate-chip banana pancakes."
"Spock…" Sarek prompted.
Spock knew that Kirk had just hit a raw nerve. Banana pancakes were one of Spock's mother's favorite indulgences.
"Very well," Spock said. "We shall go have pancakes."
"Do you like pancakes?"
Spock grabbed Kirk's arm and steered him out of the embassy before he could say anything else. He babbled about pancakes all the way to the door.
"— amazing cinnamon roll pancakes with this gooey glaze dripping all over them and spiced nuts over the top. It is to die for. You should meet my brother sometime, Spock, you'd like him a lot. You've got a lot in common. He's about your age—"
"Will you please arrange transportation?" Spock asked one of the human aides. "We are going to eat pancakes."
"Oh, you don't have to do that," Kirk said. "It's just around the corner." He continued out the door.
Spock followed him, half-listening to his rambling, one-sided conversation as they left the embassy and started down the sidewalk.
"—don't know where Sammy learned to cook like that. I never did. I can't boil water without burning it."
"It is not possible to burn water," Spock said.
"No," Kirk agreed. "But it is possible to boil it all away and forget the pan's on the stove and come back half an hour later to a plastic handle melting into a burner. I'm telling you, if it weren't for the pre-programs on the replicator, I'd starve. Pre-programmed replicators and little hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Do you like hasperat?"
"I am not familiar with this."
"Oh my God, Spock, you've got to try it. There's this Bajoran lady—Onara, Inara, Anara… something like that—anyway, she has a cart and sometimes she sets up by the quad at lunchtime and… Next time I see her, I'll get you one so you can try it. It's amazing--"
"May I ask where we are going?" Spock interrupted. They had arrived at a pier.
"We're going for pancakes, remember?"
"Yes. If we continue along this path, however, we shall be swimming."
"Oh. Yeah. How'd we get here? We need to go… um… that way." He indicated a direction which was still waterlogged.
"Across the bay?" Spock asked.
"Yeah. Come on."
"Do you not think that quite a long walk in the dark?"
"It's just a couple of miles, and you have to admit it's a gorgeous night. I'm up for it if you are…?"
Spock estimated the distance to be more on the order of five miles (four point eight-three, to be precise), and he suspected it would have been more logical to call for a transport. He was, however, also inclined to agree that the night was most agreeable. Far preferable to being wedged into an aircar with Kirk. So they retraced a few meters of their journey so far and set out again with a slight course correction.
"You know what? I'm babbling like an idiot here," Kirk said as they ambled onto a trail that followed the shoreline, near enough that the sounds of the ocean drowned out the noise of the city. "Thing is, I don't know what to say. Just… I'm here if you want to talk, you know?"
"I thank you," Spock said, then added after several seconds of silence, "I do not wish to speak of my grief. It is…"
"Unspeakable?" Kirk suggested.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, then Kirk nudged him with his elbow and pointed out to sea. "Look."
Spock squinted. "I am not certain what you wish that I see."
"Look at the water."
Spock studied it again. "It is the ocean. It looks as it always looks."
"Do you not see the glow?"
"Yes. And the moonlight. And the stars…" Kirk gestured at the sky. "You know, I can never get over the stars. I couldn't see them where I grew up—all the floodlights on the shipyard, and the buildings, and the streetlights. I mean, I had friends from bigger cities who thought it was dark in Iowa, but I'd never seen anything as dark as the ocean."
"I have wondered why there are not more lights here," Spock said. "It never seemed significant enough to warrant research, though."
"Oh, I can tell you that. It's the turtles."
"Yep. The sea turtles. They lay their eggs on the beach, and they hatch at night. The hatchlings go out to the sea, but if there are too many lights around, they get confused and crawl inland instead and die. So there are a lot of regulations about light pollution on the coasts."
"I was not aware of this."
"You hear more about the failures than the successes. We managed to kill off the humpback whale, the American alligator, the giraffe, almost all the big cats… I was just a kid when the last gorilla died. But we saved the turtles. That means something, right?"
"Yes. It is laudable that your species has been able to preserve the turtles."
"And the peacock. Have you ever seen a peacock?"
"I have seen holographs."
"I need to take you to the zoo. You haven't been to the zoo, have you? Of course not. If you had, you'd have seen a peacock."
"I have not."
"There's one here and it's not bad, but there's a better one in San Diego. And there's a spectacular one in Hagåtña Have you been to Guam?"
"We should go to Guam. Wait, no. We should go to the Leghari islands. Have you ever heard of them?"
"They're these amazing coral islands in the south pacific. It's an amazing story—so, you know that we colonized the moon in… ah, what was it? 2068? 67?"
"July 20, 2069," Spock corrected. "The first colonist transport vessel docked one hundred years to the hour after your Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the moon."
Kirk grinned. "That's right. So, anyway, rising sea levels had been threatening coastal regions for decades, and the colonists on the moon needed water, so we built the Trans-Atmospheric Standpipe to pump water from the ocean all the way to the moon. As we siphoned water from the surface, the sea levels fell again and a whole string of islands that had sunk in the last century were uncovered. How amazing is that?"
Spock looked at him. There were so many misstatements in that explanation that he didn't even know where to begin correcting them. None of them altered the substantive truth, however. "The Trans-Atmospheric Standpipe is regarded as one of the engineering marvels of the Federation," Spock replied. "I must point out, however, that no pipe—or anything else—connects your planet to your moon."
Kirk waved that technicality away. "Moon, exosphere, what's the difference?"
"Some 375,000 kilometers."
Kirk's laughed far longer than even a human's sense of humor could explain. "The point," he said when he finished laughing, "is that we built it. And you know who helped?" Kirk leaned in to whisper, as though it were a great secret, "Vulcans. The first great collaboration between our two species."
