The tentacle wrapped around Spock's cheek caressing it gently, its smooth, wet skin shining in the twilight. A soft suckering sound wafted across the surface of the water.
Spock's eyelids fluttered.
Kirk held back, forcing himself not to jump in and attack, defend. Spock had wanted this. He had said he would be safe. He had promised. Kirk's body trembled with tension.
Star Trek fanfiction by Gumnut
gumnut @ gumnut.net
There was no answer.
The alien cephalopod cradled the first officer in its many arms like a human would a baby. The gentle sway of its body as it stood on the ocean floor was hypnotic and Spock was as if wrapped in a cradle hanging from a tree of glistening sea monster.
And Kirk could do little but watch.
He stood in waist deep water, his uniform soaked, his hair matted to his head, bone weary and worried to the point of pulling his phaser repeatedly. Why did Spock have to do this? Why was it always him? Sure it was 'handy' to have a first officer who was telepathic, a first officer who could speak to a multitude of aliens in a way he could little understand, much less duplicate. But each time it happened, each time Spock surrendered himself to the mind of some alien, Kirk was left standing, watching, waiting to see if his friend would survive.
He had asked Spock on multiple occasions what to do if he felt the Vulcan was in trouble during a mind meld. Spock, in a very un-Spock-like way, had been vague. He mentioned the mechanics of a meld, what he had to do to form one, what could go wrong, but because Kirk was not a telepath himself, he found the explanation difficult to follow. He had no frame of reference, no understanding, and it frustrated him to no end. Spock had even melded with the captain to demonstrate, but Kirk found he could only be a spectator, a mind on the sidelines admiring the intricate web of telepathy the Vulcan wove in order to communicate with him in that manner.
And with all things not fully understood, it produced a small amount of fear.
Not that Kirk would ever be afraid of Spock, the thought itself was ludicrous, but the part of him that sought control, the part that helped him to be the Captain, instinctively worried at the lack of it.
Spock twitched, a frown forming on his face. The cephalopod holding him shuddered, its great eye opening briefly before blinking at him once and closing again.
Kirk's hand hovered over his phaser nervously.
God, he hated this waiting. He felt so useless, a feeling he was not very familiar with.
His mind flickered back to the incident with the Horta. Spock had been so eager to jump into mind communion with the rock-like alien, both of them had been so sure of their deductive reasoning - the Horta was the victim, the humans were the bad guys, all they needed to do was communicate with the alien. The first wave of pain had overloaded Spock, and Kirk had been a second away from calling a halt to the whole thing. But Spock, stubborn Spock, had delved back in, the pain carving furrows in his forehead. And Kirk had been forced to watch his friend shudder in reflected agony, his voice communicating the words while his body communicated the pain.
The irony had been that the injury had been afflicted on the Horta by the both of them, so Spock had declared it to be little more than what he deserved.
But Spock hadn't been the one to watch.
Or the one to pick up the pieces later.
Vulcans are telepaths, touch telepaths. They can communicate with each other through the extent of their nervous system. Their fingers are linked directly to the telepathic centres of their brains. Two Vulcans touch, they can communicate with some ease. Centuries of tradition and law on Vulcan governed these 'touches' to prevent impolite or even criminal telepathic communication, but Vulcan to Vulcan telepathy was natural and in most cases easily performed.
Vulcan to other species was another matter entirely.
And Spock was only half Vulcan.
Kirk had once dared to question Sarek on the matter of Spock's telepathy. He'd couched it in a serious concern for Spock's safety and the Ambassador had allowed a small amount of information to pass his lips in that disguise, forbidding though his expression had been. Spock, it seemed had inherited a strong telepathic ability from his father, surprising Sarek's critics. He was fully trained and capable of following the Vulcan way of life. His son was Vulcan, therefore he was telepathic like a Vulcan. Kirk had left that interview feeling like he should apologise to the man for being Human himself.
But the truth was that Spock was only half-Vulcan, and no matter how many times Spock, Sarek, or anyone else declared that he was Vulcan, it didn't make it so physically.
Spock had collapsed that day.
