Author: by CatalenaMara
Relationship status: First Time
Word count: 13,474
Summary: Inspired by and a sequel to the novel "Ishmael". Originally published in 2009 in the print fanzine Legends # 5. My thanks to my betas – Debbie Cummins and Greywolf the Wanderer.
What happened before: Spock, tortured by Klingons and suffering amnesia from the effects of the mindsifter, has been stranded in the past in 1860’s Seattle where he becomes involved in the lives of the people there. The Klingons nearly succeed in changing earth history by attempting to assassinate a man named Aaron Stemple who is a key player in earth history – a man who saved Spock’s life and taught him what he needed to know to survive in Earth’s 19th century. Aaron is at death’s door from the effects of a disruptor ray when Kirk and company come to the rescue. My story starts at that point.
As soon as they stepped out of the transporter beam, McCoy issued several orders. The waiting med team efficiently placed Mr. Stemple on the gurney and in seconds everyone was out the door and on the way to Sickbay. Spock immediately took his accustomed position at Kirk’s side, as if months had not passed since they had last walked the corridors of the Enterprise together.
As they hurried to Sickbay, Kirk found himself repeatedly looking over at Spock, reassuring himself of the presence of his friend. Here. Safe. Alive. With me.
Spock walked as quickly as he always had, his gait obviously long-adapted to a pronounced limp. What had happened to him? Images from a thousand nightmares laid their cold hands on him. He had woken at night many times, his breath trapped in his chest, his soul burdened by the weight of those terrifying visions.
No time for this. He pushed those thoughts away, repeating his new mantra. Spock was here. Safe.
He took another glance at Spock. With his long hair obscuring his ears and eyebrows, and dressed in the old earth clothing of flannel and jeans, Spock looked human — and, oddly, he seemed more alien to Kirk than he ever had before.
Is it just his long absence? Kirk had been convinced that Spock was dead. With the knowledge that Spock was irrevocably gone, he had realized that Spock had made him complete in a way no one else ever had. Like an amputation, still fresh, Spock’s absence had been pain, shock, icy numbness buried under his determination to solve the riddle of Spock’s last transmission and finish the mission. At all costs, he had been determined to finish the mission. And then… then he would have found some way to go on.
But it was not too late. Spock was here, by his side, and now they were approaching Sickbay.
Spock turned and met his gaze at the exact moment he turned to look at his friend again. The tiniest of smiles touched his first officer’s lips and then vanished as they moved through the sickbay doors.
Once inside Sickbay, McCoy issued a flurry of orders and his staff moved in quick and orderly precision. In short order, Aaron Stemple was prepped and taken into the operating room.
Already following, McCoy swiveled on one heel and fixed Spock with a stern glare. “Don’t you even think of leaving until I have a chance to give you a complete exam.”
Though Spock’s long hair obscured his forehead, he clearly lifted an eyebrow in a gesture Kirk was only too familiar with, and he was again filled with sudden fierce joy. Alive. Home. Here. With me.
McCoy was continuing, “Simon, give him a preliminary exam. After that, Spock, you can wait for me in my office or get some rest on one of the biobeds. I recommend the latter. You’re practically dead on your feet.” The doctor disappeared into the operating room without another word.
Simon, a short, stocky, efficient man, led Spock over to a biobed. As the medic settled the bed back into its horizontal position, Spock’s gaze met Kirk’s, and he gave his captain his best long-suffering look. Kirk found himself breaking into a silly grin, suddenly as happy as he’d ever been in his life.
Kirk looked up at the readings monitor. He’d long ago learned what Spock’s normal readings were, and it was reassuring to see the telltales shift to close to their usual positions.
Simon busied himself with the scanners. Spock’s eyes drifted shut, and Kirk was struck again by the exhaustion lining Spock’s face. All that time spent in the past… an alien among humans. How did you survive?
Part of the answer lay in Spock’s appearance. Kirk instinctively knew who must have been, in part, responsible for Spock’s survival. His gaze turned toward the closed door to the operating theatre.
