Title: The Flavor of Laughter, Part Two Chapter Eleven (23/36)
Series: Star Trek XI
Words: This chapter, ~4.5k Total so far, ~100k
Summary: He is Starfleet’s youngest captain. But he is untried, and inexperienced. What kind of captain will James Tiberius Kirk become? A story in three parts. Slow-building, will eventually be K/S.
Part One, Chapter One
He can't help but stare as the elegant, long-limbed being before him spreads an arm in an encompassing gesture. Curving down from his arm is what looks like feathers, but Kirk learned is actually a type of fungus. One that the Caladaris form a symbiotic relationship with as soon as they're hatched; the long, trailing, oscillating fungus is actually sentient.
It's beautiful. The fungus covers the Caladaris' bodies completely, making any item of clothing unnecessary, and it shifts constantly even when there is no breeze. When several Caladaris are grouped together – or, like now, when there is an entire reception hall full of them – the fungus communicates with its brethren, and shimmering scintillating colors pass across the surface of the fungus like a chameleon, traveling in waves through the room. Sometimes it's too fast for Kirk's Human eyes to make out the shades, and sometimes they are colors he doesn't even have names for.
The being before him – a male – blinks slowly as he waits for the universal translator to do its job. His eyes are huge, contributing to the essence of bird that the aliens give off. The only thing he's missing is the beak; when he opens his lipless mouth to speak Kirk gets flashes of sharp pointed teeth. No matter how elegant and harmless the Caladaris look, they are predators – they use the stiff but somehow still flexible fungus that springs from their arms for lift, and glide in to pluck their prey from the air with their taloned feet.
Kirk smiles and nods, bowing his head in a gesture of deep respect. This particular Caladari– Xelez – is the newly elected ruler of the planet, and Kirk has to dance carefully around him. The Caladari's planet is rich in medical discoveries, only the surface of which have been explored by the Federation. This knowledge comes from the Caladari's symbiotic and, from what Kirk's picked up telepathic, relationship with the fungus – it gives them the unique ability to know exactly what type of properties the plants contain.
Which is why Kirk, and his crew, are here for this occasion. For the last month they have been given nothing but milk runs, the simplest of missions, as a sort of punishment for bringing the tribble on board. Or, at least that's what Kirk perceived it as. There hasn't been any punishment beyond the formal reprimand Pike gave him – which he's still getting over, at least trying to move past the palpable disappointment that was radiating off Pike when he was delivering it. Kirk hadn't anticipated how much letting his mentor down would affect him, not to mention the fact that there wasn't any indication as to whether his oversight is going to cost him the ship, permanently, but Kirk knows that he's walking the thin edge now.
"The Federation is intent on working for the betterment of all of its members, " he tells the president, the universal translator making the required fluting chirps and hisses as it changes his words to the Caladari's language. "and we hope that, in the future, we can continue to count on the Caladium's support, as we will endeavor to support your people in any way we can."
Xelez bobs his head in response, speaking the required words of support and Kirk offers the appropriate response, drawing on his experience at Quakel to shift through the intricate diplomatic steps he's beginning to get a firm grasp on. He's on his own at the moment, as his crew is dispersed around him, all except the required security escort at his back, blending in with the Caladaris, and sometimes disappearing from his sight.
Kirk's eyes have been scanning the crowd all night, and he thought it was simply to take in the sight of the fungus and its shimmering colors. But when his eyes finally alight on Spock's elegant form, and the knot of tension inside him immediately disappears, he knows what he was really searching for. The Vulcan is in the midnight blue dress uniform Kirk hasn't seen since that night on Quakel – and the spot of darkness that he provides in this immersion of light and color is a welcome relief.
With an internal sigh of pleasure, Kirk turns back to the Caladari before him. Xelez will be making many important decisions in the years to come and the Federation – and Kirk – wants to make sure that the working relationship between the two is strong.
As if it has already absorbed the chill of the water drenching him, the tile feels cold against his skin. Kirk shifts his position slightly, allowing the water to pour over him at a different angle as he leans against the smooth side of the stall.