Scared the living daylights out of his captain, freaking out the ship's doctor, and all out embarrassing himself. His smooth Vulcan facade had hidden his exhaustion from all of them until later that night near the end of alpha shift, Kirk had spun in his command chair at the sound of something falling, to find his first officer out cold on the deck in front of the science station.
Vulcan's do not faint.
And canaries don't fly either.
McCoy had arrived almost before Kirk had finished summoning him, and examined, tied the Vulcan to a gurney, and shipped him off to sickbay. Kirk had flung command at the nearest officer and followed, his concerned captain facade slipping just slightly to display the worried friend underneath.
There wasn't anything wrong with Spock. Well, nothing several nights' uninterrupted sleep couldn't fix, and once he'd regained consciousness, an impartial observer would have been hard put to find anything at all wrong the Vulcan.
Both Kirk and McCoy had bolted him to sickbay for the next couple of days regardless. One of the advantages of being captain was that his orders had to be obeyed, and Spock had given up once he saw the determination in Kirk's eyes.
And Spock had been fine.
But that didn't stop the worry.
Several times since Kirk had had to stand by and watch Spock's mind work its magic. And each time he felt that same worry grow. What if Spock couldn't break the meld? What if he lost his mind?
What if Kirk lost Spock?
Both of them faced peril on a daily basis. Aliens, friends, foes, battles that lit up space like fireworks, but all of these adversaries were common to the both of them. They fought them together, defended each other, conspired strategies, fought for the goals and the beliefs of the Federation - together.
But in the realm of the mind meld, Spock fought alone.
And there wasn't a damn thing Kirk could do about it.
The planet's sun was dipping below the horizon and the landscape was becoming dark. Spock had asked for complete privacy for this encounter. Spock's Vulcan control often shifted during a meld, exposing his inner core for all spectators to see. Kirk had seen tears in that Vulcan's eyes in the past, and regardless of the fact the tears were not his own, Spock was always embarrassed upon surfacing.
It was a sign of Spock's trust in Kirk that he allowed him to stay.
As if Kirk would have left anyway.
A movement to his left caught his eye.
A single tentacle broke the surface.
For a moment he thought it was part of the emissary's collection of limbs.
But it wasn't.
With some alarm Kirk backed off slightly as another gargantuan purple octopus surfaced along side the one cradling Spock.
A huge bulbous eye turned in his direction, its azure pupil tracing his outline. Little expression could be deduced from the alien's form, but something in Kirk spoke of wariness, danger.
He stood his ground.
A single tentacle reached up and touched his face, forcing him to hold back a flinch. The touch was wet and cold, a small trail of slime tracked down his cheek in the tentacle's wake.
C'mon, Spock, hurry up.
He glanced again at the prone Vulcan. Nothing. Not even a whisper.
He couldn't communicate with this alien. Professional linguists had tried. Several different species had tried. But there was no common frame of reference, nothing similar between the two languages for a clear translation. All who had tried had failed, and the bitter war between the human inhabitants and the giant cephalopods of the sea continued.
It was another case of humans waltzing in where angels feared to tread.
One day he was going to fly the Enterprise to the nearest Federation Colonial Authority office, park her with all her guns pointed at the nearest official, and give them a lesson on how to properly assess planets for colonisation. Far too many colonists were ending up on soil already claimed by another sentient species.
So what if the natives looked like rock, or trees, or just plain hid. They were there first, it was their planet. At times like these Kirk was a little ashamed of his own species' arrogance.
And it was him and his crew who had to clean up the mess.
The colonists of this world had no problems at first. They knew of the great sea creatures that lived in the oceans, but only marveled them when they rarely saw them, and the two species lived in harmony.
Until some smart ass worked out that the armour plating on the cephalopods' body made great jewellery, and started slaughtering them.
It didn't take long for the colonists to realise that the 'animals' were sentient. A few strategic massacres to the human population saw to that.
But it was too late.
Communication proved impossible, and the natives were not happy.
So the colonists screamed for help from the Federation. And the Federation sent the Enterprise.
Kirk was sure it had absolutely nothing to do with their history with the Horta incident, none at all.....yeah, right.
