10: An Ear to Bend

Spock began to turn toward Jim but remembered in the nick of time that he had an embarrassing situation in the front of his uniform. Gripping the top of the wall with both hands, he drew in a deep breath to calm himself before responding.

“I—I’m sorry, Captain, I did not realize it was… so long past my work hours—”

“No, don’t sweat it! You’re still on restricted duty, anyway, so if you need to take some time off, just say so.” Jim approached and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I only wanted to make sure you’re okay since it’s not like you to be gone so long. Hey, is it my imagination or is your skin turning green?”

The remark only served to make Spock’s complexion turn greener.

“I, ah… possibly….”

“Oh, God! It’s getting worse. I’ll tell Bones to get his ass here right away, transporter phobia be damned—”

“No! No, Jim, please! It’s not—it’s not serious!” Spock protested, sputtering when Jim pulled out his communicator.

“Spock, it’s spreading!”

“Please! It’s nothing serious. It’s just… I am simply… embarrassed.”

“What?”

“I am embarrassed that I have lost track of time to such a degree,” Spock explained, still flushed but better able to communicate now that he had Jim’s attention. “The green tint of my skin is from my green blood. I believe the term is… ‘blushing.’”

“Oh! Right, green blood, green blush—You’re blushing?

Spock opened his mouth to reply, then could not think of anything to say. Jim, however, did not seem to notice his discomfiture.

“Oh my God, even the tips of your ears are green! That’s… pretty damn adorable, actually.” He grinned and patted his first officer’s shoulder. “But seriously, don’t worry about work! Not like you haven’t racked up a month’s worth of paid leave, right? And all the reports are coming in normal — ‘Status: On Schedule’ for every last one — so it’s not like there’s anything you need to do. I was getting bored out of my mind, to tell you the truth, and came looking for you just to get out of the damn office. But are you sure you’re feeling all right?”

Spock considered for a moment and answered, “Actually, no. And since it has already affected my performance, I must report the reason to you as my commanding officer.”

“Oh? What’s going on? And what’s up with the blushing — I thought you didn’t feel emotions?”

“A… momentary lapse,” Spock confessed, focusing every last ounce of his willpower to bring his body under control. His erection, at least, seemed to be deflating. “I had… allowed myself to experience my emotions… for the benefit of studying them.”

“Really,” Jim said, thoroughly intrigued. “You can turn them on and off like that?”

“It is more a matter of… not restricting them. It requires effort to keep them under control constantly; to cease that effort is a matter of relative ease.”

“I… hadn’t thought about it like that. So, what’s all this soul-searching about?”

Spock realized he would have to be careful as to how much he divulged to Jim, who — as his comment had indicated — was very perceptive.

“Lieutenant Uhura and I have… decided to part ways… at least in our personal lives.”

“Oh, Spock… I’m so sorry to hear that. I mean… you two looked happy at the party the other day!”

“She informed me of her decision this morning,” Spock told him. “Apparently, I had not been as supportive of her as I should have been, considering the trauma she had suffered on Altamid.”

“Aww, Spock — don’t beat yourself up over it,” Jim said. “Sure, what she went through was awful — I read her report — but she’s a Starfleet officer, trained to handle these types of situations. Of course she’s also Human, so it’s gonna take some time to work through it. She’s probably second-guessing herself, wondering what she could’ve done to prevent even one of the casualties, but… she has to realize that sometimes, things are simply out of your control. Otherwise you end up in an endless maze of guilt.”

Spock studied Jim’s face as he spoke, perceiving that his captain’s words came from his own experience.

“But maybe after she processes all that, she’ll be ready to talk again,” Jim continued, throwing a quick smile at Spock. “She can’t expect you to know everything she’s feeling. I mean, I know you feel emotions, Spock, but even if you’d gone through the same exact situation with her, you’re not going to react to it the same way. Everyone’s different. And maybe you weren’t supportive enough, but I’d bet anything you were at least trying to be supportive of her. Maybe she’ll see that… when she’s ready.”

Spock nodded. Jim’s perspective did lighten much of the guilt he had been feeling.