There's not enough room in the shower, or in the entire ship for that matter. If only the damn Vulcan weren't…who he was. And Kirk was able to ignore the attraction that just seems to be endlessly growing. It's bad enough that he has to work continuously with Spock, and they have their frequent chess games where the Vulcan reveals other facets of his mesmerizing personality. But the suus manha practices must be factored into the equation, with all the required touching, and –
He stops that train of thought before it can fully coalesce, sighing to himself. This is exactly why he is taking a shower as cold as the controls will allow him – using what will probably be an entire week's worth of water rations in a span of fifteen minutes. During the last practice, he'd been distracted by how wonderful Spock had felt under his hands, how much he'd wished that grunt had been for another reason entirely, and his body had almost betrayed him. Spock may keep his shields up constantly to avoid accidentally picking up something through a touch, but there's no way for Kirk to explain away the obvious signs of an erection.
Hopefully, when his blood is cooled after this shower, he'll be better able to control his body's impulses. Kirk smiles sardonically to himself, knowing that his efforts are probably fruitless – he knows how he reacts to the Vulcan. It's ironic, but his first officer has no idea what sweet torture he's devised, and how it's slowly killing Kirk.
Delaying the inevitable, he steeps himself under the cold water for several more minutes before dragging himself out. Shivering, he hurries to dry himself off and dress before rushing to the practice he both dreads and adores.
Kirk slips inside the room and joins Spock on the mats, falling into the warm-up almost instantly as his movements mirror the Vulcan's. From the single punches and kicks they move into the forms, the practiced strings of combinations coming second nature to Kirk. Then, the last step concluded, they shift to a relaxed stance to signal completion, expelling a long low breath in unison.
Then, with a grin, Kirk bounces onto the balls of his feet and turns to face the calm Vulcan beside him. "What are we doing today?"
Spock raises a winged eyebrow, and Kirk can see the warmth in his eyes as he replies, "I believe we will continue with your sparring practice."
He can feel a frown shift across his features – sparring is what almost got him in trouble last time, and he would prefer avoiding it if at all possible. At least, until he finds out if the cold shower beforehand was as effective as its purported to be.
But it appears as if the Vulcan misinterpreted his expression, as Spock tilts his head to the side. "Your form and positioning is up to par, Jim," he says by way of explanation, "but I believe your execution of the principles you have learned, at least while under the pressure of a sparring match, will benefit from spending additional time practicing the finer details."
With a shrug, barely more than a slight movement of his shoulders, Kirk gives his agreement. No time to test his cold shower theory like the present, apparently – and it's not as if he'll ever turn down the opportunity to practice what he's learned in a freeform exercise.
No further speaking is necessary, as Kirk's feet shift subtly beneath him. His weight moves to his back foot, balanced to leave his front foot free. He knows this stance reduces the power in his kicking leg, but what it does offer him is increased speed – the edge he needs against the bulkier, stronger Vulcan.
His fists are loose and ready as he keeps his eyes focused on his opponent. Kirk watches as Spock settles into a standard defensive stance, circling around him carefully as he evaluates for holes. So instead of giving Spock the opportunity to slowly pick his defense apart, Kirk feints forward with a swift roundhouse aimed at the side of the Vulcan's head.
It's a kick that Spock easily deflects, parrying back with a palm strike. They trade blows, testing each other and Kirk can't help the grin that spreads his face. Moving with Spock, sparring with him like this – it's fun in a way he hasn't experienced in a long time. That is, until his hand automatically darts forward to tap Spock's chest as substitute for a blow to the solar plexus – and a deep voice cuts through the dance of their practice.
"Freeze," Spock commands, and Kirk's so used to this place, and what's expected here that his body ceases all movement instantly to follow the Vulcan's instruction. Spock stands straight, stiff and formal, and clasps his hands behind his back. "What was that attempting to be, Jim?"
Struck off-balance by the question, Kirk isn't quite sure what Spock is asking of him. "I hit your solar plexus in a definite strike," he says, keeping his confusion out of his tone. "If this was a judged match, that hit would give me one point."
"This is an inaccurate assessment," Spock replies, exuding calm as he watches Kirk unblinking.
Squinting at the Vulcan, Kirk regards him suspiciously, "But it's a take-down –"
"Are you positive of this?" Spock asks, leaving Kirk even further off kilter. "Is this a move I've ever taught you, Jim?"
He struggles to think back over their weeks and months of practice, piecing together the attacks he's learned. Takedowns, disabling limbs, holds – vicious kicks to the head and torso. But never a strike to the solar plexus, or even anything similar. The only thing Kirk can remember that came close was that blow to the midsection during a takedown months back – but Spock had never stated he should aim for the solar plexus, Kirk had just automatically thought of it that way.
