Kirk was definitely not enjoying himself. If ever an unkind fate had laid its careless touch upon a luckless starship captain, he thought bitterly, it had most certainly just prodded him unkindly in the small of the back.
Only one month into his freshly-minted captaincy and a lowly passenger, one of the most insignificant members in the entourage of the diplomatic mission they had been ferrying to Fomalhaut 3, had had to go down with a case of Scriber's plague. Luckily Piper had spotted the unusual symptoms in time, provided booster shots for the entire crew and quarantined the hapless diplomatic team, but the brutal fact remained that the Enterprise, his precious new ship, was now in the hands of decontamination experts far above him, and he and the rest of his crew were enjoying the dubious delights of an unscheduled week of R & R on Starbase 13.
He took another sip of his fourth brandy and sighed moodily.
Gary Mitchell laughed. "Cheer up, Jim. They'll give her back to you in one piece!"
Kirk looked round the stuffy little bar gloomily. "Possibly, but am I going to be in one piece by then?"
Mitchell grinned even more broadly. "I'd have said this place was ideal for you. Plenty of outdoor sports, plenty of booze and the most renowned red light district within fifty parsecs."
Kirk eyed him repressively. "I'm a Captain now, Gary."
Mitchell stared at him in mock dismay. "You're not supposed to put on a halo along with the extra braid, are you? I was sure I'd met a few carousing Captains in my time." He grinned. "Remember Bob Latimer?"
"I've no desire to end up like him," Kirk said drily. "I've never seen a worse hangover!"
"You won't get a hangover at Lola's Place." Gary drained his glass and stood up. "Come on, Jim. Let's show these boys what the real men do." Protesting half-heartedly, Kirk allowed himself to be led out; after all, the idea was not so unattractive. Out in the street the cold air made his head swim slightly and he stared round him, briefly disorientated. There! The unmistakable towers of the galaxy-renowned establishment were away on his left. He set off towards them and cannoned off a passer-by, progressing down the street at a brisk walk.
He grinned apologetically and found himself staring into the expressionless face of his own First Officer.
"Sorry, Mr. Spock. I wasn't looking where I was going."
"I believe it is a characteristic of the inebriated," Spock answered coolly, stepping aside. "Good evening, Captain, Lt. Commander."
Gary Mitchell watched the retreating back with dislike. "Blasted iceberg," he said. "You've been damned unlucky to get stuck with him as your First Officer, Jim."
"Oh I don't know." Kirk tried to be fair. "He's bloody good at his job." His eye was still following the blue-clad, ramrod figure. Typical of Spock that he should be in uniform. "I wonder where he's going, Gary."
Mitchell grinned. "Not to Lola's, that's for sure."
Kirk grinned too, then sobered again. "There's very little here for him to do, you know. Chris Pike says he hardly ever takes shore leave, apparently he prefers to spend his time studying or playing chess with the computer."
Mitchell was tired of the subject. "Come on. I guess he's going back to the hotel. He's walking in that direction." He pulled at Kirk's shoulder.
Kirk resisted him. "I don't like to see a guy that much on his own."
"For goodness sake," Mitchell exploded, "are you coming with me or are you going to spend all night worrying about that walking computer?"
Kirk had come to a decision. "You go on." He flashed his most charming grin. "You won't need me around... "
Mitchell shrugged. "Have it your own way."
Kirk watched him go and then turned to make his way to the hotel he and his senior officers had been booked into. Pausing to ascertain the Vulcan's room number he made his way to the lift. He tapped on the door and when it opened, gave a brief smile and said, "May I come in?"
Disconcerted by the request Spock stood back without protest and allowed his Captain to pass. Kirk found himself stepping over a pile of camping equipment and looked up with another smile.
"I came to see whether you had any plans for the next few days." He waved an expressive hand. "It seems you have."
"If I am wanted... " Spock began stiffly.
"No, no," Kirk assured him hurriedly. "Nothing like that. Where are you planning on going?"
"To the Singing Caves."
"Alone?" Kirk could not restrain the worried question. He knew the Vulcan had no friends on board the Enterprise.
"But they're up in the Hergai Mountains," Kirk protested.
"I am well aware of their location, Captain."
On an impulse Kirk said, "I've always wanted to see them myself. May I come with you?" He smiled at the particularly blank look that spread over Spock's face and added gently, "It really is very foolish to go mountain climbing alone, Mr. Spock."