So it comes down to this, he thought. All the frantic activity of the last several days, all the frenzied research extrapolating from the sparse clues Spock had transmitted from the Klingon ore freighter as to how the Klingons intended to alter history, the hazardous passage back in time to Seattle in the year 1867, all of it focused on one man: Aaron Stemple. A man whose death would change Earth’s history forever. And now Stemple lay nearly dead in Sickbay, victim of a Klingon disruptor shot, his life - and their lives, their future - resting in McCoy’s hands.
Just as McCoy had held history in his hands once before. For an instant Kirk was there, walking down a 1930s street with Edith Keeler at his side, in denial over what had to occur for history to resume its proper course. Now, as then, one person was at the fulcrum of events. Edith’s death… Aaron’s life.
The operating room door remained closed, imparting no clue to the life-and-death struggle within. If Stemple died now, history would change completely and realign to an entirely new pattern. And what would happen to them?
“Everything checks out.”
Kirk turned back to the biobed at the sound of Simon’s voice and found Spock was already getting to his feet.
Simon continued, “Your readings are within norm, sir. I don’t detect the presence of any alien microbes or other contaminants. Would you like to rest until McCoy is ready to see you?”
“I would prefer to update the captain on the current situation.” The sound of that deep voice, as precise and calm as ever, filled Kirk with joy.
“Would you like to wait in McCoy’s office, then?”
“We’ll wait in his conference room.” Kirk was certain Spock would prefer that location. The conference room, just off McCoy’s outer office, contained a replicator, and Kirk was ready for coffee. He guessed that Spock would want some tea, as well.
“Agreed,” Spock said, and moved to Kirk’s side. They headed through McCoy’s office and into the next chamber.
The conference door closed behind them. Kirk turned to look at his friend, acutely aware of Spock’s physical presence. Spock’s hair smelled of woodsmoke; his clothes clearly hadn’t been cleaned in days. Kirk had never smelled anything more wonderful in his life. He wanted to crush Spock to him in a huge bear hug; he had an amazing urge just to hold his friend’s hands and look into his eyes.
He did none of these things. He paused by the replicator. “White tea?”
“Yes.” Spock nodded, his gaze on Kirk, his expression unreadable. It was not Spock’s usual unbreakable calm, but rather a surface equanimity that hinted at fault lines just beneath the surface.
Spock sat in one of the chairs, slumping slightly, reminding Kirk how Spock had leaned in exhaustion against the doorjamb in that mountain cabin while McCoy examined Stemple. Kirk knew Spock desperately needed rest; knew that Spock would never admit it. He had a thousand questions he wanted to ask, but they would all have to wait for later.
“Hungry?” Without waiting for a reply, he turned and programmed another selection, a thick spiced vegetable stew he knew Spock enjoyed. He set both tea and stew down on the table and went back for his coffee.
Spock wrapped both hands around the mug and took a long draught of the tea. He then focused his attention on the food.
Kirk sipped at his coffee, content for the moment just to watch Spock, aware that he was staring at this so-familiar stranger, studying the way the long heavy hair fell to his shoulders and obscured his ears and eyebrows, leaving visible only Spock’s thin, shadowed face.
Spock glanced up and met Kirk’s gaze. For an instant their gaze held. Kirk stirred, caught in Spock’s rapt stare, the universe suddenly narrowing to the space between them.
Spock shifted in his seat. “Was it time-consuming to interpret the information I transmitted?”
“You did present us quite the challenge.”
“Time constraints required brevity.”
Kirk began describing the mountain of work everyone had put in on deciphering Spock’s cryptic words, which Spock had transmitted in two seconds-long quick-bursts from the Klingon ore carrier. The transmissions Kirk had believed had condemned Spock to torture and a lingering death. How did you escape? he thought, again filled with a thousand questions. Certain that Spock was too tired to speak, he went on to describe exactly how they had worked out the meaning behind Spock’s words. When he mentioned that the Vulcan historian Trae was currently on board the Enterprise Spock lifted invisible brows, but otherwise seemed content to listen, and to finish eating his stew.