The tentacle suddenly wrapped around his forearm and tugged.
Kirk nearly lost his balance, his feet stumbling on the sandy floor, but managed to gain purchase on a lone rock, and using it to brace himself, yanked his shoulder free.
Mister Purple Octopus didn't like that.
He didn't like it at all.
Several more limbs arched out of the water, splashing salty rain over the already soaked Captain. Kirk backed towards Spock, inserting himself between the newcomer and the cephalopod his first officer was in communion with.
"Now back off, big guy, everything is fine." He held up a hand in warning, his other palm inching towards his phaser.
There was no way he wanted to fire on the creature. They were here to make peace, not worsen the situation.
It didn't stop his instincts or his reflexes, though.
The invading cephalopod waved its tentacles around in the air in an orgy of motion, its eye pinned on him at all times.
Kirk didn't see the single limb that suddenly wrapped around his ankle.
But he certainly felt it.
A painful yank on one of his legs toppled the dishevelled Captain, pulling him under the water. A gasp was all he could express before his world became a mass of bubbles and vain attempts to draw in oxygen.
The creature shook him, an anger communicating without the need for telepathy. Kirk didn't know what the alien's problem was, but one thing concerned him above all. Spock was defenseless with out him.
He fought for his communicator, hands fumbling in salt water, only to find it gone.
But he still had his phaser.
Orange flame lit up the dark water, steam and explosive bubbles hissing as the liquid encountered the beam. The water billowed dark purple and suddenly his ankle was released. Kirk staggered to his feet, wincing as his wrenched foot took his weight, and surfaced for desperately needed air.
The water was still.
Spock and his companion sat exactly where they were before, no movement, no sound. There was no sign of the angry cephalopod except for the remnants of its blood clouding the water.
Everything was silent.
The hair raised on the back of his neck, a sixth sense warning him not to relax.
Spock, please hurry up.
He eyed the sandy shore, a place of possible escape, the aliens were slower on land, but he couldn't leave Spock.
So he stood there, phaser held ready.
It came out of nowhere.
Soft, wet slime slapped into the side of his head, a constriction wrapped around his throat, and he was lifted from his feet. The world tilted and black spots danced in his vision. He tried to yell, tried to warn Spock, as far below he saw another tentacle reach for his first officer, its intent plain.
God, Spock, no.
He struggled clawing at the limb holding him, but his co-ordination was off, his brain desperate for oxygen. He fumbled, and the phaser slipped from his grip even as he fired it, an orange lance of fire dancing off target, steaming sea water and little else.
A tentacle grabbing Spock from his prone position was the last thing Kirk saw before he was flung outwards, airborne. There was a yell and a scream before he impacted with something solid. The world went black.
Something wet and slimy dribbled onto his forehead. Ughhh! He flinched.
He flung his eyelids open and came face to face with the largest eyeball he had ever seen. "Achh!" He tried to fling himself backwards both out of fright and defensive instinct, but found himself restrained.
Two warm hands held his shoulders down. He tipped his head back and came face to face with his first officer.
"Spock?" He wished the world would make just a little more sense. His brain didn't seem to be capable of putting two and two together. "What happened?" The moment he asked, a flash of purple danced across his memory. Oh, god. He attempted to get up again, but a combination of vertigo and the hands of his First Officer kept him down.
A melodious sing-song hum came out of nowhere. What? The huge eyeball glimmered in the dark.
"Captain, are you well?"
Kirk turned his head towards Spock again, blinking as the world took a moment to catch up with him. "Fine, Spock." Was that one Vulcan or two?
Spock's brow furrowed. "I do not believe you have assessed your condition correctly. Doctor McCoy is on his way."
Kirk blinked. His condition?
He was lying on his back, on the ground apparently. There was a grittiness under his hands and he raised one up to find it coated in coarse sand. Beach?
"Spock?! You okay? " This time he fumbled in an attempt to turn himself over. He was held back again.
"I am well, Captain. I believe it would be advisable for you to stay still for the moment until Dr. McCoy can ascertain your injuries."