"I am perfectly competent... "
"I don't doubt your competency. It is still foolish. Most illogical in fact. Particularly when a companion is available."
Spock thought he knew why the offer had been made. "It is quite unnecessary to be concerned about me, Captain," he said coldly. "I am accustomed to my own company and find it pleasantly restful after the illogic that surrounds me during duty periods."
Caught out, Kirk decided on counter-attack. "Mr. Spock, I'm not asking you to let me do you a favour, I'm asking you to do me one. I'd like to come along if you feel you can put up with me for a few days."
The icy stare did not thaw. "There are many other attractions here to claim your attention, Captain. Activities more suited to Human tastes."
"Which can be found on any base," Kirk added. "The Singing Caves are only here, on Base 13. Is the prospect of my presence so unwelcome?"
Conscious of being caught out in an impoliteness Spock made one, last quelling effort. "I neither welcome nor reject the idea of company, Captain. I merely wish to remind you that I am not the most suitable companion for you."
"I'll be the judge of that." Kirk's compelling smile lit his eyes. "What time are you off in the morning?"
"I had planned to leave soon after dawn," Spock said helplessly, "but now we shall need further supplies - another tent, sleeping bag, food..."
"Don't worry about any of that," Kirk said briskly. "Come and knock on my door when you're ready to go. I'm next door but one that way." He stepped over the piled-up gear. "I'll see you tomorrow."
* * * * * * * *
It is usually possible for a starship Captain to get hold of supplies when he wants to and before Kirk finally went to bed that night he was fully kitted out for a climbing expedition to the Hergai Mountains. He lay back on his bed with something of a sigh, wondering whether his impulsiveness had led him into an act he would come to regret. He'd known of Spock by reputation for several years --there were still sufficiently few Vulcans in Starfleet for the senior officers among them to be well known, but most of them were part of the Vulcan manned ship, the Intrepid. Spock's decision to serve with a Human crew was unusual to say the least, and rumour and speculation ran wild about him still as it had done for years. One of the most persistent rumours was of some Human ancestry, confirmed, so Piper had confided only last week over a few drinks, by certain Human elements in his blood. Otherwise he was an enigma, keeping himself apart, never joining in the off-duty relaxations available to crewmen. A loner.
Kirk hated to see someone on the edge of a crowd; always popular himself it had been almost an obsession with him to see that no one stood alone if he could help it. Still, if it should genuinely prove that Spock was better off on his own then he would make it his business to see he got whatever privacy he needed.
Vulcans - unknown quantities - terra incognita - it would please him very much to learn more. An intriguing race, sure of their own abilities, sometimes seeming overly-confident of their superiority; always honest, occasionally to the point of rudeness by Human standards; they seemed unaware of the challenge their attitude presented to the Humans they encountered and were openly disdainful of the emotional outbursts their coldness provoked.
Still, Spock ran his science department with superb efficiency, combining the job of Science Officer with his other duties with ease and proficiency as he had done for years. Those that worked closely with him had a healthy respect for his expertise and although newcomers apparently sometimes complained of a lack of praise, they were either quick to see the superb training they were being given or else they transferred off swiftly. All in all, Kirk did not regret not changing the Enterprise's First Officer when he had been given the chance on takeover. He wanted the best crew in the fleet and it seemed in his First Officer, he had a head start. He punched his pillow, deliberately settling himself for sleep. He might not need a full eight hours sleep every night, but he did need some. He closed his eyes.
* * * * * * * *
A light tap on his door just after full daylight brought him out of his bathroom at a trot, comb in his hand.
"I'm going to keep you waiting," he grinned. "I haven't got my boots on yet."
Spock had honestly expected to find him still sleeping and was pleasantly surprised. He crouched to check through the pile of equipment on the floor.
"Checking up on me?" Kirk murmured, stamping his foot down into his climbing boot and adjusting the snap-lock fittings.
"It is as well to be sure," Spock said expressionlessly. He was regretting more and more his social ineptitude that had made it impossible to think of a way to refuse Kirk's company. He knew it was useless to contemplate anything other than a simple, working relationship with a Human. He had disappointed them so often in the past by his uncomprehending lack of emotional response. However, what was done was done and there was no logic in repining over it. They were committed now, and Kirk did not seem to him to be the kind of man who would back out of a committed decision. It was worth an attempt, though.
"If you have changed your mind," he said abruptly, "I shall not be offended."