Winding down, Kirk noticed Spock’s cup was empty, and went to get a refill. He set it down on the table and Spock reached out to take it.
It was then Kirk noticed the bands and ridges of scar tissue encircling the thin wrist. Anger, pure and blindingly hot, sheeted through his mind. Right now, if he had his hands on the Klingon who had done this to Spock he’d smash the bastard into oblivion.
Spock flinched. Carefully, he withdrew both hands and placed them on his lap, pushing the fabric of his sleeves forward to completely cover the damaged skin.
“I’m sorry, Spock.” Realizing what his face must have revealed, Kirk took a deep breath, trying for calm.
“There is no need to apologize.” Spock directed a level gaze at him, before glancing again at his clasped hands. He hesitated, then deliberately reached up and took the cup. He took a sip, set it down, and met Jim’s eyes again.
“Spock,” Kirk started again, then paused. What am I going to say? I’m sorry you had to go through that ordeal - I lost more than half of myself when you were gone - I love you and never have been able to tell you? The gut-wrenching horror of seeing that Klingon ship, vanishing without trace, taking Spock with it…
“I couldn’t bear to think of what might be happening to you. And then I... thought you were dead.” An astonishing wall of grief and loss hit Kirk - submerged him completely - then as abruptly passed. He looked down, suddenly aware that Spock had clasped both of his hands – a looser, gentler grasp than the desperate way Spock had clutched at him in that mountain cabin when Kirk had first found him - and somehow more astonishing.
Spock was gazing intently into his face - looking at him in a way he didn’t recall anyone ever looking at him. He suddenly felt utterly known - and then the feeling vanished so suddenly it took him a moment to realize Spock had pulled his hands away and was leaning back in his own chair.
“It is over, Jim. I am home. I am here.” Bone-weary exhaustion showed plainly on Spock’s face; his attempt at non-expression failed.
Concern gripped Kirk. “If McCoy was here, he’d send you straight to bed.”
Straightening to absolutely correct posture, Spock observed, “McCoy is not here. When he is, and I hear of the outcome of the operation, I will sleep.” His face was set in familiar determined lines.
Seeing Spock’s stubborn expression, hearing his resolute tone, was another reassurance that his friend was truly home. That everything would be all right.
“Let’s go sit on the couch,” he suggested, needing to do something about Spock’s obvious exhaustion.
Spock allowed Kirk to lead him over to a plain couch placed by the wall. McCoy, or other members of the medical staff, often used this couch as a place to catnap during prolonged emergency conditions when even the short amount of time it would take for off-duty personnel to arrive in Sickbay was too much time to risk.
Spock settled back, resting his head against the padded backboard. Kirk sat next to him and fiddled with the controls. The couch came equipped with its own air heater; Kirk set it to a temperature higher than anything he preferred. Spock immediately relaxed. His eyes drifted shut.
Kirk let the heat lull him into awareness of his own exhaustion. They had been on high alert for days now, working around the clock to decipher the Klingon plot. There was still more to do. He trusted McCoy to work his magic; Aaron Stemple had to survive and be returned to his Seattle home; he had to be in place to prevent the Karsid takeover of Earth. Then they would return to the present - and then there would be the mounds of paperwork any visit to the past incurred.
Spock sighed and settled into sleep, relaxing to lean against Kirk’s side. Kirk smiled at him, Spock’s weight a comfort in itself. The long black hair had lost some of its shine. Kirk prevented his hands from reaching out to touch it. Such a fragile disguise. A stray wind could easily have betrayed his friend.
The depths of his sorrow and loss were still sharply present, battling the reality of the man asleep next to him. I have lost so many along the way, but never has a death haunted me as much as yours. Kirk could not take his gaze from the sharp angles of the beloved face.