Injuries? What injuries? His face must have reflected his confusion, because Spock answered his unspoken question.
"You fell from a considerable height."
"I didn't fall! I was thrown!" He was outraged, as well as out of his mind.
"Sssssgnthrlllllll apologises for his behaviour, he misunderstood your intentions." There was another sing-song murmur from behind the floating eyeball.
"My intentions? My intentions were survival!" Spock's eyebrow rose - or sank, depending on your perspective.
"As always, sir, however, Sssssgnthrlllllll was worried at your proximity to the Emissary. You were armed and he sensed that though you were essentially immobile, your mind was not. He did attempt to query your intentions, unfortunately you then misinterpreted his actions, and the resultant altercation occurred."
"So it was my fault?"
"Not completely, but it was a contributory factor."
Kirk blinked. The world seemed to want to pass in and out of focus randomly.
"Spock?" His own voice seemed far away. "I was worried about you." The world chose that minute to spin into a whirlpool of colour, and he spun away with it.
Commander Spock watched Doctor McCoy call the ship for beam up. The Captain had faded out of consciousness despite his attempts to keep him awake, and he knew the Doctor was more than a little worried about his head injury.
And Spock was a little more than concerned about the Captain.
Kirk was worried about his first officer? Spock was aware of the terminology, had heard his mother use that phrasing on many occasion, but he little understood why the Captain should be worrying at all. He had assured his superior officer that the mind meld would not be a problem. In fact, his telepathic capability made him the safest humanoid on the planet. Unlike the humans, he was able to communicate easily and freely with all the sentient species. Kirk, however, had no means of communication with the cephalopods, and had, in fact, complicated relations between the two species.
All because he was worried about his first officer.
Spock filed the information away for later thought, and turned back to Sssssgnthrlllllll to complete treaty negotiations.
Kirk woke to a much straighter and more stable world.
Okay, what did he do this time?
He thought back. Oh, yeah, the giant purple octopus that wanted to use him for basketball practise. What was it with aliens? Was it his deodorant or something? They seemed to take pleasure in maiming him in a variety of different ways.
Variety, the spice of life.
Okay, what had he broken this time?
He wiggled his toes. A good a place to start as any. Okay, something not quite right with one foot. He snuck a look at the other end of the bed. His foot seemed to be in a protective cast. Hmmm, not a good sign.
Okay, legs....responding well. Torso, nothing wrong there. Arms, all fully functional. Head....OWWW!!!
"Let that be a lesson to you. No getting out of bed till I say so."
He didn't even bother to look in the direction of McCoy.
But it didn't stop the doctor from continuing. "Of course, any sane man wouldn't bother to try and take on a giant crustacean on its own turf, but we are talking about James T. Kirk here aren't we."
"They're not crustaceans, they're cephalopods."
"Really? They all look the same once you fricassee them and serve'em up for dinner."
Now that caused him to look directly at the Doctor. "Getting a little flippant in your old age, Bones?"
"No, just searching for something that might gain your attention."
Hmph. The thought of giant stir-fried purple octopus was enough to get anyone's attention.
"So what's wrong with me this time?" He almost sighed, but didn't want to sound too melodramatic.
"Squished captain's brains mostly."
Okay, so Bones was in one of his nasty pun moods. Well, he could bat with the best of them.
"Iron and fold them neatly for me?"
McCoy just snorted. "One of these days, Jim, I'm not going to be able to put you back together."
Kirk frowned. "As if it was my fault. I wasn't the one using my body as sports equipment."
"A fact that could be considered to be decidedly out of the ordinary, Captain."
Kirk frowned as his first officer entered the room. He stared at the Vulcan, aiming to divine the meaning behind that statement, but Spock's expression was as stoic as always.
Or was that a glint in his eye?
Regardless, he decided to ignore the obvious agreement on McCoy's face.
"Captain, are you well?"
"Just fine, Spock. How go the negotiations?"
"The Frrrrronktiiilllllaah are mourning their dead. However should no more deaths occur, they will restrain themselves from obliterating the colony."
"And the colonists?"