Spock nods. "Are you even certain that I, as a half-Vulcan, have a solar plexus that would be compromised by such a move?" At Kirk's shake of the head, Spock continues. "I have intentionally not taught you any attacks focused on specific parts of the anatomy, beyond limbs that can be eliminated and the areas of body structure that are most likely to be vulnerable. You are unable to guarantee that your opponent will even be bipedal, much less have a nervous system that resembles your own."
"You have a point there," Kirk replies, his grin returning but sheepish this time as he rubs the back of his neck.
The Vulcan blinks at him momentarily, then the spark of an idea lights his eyes. "As another example – where is my heart located?"
He knows it's a trick question, but he can't go anywhere but forward. So, hesitating for just a moment, Kirk reaches forward and places his hand on Spock's midsection – not quite knowing exactly where the Vulcan's heart is, but knowing it's lower than a Human's would be.
Then there is a warm hand grasping his wrist, lifting his hand and lowering it – and moving it around behind, pressing his palm against the fabric around where Kirk would expect Spock's liver to be.
"It is here, Jim."
And he can feel it, the pulsing flutter of a heartbeat so much faster than his own. Jim swallows as he has to struggle not to clench his hands, to cling to the smooth fabric and pull Spock close. Unconsciously, Jim's tongue darts out and licks at his lips – and when his tongue slips back into the safe recesses of his mouth, the sweet-sour crunch of apples lingers on his taste buds. A moment later, the hand around his wrist releases him, and he backs up before he can do something he will regret.
"If you were to perform a kidney shot," Spock continues, oblivious to the internal struggle that Kirk is undergoing, "instead of being debilitating as it would to a Humanoid, a Vulcanoid would be protected by an additional 3.5 centimeters of ribcage and your strike would be ineffectual."
He grimaces, but he can see Spock's point – when he forces himself to think around the warmth in his chest.
"Cease thinking of the body in terms of your own," says Spock into the contemplative silence. "There are infinite combinations, and it is only prudent that you prepare for the unpredictable." Especially considering they are on an exploration mission, which will lead them to even more uncharted worlds and confrontations with species that are not always friendly.
Spock's feet shift on the mat, and suddenly he is in an offensive stance. "Again," is all he has to say and Kirk sinks into an attack stance instantly.
He only wishes it were so simple to resume the interrupted beat of his heart.
The doors slide open before him, and he strides into Sickbay with confidence. They have several more days at the planet, which will be occupied with loading and cataloging the samples Xelez offered the Federation as a sign of his planet's continuing support – and in return, Kirk is bringing back the Caladari's formal request to become part of the Federation. It has been an auspicious occasion, and after all the talking, Kirk found he performed better than he hoped. And he certainly enjoys having the fruits of his hard work to ferry back to Starfleet for the scientists back home to work on. After Spock and Bones have gotten their hands on samples for their respective departments, of course.
But his part in this mission is done, and now it's up to the Science Department to get everything transferred properly. It leaves him at loose ends, and grateful that he'd gotten permission to explore the public areas of the planet during his day off. That will keep him occupied tomorrow, but he would prefer some company tonight – and Bones is always the best of companions.
Glancing around, Kirk can't find Bones in the open area of Sickbay. He does spot Uhura and M'Benga off to the side, and strides over. The doctor is holding a dataPADD, and is asking Uhura a list of questions. He must be assisting Bones with the physicals that were scheduled for the unexpected downtime. If anyone knows where the good doctor is, it would be his second in command.
"Where's Dr. McCoy?" Kirk asks, a smile on his face.
M'Benga returns the smile, with a nod towards one of the side rooms. "He's currently performing the physical part of an exam on one of the crew, sir, but it should be safe to poke your head in for a moment."
With a salute and a grin to both of them, Kirk moves to the door. Slipping inside, he asks, "Bones?"
"What, kid?" Bones responds, not even bothering to look up as he continues examining the inside of his patient's ear. The patient looks up at his voice, and Kirk sees that it's Chekov currently on Bones' table. Keeping his head still for the doctor, Chekov waves at Kirk with a huge grin on his face. The diminutive Russian looks slightly vulnerable sitting on the edge of the biobed in one of the flimsy hospital gowns, his pale legs sticking out the bottom and dangling over the side.