Beloved. Kirk’s mind stilled at the truth of that word. Yes. I love you. In every way.
Spock moved in his sleep, a shifting of position which left him pressed more closely to Kirk’s side. The dark head still rested against the back of the couch, but now was angled toward Kirk. Spock’s breath hitched, caught, and then he whispered, “Yes, Jim.”
Kirk stopped breathing for a moment. Motionless, he kept his gaze fixed on Spock’s face, but there were no further words or movement. Spock’s eyes remained closed, and his slow, even breathing showed he was deeply asleep.
Kirk let out his breath. Waited a long moment. His heart was suddenly racing; his thoughts out of control.
He took slow, deep, calming breaths. The minutes dragged by. Those two words had to have been part of a random dream. He couldn’t place any meaning on something spoken in sleep, something Spock would never remember saying.
McCoy suddenly burst into the conference room, a big grin on his face. Spock started awake, and then they were both on their feet.
“He’s going to be just fine,” the doctor announced. Kirk felt like laughing in relief. Everything is going to be all right. He turned to Spock and found unguarded joy displayed in those dark eyes. He managed to refrain from hugging his friend.
McCoy harrumphed. “You,” he said to Spock, “are getting some rest now. I’ve set up the isolation room for you; it’s all nice and roasting hot now. You’ll love it. There’s a jumpsuit inside; change out of those filthy clothes; I’m sure the folks in the history department are eager to get their hands on them. Now git!”
Spock headed with uncharacteristic obedience toward the door, McCoy close on his heels. “Full physical tomorrow,” he warned.
Kirk followed them out into the main room and watched as McCoy fussed until he got Spock settled inside his makeshift bedroom. Then McCoy headed back to his office, Kirk in tow. The doctor rummaged around inside his desk and produced a bottle of brandy and two glasses.
McCoy poured and offered Kirk a glass. “Well, we made it through another one. To the future.”
“To the future.”
They clinked glasses and both took a hearty swallow.
“Let’s have a real celebration once we’re back in our own time. I’m not looking forward to that ride.”
“How long will it take for Stemple to recover.”
“I’d like to keep him here for another two or three days. He’s stable, and I have every confidence he’ll make a full recovery, but a disruptor injury of that magnitude left untreated for as many days as this one was needs significant aftercare.”
Kirk took another swallow of the fiery liquid. “He looked so human… The way he interacted with that woman Biddy… I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
“I always knew Spock had it in him.” McCoy grinned, a devilish look on his face.
Kirk swirled the brandy in his glass, and gave the doctor a charming smile. “You’re not going to give him a hard time about this, are you?”
A look of sublime innocence crossed McCoy’s face. “I wouldn’t dream of it, Captain, Sir.”
He refilled both of their glasses. “To Spock,” McCoy said.
Kirk felt his face soften. “To Spock,” he replied, suddenly aware that his voice had become a caress.
McCoy fixed him with a knowing gaze. “You should consider telling him how you feel.”
Kirk let the words hang between them. They’d never talked about this, but it didn’t surprise him that McCoy knew. Kirk considered denying everything, then gave the idea up as useless. He took another long swallow of his drink, and when he spoke his voice had hardened. “It’s the wrong thing to do, Bones. You know the reasons.”
“Regulations,” McCoy snorted, his opinion on the subject all too clear. “How often do you let regulations get in the way of the right thing to do?”
“It’s not an issue of regulations. I’m talking about ship’s morale.” He got up and paced around the small office, failing to put much space between himself and the doctor. “I can’t allow the appearance of favoritism. I don’t want anyone to think I value anyone’s life above their own.”
“Jim.” McCoy’s voice was gentle. “You’re practically married already. Half the crew assumes you’re already lovers.”