Kirk closed the last fastening and stood up, smiling broadly. He shook his head. "Oh no," he said softly, "you don't get rid of me that easily. You're stuck with me now, whether you like it or not."
"It is a matter of indifference to me," Spock said coldly.
Liar! But his tactful Captain did not speak the word aloud. "You can give me a hand to get this lot on my back," was all he said. "That carryall has to be left at the desk. It's stuff I don't need to take with me."
* * * * * * * *
Half an hour later they were deposited within three days' walking distance of the caves by a hired aircar. Once the whine of its departure had faded Kirk drew in a long, contented breath. Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad idea after all; the utter peace of the place was like soothing ointment on an itching sting, taking the worries and concerns of a new command and relegating them firmly to the background of his consciousness. He wordlessly accepted Spock's assistance with his backpack and turned to help the Vulcan, only to find he had effortlessly hefted his load onto his shoulders and was already striding off along the track leading up into the foothills. Shrugging, he followed silently.
Silence, it seemed, was to be the predominant routine. Spock was never a maker of light conversation at the best of times and as his long legs set a brisk pace along the steeply uphill path Kirk was not particularly sorry he was not expected to converse at the same time. He blessed his own ego that made him, if not fanatical over physical fitness, at least pay more than lip service to the idea of keeping himself in trim, and kept pace with the striding Vulcan.
At midday Spock came to an abrupt halt and lowered his pack to the ground. "You will need to eat," he said flatly.
"Meaning you don't?" Kirk could not help an edge of annoyance creeping into his voice.
"Only once a day for some considerable period."
"But under normal circumstances you eat more often than that." Kirk had at least noted the presence of that lone figure in the rec room, even if he had never yet gone so far as to ask him to share a meal.
Repressing an urge to demand whether there was some Vulcan taboo against the giving of information to aliens, Kirk said cheerfully, "Then there's no need to restrict yourself to only one meal each day now. There's no hurry, is there? We can afford the time."
"It will take a full two and a half days to reach the caves." Spock was delving into his pack for concentrates and a self-heating can of coffee, "and your presence slows me down."
Nettled, Kirk said, "Don't hold back, on my account."
"It is necessary," Spock said evenly. "Human stamina is less than Vulcan. It is illogical to make comparisons or attempt rivalry. We will proceed at a rate suited to your lower level of ability."
Kirk made no verbal answer, but the way in which he wrenched open his own can of coffee would have spoken volumes to a more sensitive onlooker. He sipped the bitter, reviving liquid several times before he spoke. "Where have you planned on setting up camp for the night?"
Spock extracted a map and spread it out. "I thought here." One lean finger stabbed the spot. "There is a stream to provide water for washing."
"That'll be most welcome." Kirk was overly conscious of his own sweating body in the presence of the naturally dry-skinned Vulcan. "Yes." He measured the distance roughly with his finger. "We should be able to get there well before sunset, barring accidents."
Spock said nothing. Accidents were things which did not happen often to efficient, fore-thinking Vulcans; however, he had sufficient experience of Humans by now to know that it was not tactful actually to say so. It was not to be denied that, when Humans were involved, accidents did occur. He had often regretted the fact.
He allowed them three-quarters of an hour's rest and then got to his feet again, half wondering whether his superior officer would object to his tacit assumption of leadership, but Kirk did not do so, merely stood up, silently accepted Spock's help with his backpack, waited to see if the Vulcan would acknowledge a need for assistance, and when he did not, moved quietly off at a steady pace.
They maintained their determined silence through the long hours of the day, each sharply aware of the other as they had never been before. Kirk was grittily determined that, while he would go in for no mock heroics, he would keep going and keep up as long as it was humanly possible. It was a biological fact that he was not so strong as a Vulcan and he would not be so idiotic as to try and match him, but neither would he complain or show that he was tiring until he had to. Spock might resent his company; he would give him no cause to despise it.
For Spock's part he was mildly ashamed of his growing admiration for a Human who made no conversational demands of him but applied himself solely the task of physical exercise. Having already, in the brief four weeks since the start of the Enterprise's new, five year mission, seen Kirk's gregarious and extrovert nature, he found his present reticence agreeably surprising. Awareness of his own shortcomings, though, made him prickly and awkward to a degree that shamed him. One tiny, innermost corner of his being was relieved that his mother would never know of his bad manners. An inner, total honesty forced him to admit that Kirk's argument as to the unwisdom of climbing alone was more than justified, but equally it had been acutely disconcerting to find someone actually offering to accompany him. In his early days, both at the Academy and on active service, he had tried to be sociable but had all too soon learnt that his society was not comfortable for most Humans and in his own unadmitted desire to resist their lure and demonstrate his Vulcanness for all to see, he was not prepared to meet any of them half-way. He had survived, too, through the long, lonely years of childhood into the less bothering loneliness of adulthood; his solitary state was nothing new, no longer feared. Even in marriage, if his despised Human blood could not save him from that ultimate humiliation, he knew he would still be alone.