“That’s what ship’s counselors are for, anyway,” Jim said, then added, “and speaking of which, Bones told me you bribed him with a chicken dinner to make his own appointment. That’s a trick I hope you don’t mind if I try on him sometime.”

“I… did not intend the dinner to be a bribe,” Spock replied, struggling to keep his head above the complicated and agitated sea of emotions formed in his heart by the mere mention of the doctor’s name. Jim laughed.

“I’m just kidding, Spock! Relax! I should be thanking you for getting through his thick head — except that then he turned around and started nagging me. But I told him I’d do it if he did, so we both made our appointments this morning.”

“I am… gratified to hear that,” Spock said, trying furiously not to blush any more.

“I thought you might be. Funny how Starfleet doesn’t think you need to see a counselor, though.”

“I believe my training in Vulcan logic and discipline is considered adequate.”

“Yeah, but you’re also half Human, Spock. Be honest: do you need some time off? To work through all this with Uhura? Or about her, I should say. If you do, just say the word. Or if you’d rather call it medical leave, all you have to do is let Bones know — he’s in meetings with the hospital administration today so he’d thank you for getting him out of it for a while.”

“That will not be necessary,” Spock hastily said. “However, if I might take the next duty hour off… it will probably enhance my productivity thereafter.”

“All right, if that’s all you need… but don’t feel like you have to come back in today. Like I said, work has been about as exciting as watching paint dry.”

Jim watched in amusement as Spock analyzed the meaning of the expression.

“I will consider your offer, Captain. Thank you.”

Jim nodded and smiled. “At ease, Spock — we’re on break, after all. Oh, by the way, I also wanted to thank you for getting Bones home last night. He said he was drunk off his ass by the time you guys left his office. He couldn’t remember much after that but he was pretty sure you got him back to his quarters and stayed until he was settled in.”

“Ah… yes. I was concerned that he might have some difficulty on his own.”

“Thanks, Spock. He can usually hold his liquor, but I guess he got a little carried away — said he saw some weird-ass dreams… something about nursery rhymes…. He was still hung over this morning when we went for our swim ’cuz the pills hadn’t kicked in yet. But did you notice how he talks better when he’s drunk? He hardly even slurs like a normal person would — just drawls more and gets chattier.”

“He did seem… rather more loquacious than usual,” Spock managed while still trying to process what else Jim had mentioned.

“He said he even told you about Joanna, which is really something.”

“Yes… I was surprised to learn he had a daughter.”

“Yeah, he keeps it under wraps pretty tightly.” Jim rested his elbows on the wall and looked out at the park. “Wow, this view is trippy! You’re looking down into those trees from above. Wild!”

“Jim… I wonder,” Spock began, trying to act nonchalant, “I don’t mean to pry, but… Dr. McCoy said something about your trying to get him to go horseback riding again.”

“What?” Jim squinted his eyes at Spock. “He’s never ridden a horse in his life! Claims they’re vicious beasts hell-bent on throwing people and giving them concussions. And I wouldn’t even bother trying to talk him into it. You sure that’s what he said?”

“I… had thought so,” Spock replied, now uncertain.

“Oh, wait — I know what you’re talking about!” Jim burst out. “You mean I was trying to ‘get him back up on the horse that threw him,’ right?”

“Yes!” Spock furrowed his brow. “I fail to see how that is different.”

“It’s a metaphorical horse, Spock,” Jim explained with a grin. “In this case it means I’m trying to get him back into the dating scene. Have been ever since I met him, actually, so it’s been… God! It’s been almost eight years already. And no joy in all those years. It’s a damn shame… and a damn waste. He’s such a great guy….”

“So the horse is… symbolic of… dating?” Spock asked, hesitant and confused.

“Yeah, or whatever knocked you down and made you scared to try again. For Bones it’s romantic relationships. He told you about his ex-wife, right? Well, she really took him for a ride… and that doesn’t mean in a good way, of course.”

“So I had gathered.”

“I mean, there he was, trying to make the best of a bad situation, and she couldn’t — or wouldn’t — wait for things to get resolved. It wasn’t his fault he had to do all that extra work, which he hadn’t even finished training for properly, with people’s lives at risk! But she cheated on him and then took his house and everything in the divorce, as if all she’d ever wanted from him was his money. No wonder he’s turned into a bitter, grumbling old man before his time! And the saddest thing about it is, he was still in love with her when it all happened…. He was still hoping to get through what he thought was a ‘rough patch’ — with couple’s counseling or whatever it took — when he found out she was sleeping with another guy.”

Spock could scarcely imagine what an impact that must have had. Although he had been working to control his emotions, he could feel them starting to rise to the surface again. With an effort, he tamped them down.

“That was… a betrayal,” he commented, trying to ignore the remembered image of Jim’s face when he had found out about Spock’s report to Pike. “A betrayal… not only of trust but also of love.”

“Exactly! Which is why he’s so afraid of falling in love again. I tried to set him up with nice girls — and not just pretty but smart too — but he kept canceling on them or making excuses or ruining the first date by being even more grumpy than usual. Then if any of them were willing to put up with him and give him a second try, he had the balls to say they were just gold-diggers, only interested in him because he’s a doctor and an officer! I even tricked him into a couple of double dates, but then he would be mad at me for days. I had to give up, especially when we started our five-year mission. He’s a confirmed bachelor now, I’m afraid.”

“Is being a gold miner considered… dishonorable?” Spock asked, raising one eyebrow. He had expected all vocations to be considered equal, even on Earth.

“Oh! No, ‘gold-digger’ means someone who’s only interested in money… or material gain. See, any doctor — particularly a good one like Bones — could rake in the credits in the private sector if they wanted. Being the chief medical officer on a Federation ship isn’t shabby, either, but just by being a doctor — even if you don’t count that he’s an officer on top of that — you’re pretty much guaranteed a good life. So he thinks any girl who’s interested in him is only interested in his money, just like his ex. I’m telling you, she took a lot more from him than his house: she took his confidence.”

“I am… extremely sorry to hear that,” Spock said slowly. “I had also observed… Dr. McCoy has very little confidence that he would be a good father to Joanna. I attempted to correct his way of thinking, though I do not know what degree of success I might have had.”

“That’s good of you, Spock! And you’re right, he’s worried about that too, even though you and I both know he’d be a terrific dad. Basically, the only thing he has any self-confidence in anymore is his doctoring skills… but you can’t be married to a profession — it can’t love you back.”

Spock raised a brow at the obvious truism but had to acknowledge that it was logical. Which gave him an idea.

“Do you have any evidence to disprove his theory that those women were… ‘gold-diggers’?” he asked. “Some proof to logically refute his allegations?”

“Aww, I don’t know…. One of the first things people ask someone when they’re introduced is their job — especially on a date — so it’s not like I can get hard evidence that they weren’t influenced by knowing he’s a doctor. It’s a good thought, though…. Maybe I should set him up with girls who don’t know what he does… but what would I tell them if they ask? Say he’s in Starfleet without his rank and title? Or make something up that’s less… lucrative?”

Spock frowned. “I believe it is inadvisable to begin any relationship with deception.”

“I know… but that’s what makes it so impossible to hook him up with anyone!” Jim passed a hand through his hair in frustration. “I guess the only alternative is to find someone who’s already so rich that it wouldn’t matter, but even I don’t have that many connections….”

The ruminative silence that followed was broken by Jim’s communicator beeping. “Kirk here,” he answered automatically.

“Captain, you’re requested to meet Commodore Fredricks in Conference Room 3.”

“Oh, right! Tell him I’m sorry to keep him waiting — something personal came up. I’ll be there right away.” To Spock he added, “Duty calls. More debriefing. Good thing I wore an extra pair today, huh?”

Before the quizzical look on Spock’s face had resolved, Jim was halfway across the rooftop to the turbolift.

Spock returned his gaze to the park. He had not voiced it to Jim, but he thought he might have come up with a viable third alternative to the conundrum Dr. McCoy posed.

“Ridiculous,” he scolded himself. “It’s… wishful thinking. I must not allow my emotions to dictate my actions.”

He suddenly realized that he was gripping the edge of the wall much harder than was necessary; also realizing that he had no further need to be pressed against the concrete, he relaxed his grip and forced himself to assume his usual position — hands clasped behind his back — as he made his way to the turbolift and then to his quarters. He knew he was in need of a long meditation session.

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