number one #1

Ficlet: Carrion Comfort (Number One, Spock, gen)

So apparently, for every 200 words I write of my big bang, I am going to write a couple thousand of hc_bingo. This is probably not constructive.

Title: Carrion Comfort
Author: igrockspock
Rating: PG-13
Characters: Spock and Number One
Summary: While serving under Pike and One on the Yorktown, a young Lieutenant Spock must face his guilt over the death of an away team.
Notes: for "asphyxiation" on my hc_bingo card, and for rubynye, who asked a question in the 10 characters meme that inspired this fic. Title from my favorite Gerard Manley Hopkins poem.
Word Count: 987



One stares at Spock impassively over the three dead bodies on the transporter pad. He steps neatly around them and stands directly in front of her, body pulled tight in a picture-perfect posture of attention.

"Commander, Ensigns Thoreau, Jimenez, and Valentin asphyxiated before I was able to free them from the cave. I submit myself for disciplinary action."

His hair is disheveled and flecked with gray dust. A cut on his cheek drips green blood; his hands are flecked with cuts and scratches, the fingernails worn down to the quick.

"You were injured in the cave-in as well."

"Not seriously, and my tolerance for oxygen deprivation is much higher than a human's."

One hears the unspoken words: so I should have been able to free them. Even from five tons of fallen rocks.

"Dr. Boyce, scan him with your tricorder please."

She doesn't think his wounds are life-threatening, and she'd like to talk to him now if possible. But in his present condition, she cannot depend on him to tell her the truth about his injuries.

"Cuts and contusions," Boyce says. "Nothing I can't patch up in ten minutes. You are a lucky young man."

One suppresses a snort; no one who comes back with a dead team is lucky.

"I'll speak to you in the ready room immediately, Mr. Spock."

Spock starts out the door, and she follows after him, but Boyce holds her back with a hand on her shoulder.

"One, you can't be serious. He might be Vulcan, but he's just a boy. He couldn't possibly have hoped to save them."

She presses her lips into a thin, flat line. People call her unfeeling, but Phil should know better by now.

"I know that," she says gently. "I just need him to know it too."

She steps out before Phil has a chance to respond; she knows she isn't unfeeling, but she doesn't care to watch her crew gape over the discovery that she has a heart.

Spock is sitting in front of the desk in the ready room when she arrives, even more ramrod straight than usual, if that's even possible. She looks into his eyes when she sits down in front of him. They look blank, which is very different from his usual Vulcan serenity, though she suspects she's the only one on the ship who could tell the difference.

She bends down to open the bottom desk drawer. The ready room might be hers on loan while Pike is on shore leave, but she knows where he keeps the good stuff. She notes with relief that the bottle is still more than half full; neither of them had needed to drink to fallen comrades in a long time. She deposits it on the polished surface of the desk with a faint clink and fills two glasses.

Spock raises an eyebrow a fraction of a centimeter.

"Human custom, Lieutenant."

"Commander, neither of us are human."

For Spock, that statement is only half true, but she lets it slide.

"Infinite diversity in infinite combination, Mr. Spock."

She raises her glass.

"To fallen comrades."

Spock clinks his glass against hers, following the human custom. A diplomat's child. He drains his glass in a single elegant swallow, and she wonders if he had learned that from a childhood in the diplomatic corps too, or if it was a souvenir of a rebellious phase he no longer acknowledges.

One by one, he lays the ID's of the three fallen ensigns on the desk in front of her. She hadn't seen him retrieve them from the bodies in the transporter room; he must have done it in the cave, when it became obvious that the rescue was too late.

"As I stated, Commander, I submit myself for disciplinary action."

He holds her gaze, the intensity in his eyes almost daring her not to punish him.

"Shall I be court-martialed along with you, Mr. Spock?" she asks at length. "I am the commanding officer of this ship. If people die, it is my responsibility."

"Certainly not, Commander. It was impossible for you to anticipate the cave-in, therefore you ought not be held responsible for its consequences."

"The transporter chief, then?"