Perhaps in view of these thoughts it was unsurprising that his monosyllabic responses grew even terser that evening as they set up camp for the night. Once their tiny, one man tents were erected and their belongings safely stowed inside, Kirk made his way over to the small pool, longing for the touch of cool water.
Spock watched him with a touch of envy. Service life did not encourage prudery and he had long grown used to the communal locker rooms of the Enterprise gym and pool, the nonchalant disappearance behind a bush or rock on landing party duty, but he could not hope to emulate Kirk's unselfconscious stripping at the water's edge before he plunged into the cold, mountain-fed pool. He came up, gasping and breathless, laughing both at his own reaction and also from the pleasure of the moment.
Still shivering he yelled, "Watch it, Spock, it's bloody cold!"
Ashamed of being caught out in watching the naked Kirk, Spock merely nodded once and turned away.
Even if he had known of Spock's shame Kirk would not really have understood it; his own attitude to nudity was relaxed and unembarrassed, a typical product of his age in fact. Instead he became faintly annoyed at the persistent rejection of his friendly overtures and took out his anger in a great deal of very splashy swimming about the pool, regretting more and more that he had ever suggested coming along. When he eventually got out he was calmer and towelled himself down vigorously saying mildly, "Aren't you going in?"
"Later." Spock was horribly conscious that, having originally expected to make the trip alone, he had not included swimming trunks in his pack.
Kirk raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Silly to swim after you've eaten," he said, "or aren't Vulcans subject to muscular cramps?"
"Less susceptible but not immune." He was being foolish beyond sense; he could not hope to copy Kirk's happy unselfconsciousness but he could control his own ridiculous embarrassment. Surely after all these years he was used to the curious and prurient glances of those wanting a free lesson in Vulcan anatomy. Unhurriedly he began to unbutton his shirt only to find that, once again, he had done Kirk less than justice, for the Human turned disinterestedly aside to dress and then occupied himself with preparation for an evening meal without looking around again.
Spock did not spend long in the water. It was unpleasantly cold to his warm Vulcan skin and he was soon out and dressed again, ready to prepare his own meal, finding to his surprise that Kirk had laid out several perfectly acceptable items for him. He knew he ought to express his gratitude, good manners demanded it, but a perverse and most irrational reluctance laid weights upon his tongue. After the meal he buried the empty cans carefully, longing for a period of quiet meditation but certain Kirk would be offended if he expressed such a wish; however his Captain wandered off a little way and sat on a rocky promontory overlooking the desolate beauty around them, content to watch the sunset and think his own thoughts; he had had enough of Vulcans for one day.
The next day followed much the same pattern as the first, varied with slightly severer climbing accomplished in the same determined silence. Spock's respect for Kirk was growing steadily, well nigh unnoticed by him until he reviewed the day's events at his evening meditation. As he slipped into his sleeping bag on the second night he was almost ready to acknowledge it was a pity he could not express his gratitude for Kirk's silence and forbearance, but such an act would be unthinkable, should not really have occurred to him... would not have done so to a full Vulcan, he was sure. He settled himself to sleep with grim determination.
On the third morning the going was considerably harder and they had to negotiate several moderate-to-difficult climbs. Kirk was unsurprised to find Spock had spoken less than the truth when he described himself as a competent climber. He was more than that, he was one of the best Kirk had climbed with. After his first admiring appraisal he realised that he, too, had been under careful scrutiny and he gave a small chuckle of amusement.
"I think we both pass, don't you."
"Pass?" Spock was reluctant to admit he understood.
"If you tell me you weren't watching to see I was adequately competent I shan't believe a word of it."
"It is only logical to be sure."
Spock's tone was icily quelling and he set off along the more gently sloping track ahead at a fast pace.
Suppressing annoyance and a strong wish to be somewhere else, anywhere else, Kirk followed him.