"You overstate the magnitude of the collaboration. My people had little practical experience with hydro-engineering."
"Doesn't matter," Kirk replied. "We had no experience at all with trans-atmospheric umbilical cords, and that's not the point. The point—"
"Is that we collaborated, I know."
"No," Kirk said. He stopped walking and grabbed Spock's wrist, pulling him to a halt as well. "No. I keep getting off track. The point is that it's amazing. Just think about it—we created an ocean on the moon—" Spock thought that 'ocean' was a generous description; perhaps 'large lake' "—and we uncovered a whole archipelago that had been underwater for more than a hundred years, and then we hauled sand up from the seafloor to cover the barren rock and now the largest of those islands is a tourist destination for beings from across the galaxy! And we should go there!"
Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "You are delirious," he said at last. "You have ceased to make sense at all—"
"Just listen to me, okay? Quit thinking and just listen. It's about life. It's about all the amazing things that happen all around us every day. It's about bioluminescence and peacock feathers and lunar lakes and man-made islands and… and…" Kirk's voice broke. "And sea turtles," he whispered. "Don't forget about the sea turtles."
The sea turtles seemed very important to him, and Spock found himself nodding. "I shall not forget the sea turtles," he promised.
Kirk shook his head. "I'm still not making sense," he said.
No, Spock thought. Not a bit.
"They survived," Kirk said. "Don't forget the ones who survived. I know you're grieving for the ones who were lost, and you need to grieve, but remember…" Tears toppled out of his eyes and he let go of Spock's hand. "Remember the sea turtles," he whispered. "We helped them, and they survived, and… and…"
Spock just stared at him.
"My mom—" Kirk started, then blinked and looked away. "My mom forgot to live again. She forgot that she had two sons. All she cared about was that my dad wasn't there, that he didn't make it. I don't think she ever forgave me for living…"
"Kirk—Jim," Spock began, but Jim waved him silent.
"It's fine," he said. "That was a long time ago, and I'm not trying to measure my grief against yours. I'm just saying… I'm just asking you, Spock, please don't forget the ones who survived. Please. And that includes you. You have to promise me you'll live."
His eyes were so intense, is voice so laden with emotion that Spock found himself nodding. "I will not forget those who live," he promised.
Kirk—Jim—wrapped both his arms around Spock again and buried his head against his shoulder. The same emotions that had threatened to overwhelm him before seemed almost benign now. He didn't try to sort them out, just accepted them, along with Jim Kirk and his unorthodox midnight walk and his all-important sea turtles… Spock tightened his arms around him and leaned his head against the top of Jim's.
Jim sagged against him. After a moment, Spock leaned back and peered under the golden hair to confirm his suspicions. Jim was asleep, on his feet and in Spock's arms.
Spock almost laughed, a response no less absurd than any other response this infuriating human had provoked from him to date. He considered his options, then shifted Jim into his arms. He was an awkward load—not heavy, but his limbs were long and his head lolled about, threatening Spock's balance. It was clear that carrying him anywhere was not a feasible option.
So Spock called for an aircar.
The aircar could have taken them to the Academy barracks as easily as anywhere else, but Spock directed the driver to return them to the Vulcan embassy instead, and when they arrived, he asked one of the aids to assist him in taking Kirk to his father's quarters.
Sarek raised an eyebrow as Spock stepped sideways into the sitting room with a young human male more or less unconscious in his arms.
"May he stay here tonight?" Spock asked.
"Of course," Sarek replied, opening the door to one of the guest suites. Spock carried Kirk inside and laid him on the bed. "You were not gone as long as I thought you might be," Sarek said as Spock eased off one of Kirk's boots, then the other.
"He fell asleep," Spock answered, dropping the second boot to the floor. "He fell asleep standing. I have heard of humans doing such a thing, but this was the first time I have witnessed it."
"He was exhausted," Sarek answered, retrieving a blanket from the closet. He shook it over the sleeping cadet. "He should have gone to sleep many hours ago. As should you have."
"There was much to be done," Spock countered.
"And all of it will exist tomorrow." Sarek smoothed the blanket over Kirk and gestured for Spock to follow him. He shut the door. "Go to bed, Spock."
"There is something I must say first."
"Very well." Sarek started as Spock picked up his hand.
"I am grateful that you survived," Spock informed him. "You told me before that you are grateful that I am a child of two worlds. I wish you to know that I am as grateful for you as—as for—" Spock's voice broke and he lowered his head, releasing Sarek's hand, but not before an intense sense of shame surged through their contact.
Sarek lifted Spock's hand to his face. Spock's eyes widened, but almost instinct led his fingers to the meld-points and their thoughts flowed together. Everything that they had never said passed between them in an instant, such a wealth of complicated and simple emotion that it would require days of meditation to sort through everything they now shared.
But on a few points, perhaps all that mattered, their thoughts resonated with agreement. They were each affected by Amanda's death. They were each relieved that the other had survived. They each wished it had not taken such a catastrophe to bring them together. They each felt the nameless bond that existed between parent and child.
At last, Sarek closed his hand over Spock's and removed it from his face. "Go to bed," he whispered. "Tomorrow will be soon enough to begin healing." He indicated the door behind which Kirk was sleeping. "And if I may be so bold as to suggest it, tonight may not be a night to sleep alone."
"What about you?"
"I am going to send a message to Starfleet informing them of young Kirk's whereabouts and requesting that he be allowed to remain here for a few days."
"Then perhaps I will join you if I may? I believe tonight may not be a night for any of us to sleep alone."