Kirk swung around. “Ship’s gossip - ”
“And even if you aren’t - and never will be - that won’t change the fact it’s entirely obvious to everyone how much you care about him. No one’s going to accuse you of favoritism. You’ve ordered him on dangerous missions before. You know you’ll give him those same orders again. You let him go this time, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” Kirk acknowledged the truth of that, of the perception in the blue eyes watching him so carefully. “I did.” And if he had died, I would have survived with a loss greater than I can conceive.
Somewhere, hidden deeply within himself, was a fantasy of a place where the hard choices did not have to be made. As captain he couldn’t afford these doubts. He didn’t have that option. But, off duty, he’d spoken of his doubts to the man now watching him so closely. In the darkness of sleepless nights, he sometimes succumbed to the fantasy, the beach he would walk on with his beloved, free of fear, free of the burden of being the one to make the difficult choices. In full ship’s light, he knew better. Life was challenge and struggle; in the light, he knew he was capable of making any necessary decision, no matter how hard. No matter who died.
And as for ship’s gossip… As a captain, he understood that all of his actions affected his ship, his crew.
Either way, what he did, or did not do, now or in the future, would speak for him.
McCoy was still watching him. “Jim, you’ve been walking this tightrope for a long time. Think about it, at least. These last few weeks - Just tell me you haven’t regretted never telling him that you love him.”
Every day. I regretted it every day. But Kirk remained silent, and McCoy continued, “We’re all out here, in this tin box in space. We never know what our last chance is. You should tell him.”
Staring at the bulkhead, Kirk thought again about Spock’s two whispered words. I think I already have… He met McCoy’s sharp gaze with a level one of his own. “Some words don’t need to be spoken.”
“Don’t get all Vulcan on me. We already have one of those. And if he feels the same - my money says he does - then he might actually need to hear the words.” He chuckled. “He’s more human than he looks.”
“You are going to give him a hard time about this,” Kirk accused.
McCoy contemplated his glass. “I’m glad he’s back, too.” He suddenly looked as exhausted as Kirk felt. He ran his fingers around his glass. “I just couldn’t believe he was gone. Don’t ever tell him this - but I missed him.”
“We beat the odds one more time.” The words came out sounding grim, not hopeful.
“Yeah. One more time.” He focused laser-blue eyes on Kirk. “Don’t regret not taking this opportunity. Who knows what the future holds?”
“Right now,” Kirk said, “my immediate future holds sleep.”
McCoy got to his feet. “Mine too. Good night, Jim.”
“Good night, Bones.”
He walked back out into the main area, his gaze automatically going to the closed door of the isolation chamber. Tell him…
He looked down at his hands, surprised to find they no longer bore the red traces of Spock’s bone-crushing grasp when he’d woken him in Aaron Stemple’s cabin. He could still feel that touch, as if it had been branded into his flesh. “Yes, Jim.”
Bones was right, he decided. When the time is right, I’ll tell him how I feel.
Spock emerged from the fresher and put on his uniform. It was agreeable to be back in his own quarters, away from the noise and bustle of Sickbay. The isolation chamber was only soundproofed by Human standards.
Despite his desire to leave Sickbay as soon as possible, he had spent most of the past 26 hours there, much of it spent in sleep, more of it spent enduring McCoy’s threatened full physical which involved an endless series of tests, and the remainder of his time at Aaron’s bedside. Aaron had not yet regained consciousness, but his fear that this man, now truly family to him, would die, had finally dissipated.
Spock regarded his own image in the mirror. His uniform was perfectly in place, his hair was freshly cut to regulations, his appearance was now Starfleet correct, his expression Vulcan norm. He recalled another mirror, another time, when he’d looked into his own eyes and seen a stranger.
Now, he was home. He had returned to his world, and shortly he would return to his work. And yet the loss of the weight of the long hair caused an odd reaction. He analyzed the feeling of exposure, of danger, and recalled Aaron’s warning: that if anyone realized who - what - he truly was, their first reaction would be to kill him. But he was now back on the Enterprise, back where he belonged. It was safe to be himself. He did not need to be concerned over the reactions of more primitive humans to an alien in their midst. It was illogical, to feel he was now without protection. The disguise was no longer necessary. He no longer needed to hide who he was… still an alien, still among humans. But known and respected, with a defined position in a larger structure. He could once again assume the life he had chosen to lead.