The final climb to the cave entrance was the hardest of all, a high, almost vertical cliff that required concentration and sustained physical effort, and Kirk dearly wanted to flop down with a sigh of relief, but pride and a faint resentment of Spock's unhurried breathing kept him upright. Spock looked round and pointed. "There."
A small, black opening gaped beneath the overhanging cliff away to their left, beyond the wide ledge at the top of their climb.
"Lunch first?" Kirk suggested amiably.
Tempted to yell, "There's no need to make a favour of it," Kirk strangled the words at their birth and dropped his pack down carefully. The view ahead of them was spectacular and they both kept their eyes thoughtfully on it while they ate their meal, lingering a little afterwards in the same, mildly tense silence that was fast becoming habitual.
At last Spock stirred, rose and picked up his pack, leading the way into the low entrance.
"We will leave our packs here." He lifted his to a shelf of rock well inside the entrance and went to Kirk.
"I don't really need your help, you know," Kirk said crossly as he heaved the pack up. He was beginning to feel tireder than he liked.
Spock stared at him. "Then why do you accept it?" he asked, genuinely puzzled.
"Because you offer, because it's polite to accept a friendly gesture. But if the giving and receiving of help is not Vulcan I can manage without."
Spock lowered his eyes swiftly, denying his surge of shame. "A most illogical and unnecessary act on your part," he said coldly. "I believed my assistance was beneficial."
"But it was," Kirk said. "It made me feel I wasn't quite such a... pariah!"
"Illogical!" Spock turned away icily and moved down the passage. Swallowing down yet more anger, Kirk followed.
* * * * * * * *
The passages were long and winding, the main route well-lit by glow-pup lights and simple to follow; from time to time it opened up into caverns, varying in size from a small room to a veritable cathedral. Centuries of trickling water had transformed the walls into natural art galleries, covered the rocky floor with frozen statuary. Still they plunged deeper, following the lights steadily downward to the bottom most cave.
Kirk's earlier surge of annoyance had died, he was never one to bear grudges for long. The beauty of the place, its chill serenity, moved him almost to awe and he paused to stare about him in delight as yet another massive cavern opened up ahead. Without thinking he caught the Vulcan's arm to claim his attention and pointed ahead to a crouching figure formed by a stalagmite. "Look, couldn't you swear that was Ensign Peters?" he spluttered. "Remember? After he'd fallen in that mud slide on Ledon 2 last week."
"I do not find others' misfortunes amusing," Spock said quellingly. It was odd; the naturally formed limestone column did have a distinct look of that unfortunate youth as he'd heaved himself upright, dripping and furious. He shook Kirk's hand off and went on.
Kirk compressed his lips and followed again. Spock set a swift, almost dangerous pace in the dim light and Kirk was eventually moved to protest. "We're going too fast, Spock. I don't have your superior Vulcan eyesight you know."
"A pity." Spock's tone was distant, but he slowed his pace.
"Damn you!" Kirk's temper, on a short leash all day, finally snapped. "Why is it that all Vulcans think they're so darn perfect?"
Taken aback by the sudden attack, Spock said, "I was not aware that we do."
"Well, you do anyway."
Irrationally, Spock felt he had never heard such an unfair accusation.
He blinked. "That is not true. I am fully cognisant that I have many shortcomings."
"No one would ever guess," Kirk snapped at him.
"I am pleased to hear it."
As he turned coldly away Kirk yelled his name in an explosion of anger. "SPOCK ...OCK...OCK...KO...KO...KIRK"
The echoes sang round their heads, reverberating and clashing high above them. Diverted, they both looked up.
"We must be very close to the Singing Caves now," Spock whispered.
"Yes." Kirk laughed suddenly. "Odd how it changes your name to mine, isn't it? Did you notice?" He called again and once more the echoes altered the name subtly as the sound diminished. "It seems determined to link us, doesn't it?" He met the dark eyes openly. "I'm sorry I yelled, my behaviour was unforgivable."
To his own astonishment Spock heard himself reply, "I was not entirely innocent of provocation, Captain."
The warm smile held him captive past good Vulcan manners, but at last he managed to break the look. "We should be moving on," he said firmly, "if we are to return to the entrance before it is dark."
Kirk shrugged. "We can always sleep further in," he pointed out. "Indeed." Spock was astonished he had not thought of such a simple solution for himself. "But we have no food."
For answer Kirk delved into the pockets of his jacket and pulled out a pack of concentrates and two cans of coffee. "Enough?"
"You are very forward-looking." Spock set off again.
Kirk chuckled. "Greedy, more like. How much further?"
"I believe the next cavern is the Singing Cave itself."
It was small, barely larger than a cabin on the Enterprise. They walked to the middle of it in silence and Kirk quirked a quizzical eyebrow. "You'd better test it. I've got a voice like a corncrake with a sore throat."
"Very well." Spock lifted his head and unselfconsciously began to sing an old Earth song Kirk knew well.
His singing was velvety and warm like his speaking voice and as the simple tune rang out the cavern walls picked it up, flung it along far passages, resonating and resounding, the harmonics swelling also to transform the single voice into an orgy of sound; a great, symphonic choir, swelling to a crescendo and falling away to the tenderest diminuendo.
Reduced to simple, physical terms the effect was caused by the unique, natural formation of the caves and passages, filled with delicate, vibrating stalactites and stalagmites producing harmonics in simple frequency ratios... one could analyse it for ever. The plain fact was the effect was breathtakingly beautiful, the very floor on which one stood vibrated, sending physical shivers of pleasure through the body to enhance the glory of the incredible sounds.
As the last whisper died away Kirk's eyes met Spock's and acknowledged the awe he knew mirrored his own.
"Beautiful," he whispered. "Quite beautiful. Please... some more. That was an Earth song, sing something Vulcan this time."
When it was over they were both silent, their eyes meeting shared pleasure; without need for words they turned and left the tiny cavern to go back along the passageway the way they had come.
Out in the larger cavern Kirk said, "We're in very good time and I'm hungry. Let's stop for some food and coffee."
"Very well." Spock's mind was still echoing from the plangent sounds; he would have agreed to almost anything. He sat down obediently and took the can and the concentrates without really being aware of them.
Kirk opened his drink and sniffed the glorious smell of it; he looked up and smiled. "I like this cavern too," he said softly. "The sound may not be so awe-inspiring but you must admit it's intriguing."
"Mmm?" Spock frowned faintly.
"What it does to our names. Remember?" He sent the call winging on its way again. "SPOCK...OCK...OCK...KO...KO...KIRK."
It is one of the well known results of sound in a..."
Kirk began to laugh. "I wondered how long it would be before I got a lecture. Spare me the basic physics and drink your coffee."
Spock lifted the can and pulled at the tab. As he did so there was a shockingly loud report, echoing and re-echoing, as the can blew apart in the strong hands.
"God!" Kirk was beside him at once. "Let me see - are you hurt?"
Spock stared at the sluggishly welling blood. "It must have been faulty," he said, too stupefied to do more than state the obvious.
Kirk was scrabbling in his pockets for the small emergency kit he carried. "The plastiskin dressing's here all right. Give me your hands."
He sprayed the wounds deftly. "I don't think they're too bad. Did the coffee scald you?"
His companion was still too numb to think coherently. "I don't think so."
Kirk took the firm chin and turned his face from side to side. "I think some of this wouldn't come amiss all the same. Better safe than sorry." He applied the salve with gentle care. "Does that feel better?"
"Yes." Spock had pulled himself together by now, the magical sounds dying in his head. Now he had time to notice the pain he realised his left hand was more badly damaged than he'd originally thought. He probed at it, preventing himself from wincing only by the exercise of an iron will.
"I believe there may be a piece of metal embedded in the palm." Kirk ran the reader tube over it. "Blast it, these things always confuse me. Yes, I think you could be right."
Spock took the tube from him and studied the reading. "Yes. It is quite deep. It would be unwise to endeavour to remove it here."
"Then we'd better get back to civilisation as fast as we can. My communicator's in my pack. We'll call up Base Control and they'll come and get us out. Are you fit to walk?"
Spock's blank expression managed to display disgust. "It is my hand that is injured, not my feet."
"Come on then." Kirk got to his feet.
He was too tactful to offer the captious Vulcan any physical assistance, simply taking up a place at his shoulder and watching him as unobtrusively as he could; he disliked being fussed over himself. Their walk back to the entrance was understandably slower and when they at last came in sight of the black sky Kirk's first thought was that they had taken even longer than he feared and night was almost upon them, then a vivid, blue flash told him what was happening. A steady, driving rain was coming in through the opening too, turning the earth to mud under their feet, and thunder rumbled interminably overhead.
"Good job we left the packs well off the ground," Kirk said drily.
Spock flashed him a quick glance. Had he really missed the signs for himself? "It was a predictable possibility, Captain. The ground here has clearly been damp before."
"Damp!" Kirk grinned at the understatement. "Sit yourself down over there while I contact the Base. D'you need any painkillers?" Spock shook his head firmly. "Very well." Kirk delved into his pack and got out his communicator, flicking the grid open.
"There is likely to be interference within the cave," Spock warned him. After several attempts Kirk had to concede defeat. "I'm putting on a waterproof before I go out there though," he said ruefully.
"You could wait for the storm to lessen," Spock suggested.
"Negative. It could be night before then and they'll never be able to pick us up in the dark. I won't be long." Kirk pulled the vivid orange waterproof over his head, adjusted the hood, made a friendly grimace at the rain and plunged outside.
It was several minutes later before he was back. "It's just as bad out there. We're in a sort of bowl here, I seem to remember. There's nothing but static. It looks as though we'll have to spend the night here after all... the way down is awash. It'd be suicide to try and climb down alone in this weather. I'll go in the morning -- if you're sure you'll be all right until then."
"I am quite all right. There is no need for any heroics on my behalf, Captain."
"I wasn't about to offer you any," Kirk said tartly. "If I thought your injuries were more serious I'd go, as it is I'd say it didn't warrant the risk I might go head first down the cliff face and leave you with no way of getting out at all. I'll find us a more comfortable spot to spend the night." He picked up his pack and walked back into the caves, searching out the first one that was dry and reasonably level underfoot. Dumping his own gear down he went back for Spock's.
As he went to pick it up he paused, taking hold of a strap and peering at it suspiciously. "You've been trying to lift this up yourself," he said accusingly. "That is blood, isn't it?" Spock nodded. "You are a fool, aren't you?" Kirk grinned. "I'd have done the same myself though. How badly have you hurt yourself now?"
Kirk held out his hand but Spock resolutely put his behind his back. "O.K," Kirk shrugged "I guess I can rely on you to do the logical thing and not be bloody stupid over it." He heaved Spock's pack onto his shoulders. "Come on. It isn't far to go."
It may not have been far; but Spock's hand was aching abominably by this time and the minor wounds on his right hand had opened again and were bleeding sluggishly. He was glad to sit down and take the opportunity to concentrate on reducing the pain to a more acceptable level. That done he assisted in laying out sleeping bags, clumsily but with reasonable efficiency. Kirk let him do whatever he attempted without fussing, but he was beginning to worry slightly over the awkward way Spock held his arm. It seemed the hand wound was severer than he'd thought and there would be no question of their moving out together tomorrow.
They made a silent meal; Kirk caught himself holding his breath while he opened Spock's coffee; looked up and found the dark eyes fixed on him. "Stupid to be apprehensive." He laughed. "It was a chance in a million."
"Quite understandable however," Spock said indifferently, taking the can. When they had finished and tidied up Kirk thrust his hand down into the bottom of his back and brought out a small, flat box.
"I brought this on impulse," he said softly, opening it. "Would you care for a game?"
Spock looked at the miniature chess set, hiding his surprise. "I did not know you played, Captain."
"Oh yes. Perhaps not in your league, though. I gather you don't have any suitable partners on board the Enterprise."
"There are a few who play to my standard, yes," Spock said phlegmatically.
"But you'd rather play against the computer?"
Spock could not answer this with a totally honest affirmative so he kept silence. Kirk guessed at the reason, and his warm heart made him angry at the insensitivity of his race. "Well, let's see how we get on."
The game ended inconclusively, neither man able to gain a commanding position, and Kirk noticed his companion was visibly paler.
"It's time you got some rest," he said roughly. "Get into bed." Without waiting for permission he undid Spock's boots for him and hauled them off. "Now, into that sleeping bag and don't move until morning."
Spock did not argue.
* * * * * * * *
After breakfast the following day, Kirk carried first one pack then the other back to the cave entrance. It was a beautiful morning, fresh, sunny and dry and he stood on the wide ledge at the entry for a second or two to appreciate the view.
His communicator was still obstinately useless; he snapped it shut.
"Looks as though you'll have to wait here while I go down the track a little way."
Spock came to the edge and looked down. It was not a particularly steep climb but it was a long drop; too long.
"You will go roped," he said firmly.
Kirk looked round. "There's little enough to secure this end to."
"I will hold it. My right hand is fully functional."
"One handed?" Kirk chuckled. "I'm bloody glad you're a Vulcan, Mister!"