"They too are mourning. The persons responsible for the initial killings have been expelled from the planet. We will be transporting them to the nearest Federation outpost." Spock swallowed and suddenly took on an air of being uncomfortable. "Captain, I wish to discuss something with you."
Spock's eyes flickered in McCoy's direction and there was an awkward pause. The Doctor, suddenly sensing his absence was preferred, gave Spock a sour look and wandered off mumbling something about crew physicals.
In McCoy's absence, Spock approached Kirk's bedside, his hands resting behind his back, his demeanor calm as always, but Kirk sensed something was up. There was something in the brief twitch of his eyebrow, a concern haunting his features in such a subtle way that only Kirk could have noticed it.
"Spock? What's wrong?"
Spock swallowed briefly, slightly hesitant, before stoicism reasserted itself. "Captain, I have become aware that you have some concerns regarding my use of telepathy."
It was Kirk's turn to swallow, but he looked up at his first officer and answered honestly. "Yes, I do."
Spock barely reacted. "I wish to know what I can do to alleviate your concerns."
Kirk stared at the Vulcan and suddenly realised that Spock was worried about Kirk being worried about him. He suddenly wished he could give the man an answer that would do as he asked, but there were some differences that could not be mutually understood, and they were going to have to learn to accept them.
"Spock, I'm sorry, but I don't think there is anything you can do to help. As a Vulcan you are capable of doing things that I can barely imagine, much less understand. I have no problem with that. In fact, it is one of the major contributory factors to the success of this five year mission and I accept them and you for what you are. I don't need to understand to accept."
"Jim, it is not acceptance that is the issue. You are worried. What are you worried about?"
Spock was letting emotion creep into his voice, and that caught Kirk's attention far more than anything else. "I don't know."
The room suddenly dropped in temperature. A lie? Yes, he had just lied to Spock. He looked away, his gaze falling to the bedsheets.
"Very well, Captain." Spock turned to leave, his face shuttered.
Before he made it to the door, Kirk broke. "Spock..."
The dark head turned.
"I'm powerless." His voice sounded quiet even to his own ears. "Have you ever had to stand by and watch a dear friend risk his life?"
"Yes, I have." Spock was cool, his expression a little resistant. "You, on several occasions."
"Not like this."
"Yes, Jim, just like this." Spock moved toward the bed again. "I have had to stand back many a time and let the Captain of the Enterprise risk his life because no one else could."
"Spock, there isn't anything I can do!"
The Vulcan opened his mouth to reply, but Kirk didn't let him. "I stand by and watch you open your mind to some strange alien from who knows where, and all I can do is spectate! What if something goes wrong? What if I can't bring you back? What if I lose you?"
"As Starfleet officers we both take that risk on a daily basis."
Kirk let his hands drop to the sheets. Did Spock even understand what he meant? The image of a mindless Spock limp in his arms on some godforsaken planet flashed through his mind. It was true, there would be nothing he could do, no way to telepathically reach his mind. Spock would be on his own. He would die alone, or worse end up existing on the edge of life, his brain no more sentient than mashed potato.
"Captain, can you guarantee that your life will not be taken during the performance of your duties?" The Vulcan's voice was calm.
"Of course not."
"I am afraid, Jim, that neither can I guarantee such a thing for myself."
It was the truth. Kirk knew it. He served with men and women who had all pledged to lay down their lives if necessary.
Kirk pulled the covers tighter around him as if metaphorically shielding himself. "Okay, Spock, I'm tired, you're tired. I'd like to get some rest."
The Vulcan didn't flinch at the sudden change in conversation as Kirk shut himself down emotionally and as efficiently as any Vulcan. He bowed his head slightly and turned to leave. Kirk turned his back to him and closed his eyes, listening for the tell tale sweep of the doors as his first officer exited. It was a soft sound above the faint hum of the starship's engines.
In the absence of eyes upon him, the Captain of the Enterprise rolled over and stared at the ceiling, his mind thinking of all those lives he was responsible for, all those decisions he made that affected those lives. All those decisions that took lives.
And those lives he couldn't bear to lose.
Because in the end control was an illusion.
And he the most deluded of them all.