"It is not appropriate for me to make disciplinary decisions for the rest of the crew."

"By which you mean no."

He nods his assent, but she presses on.

"Tell me why not."

"Chief Whittaker was unable to beam us out without adequate sensor data, which took time to obtain."

"Then perhaps Ensign Tyler. He didn't supply the sensor data quickly enough."

"The minerals in the rock made ordinary scans impossible. That he was able to compensate for the high concentration of iridium at all is an achievement, regardless of the time it required."

"In other words, no one can be logically blamed for failing to do the impossible."

"Your grasp of logic is impeccable."

She nods. She knows. It's tempting to hammer home that Spock can hardly be blamed for failing to shift several tons of rock by himself. She even knows which quotations from Surak would back her up, but this is not the Starfleet Academy Debate Championship. Spock understands her, but she'll spare him the pain of admitting that there was nothing he could do. Sometimes taking blame is easier than admitting a complete lack of control over the injustices of the universe. She knows that from her own experience on the opposite side of this desk.

She picks up the three ID cards arrayed on the desk. The graduation years are not long after Spock's.

"Did you know them? At the Academy?"

"I was teaching assistant for Lieutenant Valentin's first year Vulcan linguistics class. We conferred about her thesis by subspace transmission after my graduation."

She wonders if there was more to their relationship, but brushes it aside as both irrelevant and none of her business. Losing subordinates is the hurt she's trying to address here, and for good commanders -- which Spock is -- the pain is the same regardless of pre-existing relationships. She slides the cards carefully into the desk drawer and types a quick message for Yeoman Colt to retrieve their parents' contact information.

"There will be no disciplinary action, Mr. Spock. I grieve with thee."
Oh, I love this. Both One and Spock are so very believable, and I really like how you depict One's sensitivity, and how she relates to Spock.
Thank you! I'd forgotten how much I love writing Spock, but also how nerve racking it is to write him - I'm so glad he came off as believable!
I was not expecting something so spare and profound and sad from my random little prompt, but I am totally not surprised at something so wise and precise from Number One and from you.

*hugs you gratefully*
Really, I lucked out with the intersection of Number One and Spock in your prompts. This easily could have been about, say, Number One and Jack Harkness, and then I just would have had to write something silly. I'm so glad you liked it!
This is lovely. You did a really good job of showing Spock's and One's compassion, while keeping them in character.
*phew* I love writing Spock, but he always makes me so nervous. I'm glad it came off as in character!
Thank you! I'm so happy I finally got to use it in a story - it is so eloquent and compassionate!
What's fascinating about this is how it defies expectations. I did expect her to hit him with the logic, but it seems she's going to let him come to it and work that out on his own. The Vulcan and the officer need little comfort... but the man does. So that's the part she addresses.

And that last line was just, damn. Well done.
Thank you so much! I've always thought "I grieve with thee" so was so elegant in its simplicity; I'm glad I finally found an excuse to use it in a fic.
Lovely story. Great thinking by One here. I totally believe they would connect like this.
Thank you! I'm so glad I finally got a chance to write about them - I think they make a neat combination.
Quietly moving, and so austere, so like the characters. Nicely done!
I was borrowing from all the fanon that suggests Number One is Illyrian. Some people seem to view that as an entirely separate species, although admittedly some others suggested they were just humans with awesome genetic engineering skills. And I think Majel Barrett said she thought Number One was an alien.

And I'm so glad you enjoyed both of their characters here :)
I love this! Nicely done, and I love that she doesn't hammer the obvious logical conclusion home, but leaves it for him to acknowledge in his own time.
Oh, I like this. I like how she relates to him, and doesn't try to both spell it all out and make sure he absolutely believes it--I love that she leaves some things unsaid, for him to understand and acknowledge in whatever ways he can.
Aww, now I left this for so long but still can't come up with a suitable response to convey how much I enjoyed the story. It is understated like any exchange between these two should be. My favourite part is perhaps how Number One could trounce him with logic but chooses to connect, subtly, with emotion and a comforting ritual instead. <3