He was however prepared to make an exception for the Virapians. They were irascible, xenophobic, suspicious and violent and he couldn't stand them at any price - which was only fair because the Virapians loathed him. They also loathed everybody else in the Galaxy especially other Virapians.
McCoy had a theory that this was an evolutionary development, that given their propensity for multiple births, long lives and short gestations nature had been obliged to come up with something to prevent the planet being hip-deep in Virapians within half-a-dozen generations. He had tried to feel sorry for them, everybody had. Apart from anything else they were an attractive race, small, dark, wiry humanoids with delicate, fine-boned features and they were all condemned to a life of constant blood feuding, vendetta and war. Unfortunately for the sensibilities of outsiders they appeared to like it. They certainly resented outside interference with a passion that appeared to be the only thing capable of uniting the planet.
In fact if truth were told the Virapians were really too primitive for First Contact but the Klingons had found dilithium on Virapa and the Federation felt obliged to intervene to prevent them exploiting the natives. The fact that half the natives were perfectly willing for the Klingons to exploit the other half was an added complication which led to much argument on board the Enterprise.
One particularly fierce debate in the Rec-Room revealed the opinions of the off-duty senior officers split down the middle. Sulu and Scott holding that the Prime Directive meant that the Virapians should be left to get on with their own destruction while McCoy and Uhura held that the Directive did not apply because the Klingons had already contaminated the Virapians' culture and besides nobody should have to work in a Klingon dilithium mine if there was any available alternative. In fact the debate grew so heated that the next morning everybody had felt obliged to go round and apologise to everybody else.
The discussion between Captain Kirk and his First Officer was, however, less stormy and probably for that reason more productive. In the quiet of the Bridge during the night watch Spock sat and watched while the Captain prowled about thinking aloud, worrying at the problem like a dog with an old shoe. Occasionally Spock would make a comment which the Human would take up and weave into his deliberations. It was an odd but harmonious way of working and only six months into the five-year mission they were blending into a formidable team.
The next day the Enterprise chased the Klingon mining ship out into deep space and called a meeting of tribal leaders at the Virapians most sacred site, a small village built on an isolated rocky outcrop of the main Virapian mountain range. The outcrop was surrounded on all sides by a deep gorge and could be reached only by a primitive bridge made of logs. It was chosen despite its many disadvantages because it was supposed to be the only place on Virapa where violence was forbidden. Unfortunately, although they did not realise it until it was too late, it was also the only place on Virapa where huge deposits of dilithium and rubidium would render communications impossible.
Unaware of this Kirk and Spock, alone as required by ritual, walked the ten kilometre sacred path which ran along one side of the gorge about half-way up from the bottom. They crossed the alarmingly rickety bridge and announced to the infuriated Virapians that the Klingons were gone but that the Federation would be more than happy to buy their dilithium at an excellent price that would include free health care and education for the miners.
The Virapians promptly attacked them.
Assailed on all sides, unable to contact the ship and with their phasers draining even on the stun setting Kirk and Spock soon found themselves sprinting for the bridge with what felt like half the population of Virapa hot on their heels. Luckily they reached and crossed it first and Kirk watched with satisfaction as with alarmingly little effort they sent the primitive structure bouncing into the gorge. "Now let them catch us!" he said.
Spock was, as ever, the voice of caution. "I recommend that we do not linger here, Captain. They may be unable to lay hands on us but they do have throwing knives and we are by no means out of range." Kirk nodded, still trying to catch his breath. The first priority was to get out of the gorge. The communicator's feed-back whine had told them exactly why communications were impossible and both men realised they would have to get out of the gorge before ship's sensors would be able to pick them up. Kirk glanced up at the overhanging cliff above him. "Well, we can't climb here. We'd better head down the path until we find somewhere we can."
They set off at a run and it was not long before they heard behind them the sound of the Virapians lamenting the fallen bridge. Spock glanced across the gorge and noted with relief that the cliff on the other side of the gorge was much too steep to admit of the Virapians climbing down into the valley bottom and up the other side. He was so busy looking down that he almost ran into Kirk who had stopped and was looking up. The cliff above the path on their side of the gorge had gradually changed and was now made up of a climbable if insecure-looking scree. "This looks just about feasible," said Kirk and the two men began to scramble upwards. A tough, woody, vine-like plant grew amidst the rocks which they were soon obliged to use to haul themselves upwards.
It was a gruelling climb and they were only about two-thirds of the way up when they heard below them the furious shouts of the Virapians on the other side of the gorge. Climbing below and to one side of Kirk, Spock saw first one and then a number of knives bouncing off the scree beside the Captain as the Virapians aimed for the leader of the strangers. Both men redoubled their efforts but they were still some way from the top when Kirk gave a cry. Spock turned just in time to see him, a knife embedded in his shoulder, lose his grip on one of the vines and tumble, with an incongruous sort of grace, backwards down the slope. He seemed to the horrified Spock to somersault clear over the path and then bounce down to the valley bottom two hundred metres below taking a small avalanche of stones with him.
On the other side of the gorge the Virapians yelled in triumph and let loose a final, ineffective hail of knives at Spock who hardly noticed them; then out of 'ammunition' and convinced of at least partial victory they set off back along the path toward their village.
Spock didn't notice their departure as he scrambled back down the slope, his heart pounding. He had to force himself to proceed slowly for fear of dislodging even more scree and burying the .. his mind shied away from the word 'body'. Too long ! It was taking too long to get down ! He was convinced the worst had happened and was conscious of a dull roaring noise of denial in his mind as he crossed the path and picked his way downwards to where he could see Kirk, lying on his back near the stream at the bottom.
Then as he drew closer he realised he could hear something beneath the sound of rolling pebbles and let out a sob of relief, instantly suppressed. Of all the sounds in the universe it was perhaps the least likely but the most welcome, the sound of the Captain singing. Normally for someone with Spock's aesthetic sensibilities Kirk's singing was something of a trial - here and now he thought it was the probably the sweetest sound he had ever heard.
"He flies through the air with the greatest of ease.
That daring young man on the flying trapeze"
Kirk broke off as Spock slithered the last few feet to stand above him, fighting for composure. "I think that was a double back somersault with a twist I did up there", he said, his voice hoarse and breathless but quite lucid, "pity there was no one to appreciate it."
"Indeed", answered Spock distractedly as he ran his eyes over the figure at his feet. Kirk was writhing a little as he lay with one arm thrown over his face to protect it from falling stones, his back slightly arched over a low heap of gravel. He was obviously in pain but at least the movement in his arms and legs meant no major bones were fractured. The loose, rolling scree must have broken his fall. The knife was nowhere to be seen.
"Well, I'm sorry if you missed it Spock but I'm not doing it again until someone rigs up a net. I don't mind the falling but the landing hurts like hell."
Spock knelt down and lifted Kirk a few feet to one side where he could at least lie flat. Kirk gasped and went pale and then lifted his head and grinned up at Spock who felt something inside himself lurch and twist at the sight. Kirk was genuinely amused, despite the blood oozing from a both a split lip and a deep cut above the hairline which had bled all over one side of his face, despite the inevitable if invisible injuries hidden beneath his clothes and the threat of imminent death at the hand of the Virapians, he was laughing. Spock found himself vowing that this indomitable human was not going to die, at least not to-day !
Gently he examined Kirk for injuries. Although the Captain did not cry out the occasional, involuntary hiss of in-drawn breath together with the evidence of his own hands confirmed Spock's fears - at least two broken ribs and a wound where the weapon had caught him high in the shoulder. By some miracle he appeared to be only mildly concussed and although he would no doubt have an impressive crop of bruises later there was no sign of serious internal injury.
They had no medical kit but there was plenty of clean water in the stream running along the bottom of the gorge. Ripping sections from his tunic Spock dipped them in the water. Then he washed and bound the shoulder wound which although deep appeared clean and gently wiped the blood from Kirk's face.
Although he did his best to control any contact with the Human's mind the occasional but inevitable physical contact between hands and face caused a mental link between the two men to flicker in and out of existence. Kirk, exhausted, light-headed and in considerable pain was conscious only of a deep concern for himself without being aware of its source but Spock received a host of confused images in which Kirk's constant worry about the ship was mingled with gratitude for the care he was receiving and with guilt for what Kirk saw as his own stupidity in bringing them both to the planet unprotected. He considered trying to argue Kirk out of these feelings but decided not to reveal his own knowledge of them. Now was that because he wished to protect his own mental privacy or Kirk's? With a mental shrug he put the question aside for later consideration.
"Do you think you can stand?" he asked when he had finished.
"No - but I don't think we've any choice," was the reply. "They've probably only gone back for materials to re-build the bridge. Help me up." Doing his best to ignore the Human's all too obvious pain the Vulcan helped Kirk to his feet.
"OK Spock, which way?" The mere act of standing had caused him to grow horribly pale and his head was spinning. Spock looked away to give him a moment to recover and then replied as though nothing were wrong.
"I fear we have no choice but to try and regain the path - the stream drops underground just below here and upstream will merely take us back towards the Virapians." Kirk looked up at the steep rocky slope and sighed. "I was afraid you'd say that." The quick grin returned, "I know, I know then why did I ask, right?"
"Indeed Captain," replied Spock falling into his accustomed role, "It does seem somewhat redundant." If the old game was what Kirk needed to hold himself together then Spock was prepared to play along.
The climb back to the path was the nightmare they had both feared. Kirk was soon forced to abandon all pretence of managing for himself and after a few metres Spock was obliged to more or less carry him. The slope was too steep for the usual rescue lift even if Kirk's ribs could have borne it and after a few, extremely painful, experiments they ended up with one of Kirk's arms round Spock's neck even though this meant that at every step the broken ribs were forced apart. Side by side they staggered upward. The sheer effort together with the enforced physical contact soon breached Spock's mental barriers and he felt his mind being bombarded with the riot of Kirk's thoughts.
"God, this hurts......mustn't show....poor Spock ... must be costing him....at least the ship is safe ....damned mess....wonder if..... punctured lung....can't breathe....nearly there...mustn't show ..... mustn't show....he's got.... enough to worry about...mustn't show..."
Then they were at the top and Spock felt Kirk let go of consciousness and collapse into a faint. Indeed, in view of the pain he was in, it would perhaps have been better if his period of unconsciousness had been longer but by the time Spock had got his breath back Kirk was stirring.
Wordlessly Spock helped him to his feet and they staggered off down the path together, tacitly agreeing to take the longer route rather than attempt the rest of the scree slope. The sun was setting and down in the gorge the temperature began to drop rapidly. Soon the two men could see their breath forming clouds in the air and, as the sun sank below the cloudy horizon, visibility in the gorge dropped to a matter of inches. The second time Kirk lost his footing and nearly dragged them both back down into the valley bottom they decided to rest for the night. Neither man doubted that Mr Scott would have search parties out looking for them at first light and they already knew the Virapians did not like to be outside during the hours of darkness, although Spock worried privately that this might reflect the presence of night predators.
"Doesn't matter if it does," said Kirk his voice decisive if alarmingly weak, "I don't think I can face climbing back after another fall." Then he realised that Spock hadn't spoken and his voice grew even quieter. "You didn't say anything did you Spock? How did I know what you were thinking?"
Spock edged them both over to the scree wall as far as possible from the edge. "I am a touch telepath Captain, physical contact with another person permits me to both broadcast and receive thought."
"I've never noticed - I know you don't like to be touched but we've knocked into one another before."
"Normally I can shield both myself and others." Spock's voice had taken on the curious flat tone it always assumed when the conversation turned to matters he considered private and he moved to ease Kirk into a sitting position.
Unseen in the darkness Kirk was opening his mouth to ask why normal conditions did not apply when storming through the mental link between them came a sudden and, he realised, involuntary flash-back to Spock's reaction to his fall. The memory of Spock's terror and grief seared through Kirk's mind and he understood only too well why Spock was having difficulty maintaining his controls. He also realised that the flash-back had been triggered by his own unspoken question. Hurriedly he did his best to broadcast a wordless apology and then the link was lost as he sat on the ground and Spock moved away.
The two men sat for quite some time each lost in his own thoughts.
The Human was attempting to deal with his sudden discovery of the Vulcan's emotional depths. He had never believed Spock's claim to be utterly unemotional but some how he had always believed that such emotions as the Vulcan possessed were as temperate and controlled as the man himself. That idea had been well and truly exploded by the appallingly intimate glimpse of Spock's thoughts that he had just been granted. Kirk realised that the Vulcan had been as stricken by the thought of Kirk's death as he, Kirk, would have been if the positions had been reversed and he had been forced to watch while Spock had plunged down the gorge apparently to his death. His thoughts tangled - part of him regretted that Spock's privacy had been so deeply breached without his consent and part rejoiced to discover that Spock's commitment to him was as deep as his to Spock. He'd only known the Vulcan six months but already he counted him as much more than a friend.
Meanwhile the Vulcan was attempting to rebuild his shields and himself. Slowly and deliberately he performed the old, familiar rituals of concentration and disengagement. His breathing slowed, his body relaxed and slowly his sense of the Human's presence in his mind faded and died. For a split second there was a pang of regret at the loss of mental warmth and companionship but it was ruthlessly suppressed as normality re-established itself and Spock of Vulcan was himself once more.
"Are you OK?" The Human's voice in the darkness was unusually tentative.
"I am uninjured." Spock replied flatly.
Kirk sighed to himself - so that was how Spock wanted to play it. He had allowed someone to glimpse the person beneath his shields so now he was doing his best to prove himself the perfect Vulcan. Kirk thought back to their brief moment of contact, there had been something, some thought right at the end that had been curiously familiar. He concentrated hard and recognition came in a sudden burst of enlightenment. Spock had been ashamed - both of the emotion itself and of the fact that once again, as he saw it, he had been insufficiently true to his Vulcan heritage to suppress it.
The first reaction was no more than Kirk might have expected but the second? His mind racing Kirk followed the thought to its conclusion. Spock was ashamed of his lack of ...Vulcanness for want of a better word. "Hell and the Devil," thought Kirk, appalled. "The poor guy thinks he's a failure." The most intelligent, decent, honourable, striving being Kirk had ever had the privilege to know considered himself to be an inferior, second-rate Vulcan. Horrified Kirk shook his head in instinctive denial and the sudden movement caused his stiffening muscles to protest. He cried out softly.
In an instant Spock was beside him, not touching him - there would be no physical contact to shatter his Vulcan composure this time - but warmly, supportively present. "Is the pain bearable?" he asked. Kirk smiled, trust Spock not to ask the obvious, stupid question.
"Just about," he replied honestly. And then because he genuinely wanted to know he asked, "What would you do if it wasn't?"
"I did not say that I could do anything." Spock was on the defensive again.
"There is no other logical reason for asking," retorted Kirk in a voice which blended affection and mischief in almost equal parts.
Spock sighed and forced himself to reply. "There are certain Vulcan techniques that I could use to help you control the pain. They involve a degree of mental contact that would be distasteful to both of us and as such are better left for occasions when there is no alternative."
"I don't think I would find it distasteful," said Kirk, thoughtfully, "I trust you, Spock. I think of you as a friend."
"I am Vulcan," Spock's voice was stiff, embarrassed. "Friendship is an emotional response and therefore to be avoided."
"I know you are Vulcan," Kirk's voice was soft in the darkness. "I also know that you doubt your fitness for that destiny."
Spock recoiled, physically and mentally. It was bad enough that he had been linked with a human without also being obliged to talk about it. A hand shot out and grasped his arm as he moved away and the resulting drag on Kirk's injuries caused a shock of pure agony to rip through both men - physically through the Human and mentally through the Vulcan as the link re-established itself effortlessly between them. Kirk let go of Spock's arm and doubled over, gasping with the pain, whispering over and over again something Spock couldn't quite hear.
The Vulcan, recovering first, leaned back towards the Human and bent his head to hear, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Kirk's first thought in the midst of his own pain had been the distress he had caused his friend. Spock felt as though he were floundering in unaccustomed waters. His mental control seemed to have vanished, emotions of whose existence he had hitherto had only a theoretical knowledge battered at him. Guilt and fear rolled around inside him seeking an outlet.
Beside him Kirk had struggled back into a sitting position, still apologising. "I'm sorry Spock, I shouldn't have grabbed you like that."
"It is of no consequence." The words said one thing, the voice said another.
There was a long pause while Kirk wrestled with the temptation to continue the conversation. There was something about the darkness, something that made it easier for the Human at least to broach subjects he would have fought shy of if they had been sitting in the warmth and light of the Enterprise. He had been deeply disturbed by what he had learned from the Vulcan during their brief contact and besides he had never been very good at letting well alone.
"It's not all bad being human, you know." he said eventually. "You may get despair but you also get hope, you may get anger but you also get love." His mind jumped back to Gary Mitchell, "You may get betrayal but you also get friendship."
"I remember after Psi 2000 you told me you were ashamed when you felt friendship for me and I thought at the time how sad that was. Friendship doesn't have to be source of shame it can be source of joy. The ability to feel and inspire it isn't a flaw - it's a gift. Why not rejoice in it?
"It is not the Vulcan way."
"Maybe not - but that's no reason why it cannot be Spock's way. Why spend the rest of your life trying to make up for being less than Vulcan when you can be more than Vulcan and more than Human? Take the best of both - the discipline and calm of one and the joy and hope of the other. Be Spock of Vulcan and of Earth."
Spock was conscious of a deep, tired yearning to agree, to let go his shields created with so much pain and effort, to let himself be carried away by the sound of a worried voice trying to help. He marshalled his defences to reply.
"Jim, you have to understand. I have followed the Vulcan way since childhood. I cannot change now even if I wished to - which I do not. I have become a stranger to my own emotions and cannot recover them. Although I try to be sensitive to the emotions of others such sensitivity is the product of intellectual effort not of any instinctive empathy."
Kirk's heart lifted at the sound of his first name. "Oh Spock," his voice was gentle in the dark "I'm not trying to persuade you into becoming something you're not. I don't expect you to become," he fumbled for words, "demonstrative or - God forbid - human. I just want to stop you forcing yourself to be less than you might be. Some of the things you are forcing yourself to abandon are valuable. You can only lose from rejecting them." He shivered violently suddenly conscious that it had become very cold in the gorge. "Think about it," he pleaded, "That's all I ask."
In the darkness Spock's mouth twisted wryly, "I do not think I have any choice about that." He knew that he would have to spend much time in meditation considering the events of this night.
Kirk smiled contentedly and then an unpleasant thought occurred to him. "Spock, I know you don't react well to the cold - are you going to be all right until morning ?"
"Fortunately I have a degree of control over my physiological responses - I estimate that I will be able to maintain my body temperature for another 14.3 hours without adverse effect." He heard the sigh of relief turn into a groan and, although it was quickly stifled, he realised that the Human's condition had deteriorated while they were talking. "The pain is worse," he said. It was a statement not a question.
"Yes." There was little point in trying to hide it. Kirk felt as though the cold had penetrated to his bones, his head was pounding and great racking shudders shook his whole body setting the nerves in broken ribs and bruised muscles jangling.
"Then you had better let me help." Suddenly it seemed to the Vulcan that there was no longer any point in protecting his own emotional privacy. Here was a need he could meet, the rest he would worry about later.
"Will it hurt you? I'd rather manage on my own if it will."
"There will be some discomfort." It did not even occur to the Vulcan to lie. "However I am better able to bear it than you in your current condition."
Kirk chuckled weakly. "Who am I to argue with logic like that?" he said. "How does it work?"
"I will sit beside you like this and put my arm about your shoulders."
"Is that part of the technique?" asked Kirk, intrigued.
"No, but it will give you the benefit of my body heat." Spock was mildly surprised at the calm of his voice as he eased himself close to another person for practically the first time since his childhood, "then I put my hand to your face and begin the meld - your mind to my mind James Kirk, your thoughts to mine."
Kirk relaxed into the warmth at his side, the shuddering ceased and he was gently made aware of a presence in his mind, the pain seemed to withdraw and although he was aware of its continued existence it seemed to be coming from a long way away.
"Thank-you." He wasn't sure whether he spoke the words out loud but it didn't seem to matter.
"Sleep now." More than a suggestion but less than a command, Kirk considered it for a moment then, seeing no reason to stay awake, wrapped his exhaustion round himself like a blanket and surrendered to the welcoming dark.
Awake and staring into the night Spock had much to meditate upon. Kirk had been right the meld had not been particularly distasteful, true he was conscious of the human's thoughts and emotions but contrary to all expectations he had actually found them strangely comforting. Trust, gratitude, concern for his Vulcan friend, compassion for his situation, an urgent desire to help, a gentle, undemanding affection - there was even a clumsy, unpractised, human attempt at emotional restraint. Spock was conscious of a lump in his throat as he considered that last item.
Perhaps he had been over-precipitate. Perhaps there was something to be said for friendship - his mind tasted the word - after all. He considered the story of Surak and his t'hy'la Sapek, running through in his mind the first five hundred lines of the ancient saga. Obviously there could be no comparison between that ancient bond and the relationship possible with a human, however IDIC in all things, he reminded himself. There was no hurry to decide, they still had 4.47years of the five-year mission to go, he could consider the question at his leisure. Carefully he tested the link, the Captain's pain was still under control and there appeared to be no imminent danger. He settled himself to wait.
Which is how the landing party found them next morning. The Captain and the First Officer sat side by side in the dirt, both men pale in the chilly light of dawn. Spock was wide awake and had one hand on the Captain's face in the classic position for a mind meld, but the other arm was round the Human who was asleep with his head on the Vulcan's shoulder. They were bloody and ragged and covered in dust but as McCoy ran towards them he thought that they looked oddly ....... content.