Waving back to his navigator, Kirk answers with, "Are you free to go for a drink tonight? I'm off-duty tomorrow, and I checked the duty roster – you are, too." He keeps it short and sweet, knowing that he's interrupting Bones' work and he'll make the doctor grumpy if he takes up too much time.
A simple grunt is his response, and it's accompanied by an indulgent wave of the hand. At the same time, the doctor switches to the other side of the biobed, looking into Chekov's other ear.
"Great! Meet you in the usual spot as soon's your shifts over, then!" Kirk calls as he wiggles his eyebrows at Chekov – making the younger man giggle – before slipping back through the door. Waving goodbye to Uhura and M'Benga as he goes, he exits Sickbay.
As soon as he steps out the door, he is approached by an ensign who's been sent to get his assistance with yet another problem, and the minutiae of being Captain engulf him again. He immerses himself in the little mini-crises that occur, keeping himself occupied until it's time to meet Bones.
By then, exhausted yet somehow satisfied with his day, he is free from the burden of his duties for a little while. After a quick stop at his quarters to change his clothes, he makes his way to Bones' and his secret hidey hole. He takes with him a bottle of the Caladari's best liquor – it's their equivalent to beer, and after he'd tasted it at the reception, he'd had to buy two bottles; one to satisfy the tribble bet with Scotty, and one to enjoy for himself.
He slips inside the tiny observation room, as the door swooshes quietly closed behind him. Once inside he exhales in a long sigh, already feeling some of his worries slipping away. The muscles in his neck, which have refused to relax no matter how much he rubs them, slowly begin to loosen.
It's obvious that the room is rarely used – it's in an awkward location on the ship, a long way from the living quarters and tucked in a corner. Also, the viewing window is tiny compared to the other observation rooms – and it is the only thing truly worth noting in the room. The only furnishings are a worn old couch that Bones and he smuggled in, and a table for them to put their legs up on.
Crossing over in front of the couch, Kirk slumps down into the warm comfortable cushions and stares out the window. Even though they are currently orbiting a planet, he cannot tell – the observation room faces up, and out. What he can see from this vantage point is a lovely view of the nacelles – which was probably the original purpose of the room, used by engineers for visual inspections of the ships propulsion systems. There is a sprinkling of stars visible beyond the ship, but Kirk's eyes are always intently focused on the smooth lines of his lady.
Twisting open the seal on the bottle, he lifts it to his lips and takes his first drink. The fruity beverage is delicious, and he savors the taste. Bones won't mind if he starts a little early, and he wants to take the edge off after a hectic day. Focusing on the feel of the bubbly liquid in his mouth, he tries to silence the thoughts of Spock that keep surfacing – but the only thing for him to focus on to take his mind off the Vulcan are the nacelles, and even though they are sleek and beautiful, his mind is never distracted for long.
So he's grateful when he hears the door whisper open and closed, and soft footsteps approach. Then there's a clucking noise as Bones steps up to him.
"Now that was a day!" he comments, as he swings around to plop down on the couch. "I thought that last ensign was doing his best to get out of kitchen duty by pretending he had stomach pains." He shakes his head.
Turning aside from his reflection on the merits of long Vulcan fingers, Kirk gives Bones one of his customary grins. "Never thought I'd see the day when a visit to Sickbay would be preferable over anything else."
Bones lets out a chuckle. "Me either, kid. Me either."
"Was he faking?" Kirk asks.
He shakes his head. "Nah, tests showed his appendix was actually about to rupture. I spent the last hour or so of my shift performing an emergency appendectomy." As casually as that and Bones is holding up the bottle and two glasses in his hand. But Kirk is used to the offhand comments that would disturb anyone else, especially after years of bunking with the doctor.
Kirk declines the offer by displaying his already opened bottle, earning him a shrug from his friend – Bones doesn't care where the liquor comes from, as long as they have some. The doctor carefully sets his burden on the floor, and reaches for the bottle in Kirk's hand.
"So you started without me, you ungrateful brat," he teases, taking a swig. His lips smack as the flavorful beverage hits, and his eyes widen in surprise. "And I can see why."
"Figured as long as I left enough for you, old man," Kirk responds with a grin, and turns back to look out the window, "you couldn't complain. Seems I was wrong."
A snort, as Bones settles more comfortably into the sofa. "Damn right you were wrong," is Bones' quick rejoinder, and then they settle into silence.
Each man is occupied by his own thoughts as they pass the bottle back and forth a couple more times. Kirk's ready grin disappears, as his thoughts turn turbulent once again. He can see, from the corner of his eye, that Bones keeps shooting him glances. And then his friend can't take the suspense anymore.
"I know I probably don't wanna hear your answer, but are you gonna tell me what's bothering you already, or what?" the doctor mumbles, shifting uncomfortably as he passes the bottle back.
Kirk cradles the glass container in his hands, staring at it while he pulls his thoughts out of the mire they had sunk into, and tries to paste them into something constructive. The answer, when he finds something he's able to articulate, is pathetically simple. "Spock. Always Spock."
A grunt, a simple sound that somehow conveys so much of Bones' disgruntlement and affection. "I figured. That green-blooded hobgoblin is bad on the liver. What'd he do this time?"
"He didn't do anything –" Kirk begins, pauses, and then starts again. "He never does anything. Which is part of the problem. He's just kind, and noble, and so smart and I can't stand to be near him anymore cause it's starting to kill me inside."
A warm hand on his shoulder, gives him a squeeze. "Wanting and not knowing is more horrible than anything else, isn't it?" he's asked in a quiet voice.
Kirk just nods, watching as his fingers tap against the fabric pulled taut over his knee.
"When Jocelyn and I started courting, it hit me harder than her. I couldn't stop thinking about her, I was crazy in love – and she was oblivious for the longest time. But she was everything to me from the very beginning, and I couldn't imagine being with anyone else," Bones admits, speaking quiet words to the darkness and the stars. "I know how it is."
And Kirk believes him, knowing full well how much pain it causes Bones to liken anything he felt to Kirk's feelings for Spock. And he sighs, slipping into the moment and just letting his feelings wash over him. The desperate want, the pain he feels just as keenly as the desire – and the gratitude, the love, he feels for his friend. Unreservedly, and without fear. And he's hit with the knowledge that no matter what he says, no matter what he does, Bones will always be there for him.
The realization breaks him out of his funk, and he shakes himself to get rid of the last of the sadness. "Thank you," he tells his friend. Then, because he can't take thinking about his problem anymore, and he owes Bones for listening to his issues. "So…how are you and Uhura progressing?"
A look of wonder and awe passes over the doctor's face. "She's just so amazing. So smart and witty and that laugh…."
Kirk grins at the expression on his friend's face, and it's his turn to slap Bones' shoulder. Even with all the trouble he's had with Uhura lately, he's happy for them both. "I'm glad you can get her to laugh again. She's been far too serious since…well. You know."
Getting solemn in an instant, Bones has the wonder in his eyes still, but there's worry at the fore. "Yeah. Well, that's one of the reasons we're taking it slow. Our last relationships were hard on each of us, and we don't wanna rush things." A pause, as his friend considers. "I don't wanna mess this one up. She's all kinds of special, and I'm still in a daze that she said yes."
He squeezes the shoulder that's still under his hand, as he replies, "she'd be an idiot not to, Bones. You're the best catch on this ship – other than myself, of course!"
For his trouble, he earns the expected glare, which he returns with a grin. Then Bones raps the back of his head, the practiced fingers ruffling Kirk's already messy hair. "Of course you would think that, you testosterone filled adolescent."
"Hey! I passed out of that stage a long time ago!" he replies, in what sounds suspiciously like an indignant squawk.
"Apparently not long enough!" is the quick comeback, and then Bones pauses to look at their surroundings. "What the hell are we doing here, anyway?"
Confused, Kirk checks his friend to make sure his head is still attached properly. "Getting drunk. Why?"
"We're orbiting a planet, for chrissakes!" Bones complains, standing – with not even the hint of a wobble in his step. "We should be sitting in whatever passes for a bar down there, getting some real alcohol without having to delve into our precious stash!"
Kirk blinks, considering. But he can't find any flaws in his friend's argument.
"You know what, you're right," he mumbles, as he stands too. He can feel the alcohol rushing through his system, but it's not enough to affect his balance yet, either. They've both been portioning out so they could enjoy the night.
"Exactly! Cause I'm always right!" Bones replies, and Kirk doesn't bother correcting him. "And I need to cheer you up – so we're going, and we're going now."
His grin is easy as he readily agrees. He can always count on Bones to get him out of any funk he's dragged himself into. Just another reason Kirk knows how lucky he is to have Bones as a friend.
Part Two, Chapter Twelve