Spock nodded gravely, passed the rope round his body and took hold of it. "Take care, Captain."
"I intend to. This is my skin I'm using!"
From his position holding the rope, Spoeck could not watch the climb, but the colourful comments and expletives that floated up to him kept him fully informed of his volatile Captain's progress.
Safely at the bottom Kirk released himself. The way was simple enough for half a mile or so from here. It could be far enough to be out of the interference caused by the ore-bearing rocks. He looked up to find Spock peering down and waved cheerily.
"I shan't be long."
Spock watched him go until he was out of sight and then sat down, propping his back against a convenient rock. He looked at his swollen, throbbing hand and raised an eyebrow at it in faint distaste. Such a stupid, unforeseeable accident - and Kirk had shown true forbearance in not once saying, "I told you so." Indeed, his company had not only been inoffensive, it had occasionally been positively pleasant. For such an outgoing Human he was extraordinarily peaceful to be with and he had borne Spock's early touchiness uncomplainingly, had respected his need for privacy and not intruded... and in return he had been offered silent coldness. Indeed, Amanda would have been most displeased with her son, and justifiably so; he had been unforgivably rude. He could hear her even now, in that firm, clear voice, saying, "Being Vulcan, my son, is not an excuse for bad manners. They show an indifference to the needs of other creatures and should be avoided. Your own beliefs and habits are not paramount, nor is it in the spirit of the IDIC to place your needs above those of others."
She was quite right of course; it was just that, somehow, over the years, he had slipped into this impenetrable Vulcan shell and it was oddly hard to think of finding a way out. But a hand had surely been reached out to him over these last few days, the least he could do was made some move in return. Kirk had been concerned for him, it had been easy to see, and he had ungratefully spurned the proffered help, refused even to allow him the reassurance of seeing the wounds were not serious, although incapacitating him for climbing. He would do better when he returned.
Suddenly impatient for that moment, he got to his feet and strolled to the edge again. Kirk was in sight and waved, giving a thumbs-up sign. Ignoring Vulcan dignity, Spock waved back.
When Kirk got to the bottom of the cliff he called down, "There is no need for you to climb back up, Captain. Why do you not wait there?"
"Because I'll get hungry, that's why." Kirk yelled firmly. "Take hold of that rope and don't argue."
Spock stepped back, smothering a smile at its birth and waited for Kirk's face to appear over the edge. Somehow he had know it would be smiling.
"Phew!" Kirk sank down, puffing exaggeratedly. "I'm hungry, thirsty and exhausted."
Spock coiled the rope. "It is not even close to midday," he said.
"What's that got to do with it?" Kirk asked mildly and grinned. "Let's break out some food and I'll risk opening a couple of cans of your therca-juice."
Wordlessly, Spock reached into his pack and handed the cans over, very carefully, with his left hand.
Kirk looked down, pleased. "Is it feeling better?" he asked tentatively.
"Not noticeably," Spock said honestly, "but the wound is not so very serious." He held the palm up for Kirk to see.
"No," Kirk said with relief. He looked up, eyes crinkling in self deprecatory amusement. "Have I been worrying that obviously?"
"No, but it was discourteous of me not to have set your mind at rest earlier."
Kirk's eyes widened in surprise, but he made no comment, just fell upon the food as though he had not eaten in a month.
"They should be here in a couple of hours," he said a little thickly through a mouthful of cheese. "They say there's room to land their air-rescue vehicle on the ledge. They've done it plenty of times before."
"At least you will be able to enjoy the last couple of days of your leave." Spock said abruptly.
Kirk raised his own brows. "I've enjoyed myself already. Well, not that," he gestured at Spock's hand, "but the rest of it. Thank you for letting me come with you. I'd often said I must visit the caves but I never did." His smile became self-conscious. "I've always been too busy concentrating on other forms of recreation around here... things a respectable Vulcan wouldn't know about." His smile invited Spock to share his amusement and when the slanted eyebrow rose, beamed at it in satisfaction. "We'll play some more chess while your hand's healing, shall we? I've a feeling that when you're 100% fit you'll beat the pants off me, but I'm working on a few ideas to try and stop you."
The bemused Spock found himself agreeing to the suggestion as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
And why not? he said to himself, half defiantly, as he drifted off into sleep that night, his hand dressed and comfortable again. There was such a thing as too splendid an isolation.
At least he knew his mother would approve!
Copyright Meg Wright