Regarding his solemn expression in the mirror, he acknowledged he’d always had other means of concealment.
Why, then, did the face he now saw in the mirror seem as alien to him as the face he had first beheld in the mirror in Aaron Stemple’s tiny cabin?
He drew in a deep breath. Released it. He took a step toward the door, intending to go directly to the bridge. Despite McCoy’s suggestion of dropping by Sickbay first thing this morning for yet another round of tests, he had no intention of submitting to any more of the doctor’s ministrations until McCoy saw fit to schedule the surgery for his injured leg. He was perfectly healthy; McCoy had grudgingly admitted as much even as he prescribed a course of vitamin supplements.
A tone from his terminal signaled an incoming message from Sickbay. He pivoted and accessed the message - an update from Sickbay on Aaron Stemple’s condition.
He acknowledged receipt, then walked out into the corridor and entered the turbolift. He would return to Sickbay later today; McCoy thought Stemple might be regaining consciousness. All too soon, it would be time to say goodbye.
Everyone stood when the turbolift door opened and he stepped on the bridge. “Welcome back, Mr. Spock.” A wall of emotion struck him, an experience as shocking as running unexpectedly into a forcefield. He nearly stepped back from the strength of their welcome. A chorus of voices, so entwined together that they became a communal whole, greeted him. Wide smiles. Welcoming eyes.
He stood, paralyzed, for a moment. Odd. To prevent the Klingons from forcibly taking information from him with their mindsifter, he’d deliberately stripped his memories from his conscious mind. As a side effect of that process, he had also been cut off from his ability to meld. Yet now it was clear his telepathy had returned, and had returned earlier, while he was still in Seattle, because his sense of community with the humans he had known on Earth was so very similar to what he sensed now. Except now these sensations were stronger, more powerful; joy mixed with grieving.
His shields were weak. He would require much meditation.
His view of the bridge narrowed suddenly to just Kirk, who had moved to stand in front of him. Kirk was smiling, and that smile, as always, conveyed a wealth of emotional information: gentleness, support, welcome, joy.
He suddenly wanted to step forward, as humans do, and embrace Kirk in greeting. He controlled that reaction and nodded in acknowledgment.
“Welcome back, Mr. Spock.”
Others crowded around him - Sulu, Chekov, Leslie, Zahil, Espinoza - all offering their welcomes.
Uhura didn’t limit herself to a simple greeting. She threw her arms around him in a quick hug and then stepped back and smiled at his astonished expression. “I apologize for being an emotional Human,” Uhura said, with a cheeky grin to indicate she didn’t mean a word of it. Then she lost her smile. “We all grieved for you, Mr. Spock. We missed you very much. We’re overjoyed that you’re back.”
He again found it necessary to sort through possible responses. None of the things he might have said in the past, about the illogic of joy and all other emotion, seemed satisfactory. He could not retreat to his old habits; yet it was impossible to create new ones this quickly. He finally settled on, “I am pleased to be back on the Enterprise as well.”
“Back to stations,” Kirk said softly, and everyone melted back to their posts. Kirk’s gaze lingered on Spock for a moment, and he found it impossible to look away. There was so much in Kirk’s eyes, now astonishingly easy to read and interpret. In Sickbay, only half-awake, he had become aware of Kirk’s mind entwining with his with such ease it confirmed his long-buried speculation that their minds were indeed a match. Kirk’s mind had revealed a desire that equaled his own; desire he had never contemplated speaking of and had never planned to acknowledge. He knew he should apologize to Kirk for the shocking mental breach.
He did not know how to respond to this new information. But it was not necessary to think about it now. “Sir,” he said, and went to his station. There was much to do before their return trip through time.
(Continued in Part 2: