I'm sitting here looking at the chessboard. It's empty, of course. I put the pieces away last night. But I'm looking at it anyway.
I ought to do something useful. Paperwork. Go work out. Anything. Instead I'm just sitting looking at the empty chessboard, the way I've seen Spock sit, replaying the game in his head.
He didn't ask if I wanted to play tonight, and I didn't ask him either. I know I'll have to in the next few days, to let him know nothing's changed. I honestly am trying to get things back to normal after last night.
I'm just not sure I know what that means any more.
I wonder, sometimes, if all our problems come from both being born male. I don't think it can be as simple as that. First of all, it's so hard to imagine it any other way. I can see myself female, I suppose, but I don't think I'd like the woman I'd be. I can see that woman all too easily, a tease who promises more than she delivers, who's more than willing to sleep her way to the top.
I can't see him ever being interested in a woman like that. Not that I've ever understood Spock's romantic taste. But a hypothetical Jamie Kirk, stomping men's hearts flat on her way up the ladder of command? That I can't see.
And Spock-I can't possibly imagine Spock as a woman. None of the women I've loved have been anything like him. Besides, that would have been a disaster. I'd have ruined the whole thing in the first ten minutes if my first officer had turned out to be a beautiful Vulcan girl. The first time I flirted with her she would have decided I was hopeless. That's always been the hardest thing for me; trying to pretend I'm not interested in their bodies long enough for them to notice that I care about their minds, too.
That's never been a problem for me in dealing with men. Not that the idea was unthinkable, exactly, just that it didn't spring to mind. I don't think I noticed him that way until-I don't know, sometime in the last couple of years of the five-year mission. The first five-year mission. It's hard to get used to saying that. Hard to believe I've felt this way for years. Years seems like such a long time.
It was a gradual thing. I'd find myself watching him, when we played chess, or in the rec room. Not so much his body but the way he moved, the way he held himself, so tightly controlled that the littlest movement of his head or the way he curled his fingers around his drink said volumes. Maybe it was just that I could feel the tension building between us, and that it made me want to do anything that would break the tension. Maybe it was that more and more I could feel him in my mind.
It seems so ridiculous in retrospect that I never said anything, never acknowledged what was going on between us. I swear, I never dreamed that he was thinking about us at all. I didn't think that was possible for Vulcans. For him. It never occurred to me even when it seemed like I could feel the heat coming from him that it was real.
That's a lie. I knew. I knew something was going to happen if we kept on the way we'd been. We kept getting closer, figuratively and literally. We'd touch by accident. I'd brush his arm with my hand reaching for my drink. He'd look into my eyes just a little too long. I could tell I was smiling too much. By Vulcan standards, I suppose so was he. There were a couple of times when I thought about kissing him. Sanity always returned too quickly for me to do it.
And now-God, talk about tension. The first day after we were back on regular duty, I asked him to work out with me. Made some joke about being out of practice since he'd been gone. He just nodded, and said he would meet me in the gym.
He was wearing black; he'd been wearing a lot of black ever since he got back. It suited him, but it made him seem older. I'd never really thought about his age; he'd always had that particular ageless quality Vulcans get from the time they're adolescents until they're elderly. It was strange, seeing him out of uniform so much; he'd been doing that a lot since he got back, too, staying out of uniform when he was off duty. He always used to seem like he had no life outside of Starfleet. It was a little strange to think about him having a private life I wasn't part of.
We warmed up. This seemed like a good idea. Getting things back to normal.
It seemed like a good idea up until the first time I touched him. My hands closed on his arms to throw him and I had to bite my lip to keep from making some kind of noise. It was like touching a live wire, like plunging my hands into the warp core, like reaching into the fire. I could feel the heat of his skin through the cloth. I could feel myself getting hard and hoped like hell he wouldn't notice. If there'd been any graceful way out of that room I would have taken it, but there wasn't.
Of course, my form went to hell. If we'd been in a real fight I would have been lying dead at his feet after about thirty seconds. As it was, I had to force myself to keep my distance, focus on touching him as little as possible. It didn't work very well. And I kept wondering if he knew.
I've had sex that was less erotic.
When it was over-when he decided I'd had enough, that is, he gave me this half-smile, and for a moment he looked like he used to, before he went to Gol, before any of this.
"You are out of practice," he said, and I wanted-I don't know. To laugh, to tell him how glad I was that he came back, to take him back to my quarters and fuck until we couldn't think anymore. I knew I ought to get out of the gym but it was hard to drag myself out of his presence. I felt like I was standing in the sun in wintertime, unwilling to go back inside.
"Dinner?" I heard myself asking.
We had dinner in the rec room, because I couldn't face the officer's mess and I was afraid of what would happen if I went to his quarters. We were back in uniform, which at least turned the tension down a notch, at least at first. I don't think I was making any real sense, but I was at least technically holding up my end of the conversation.
I'd showered back in my quarters. A cold shower. It had helped. A little.
I'm not sure what we were talking about. I wasn't paying much attention at the time. Efficiency ratings or what exactly had been refit or something.
"It all takes a little getting used to," I said.
He nodded without answering. He'd been so quiet since he got back. I wondered how long he'd gone without speaking at Gol. I wondered why I thought that. I watched him spear the last piece of lettuce in his salad and wondered if there was any way out of this.
He picked up his plate, and mine, and carried them to the slot. I wanted to say something and I wasn't sure what I wanted to say. I hadn't been this helpless since I was thirteen years old. When he came back-and I realized I was watching him walk, and dropped my eyes until he came back-he stood, hands folded, so quietly.
"It has been a while since I played chess," he said finally.
"Me too," I said. "Here, or in my quarters?"
"I should like to get out of this crowd," he said, and I think we both thought it was going to happen. I know I was shaking as we walked out of the room. We didn't say anything as we walked to the turbolift. There wasn't a word I wanted to say. I had to fumble with the unfamiliar door lock on my quarters before I could get it open.
He walked in and stood, looking at the shelf full of books by the window. I remembered the last time he was here, clearly, painfully. The first time I'd had to acknowledge to myself that what I felt had gone beyond the bounds of propriety. I wondered if that was what he was thinking of. I wondered, as I had at the time, whether he'd known what I'd felt when our hand touched.
Maybe this was all a really terrible idea.
"I'll get out the board," I said, to have something to say. "Would you like some brandy?"
"Consuming alcoholic beverages is very illogical," he said. "Where do you keep the bottle?"
I set up the chess board while he poured drinks. The pieces felt very cold in my hands. It was soothing, the same routine. Only with a different endgame, some slightly hysterical part of my mind said. I didn't watch him pouring; I knew he would be mathematically precise. I'd told him once that pouring drinks wasn't a chemistry experiment.
"Indeed?" he'd said. "I am always interested in the effects of alcohol on human responses."
When had he started joking with me? I used to think Vulcans didn't have a since of humor. I used to think a Vulcan would never want this. I wondered if I'd gotten smarter over the years or just lost my mind.
I raised the brandy glass to my lips and was tempted to drain it in one gulp. It might be a lot easier to go through with the rest of what I had in mind if I could pretend to be drunk enough for that to explain it. Coward. I took a sip and raised the glass in a toast.
Spock raised an eyebrow, touched his glass to mine, and drank. He finished half the glass, and I wondered if it was possible for him to get drunk. If so, I'd never seen it.
"Do you want to start as white or black?" I asked. That wasn't part of the ritual. We'd alternated games, but I couldn't remember who'd been what last time.
Spock probably did remember, but he just tilted his head to one side and said, "It is customary to leave that up to chance."
"Fine," I said, picking up two pawns and hiding them behind my back. "Which hand?" I held them both out, expecting him to speak.
Instead he laid his fingers on the back of my left hand, very lightly. I opened it to reveal the black pawn resting on my palm.
"Your move," he said softly.
The pawn clattered to the table.
I ran my fingers across the back of his hand. I didn't dare look up at his face. I reached his wrist, hesitated, and then ran a finger around the inside of the jacket cuff until I heard his breath catch.
I reached up, the way I had thought about doing so many times, and touched his face.
His skin was hot and velvet soft. He didn't breathe. His hands caught at the edge of the table and tightened on it.
He tilted his head just enough that his eyes met mine, and with a sinking feeling I recognized his expression.
I'd seen that look before, in the eyes of a horse that is going to balk at a jump, or on the face of an ensign who is going to freeze at his station. He didn't have to say I can't. I could hear it.
I tried to hang onto him with my eyes, to keep him from pulling away. I gave it everything I had and at that moment I don't think I cared whether he wanted it or not.
It wasn't enough.
He took my hand and pulled it gently away from his face. I made some kind of noise of protest.
Very deliberately, as though it hurt to move, Spock reached for the black pawn where it had fallen. He set it down on the board, knocking over the black bishop in the process and then righting it.
After the noise of the chess pieces rattling against the board, the silence in the room was unbelievably loud.
"What now?" I asked after a minute.
"When you are ready," he said without meeting my eyes.
I looked at the board and then looked up at him, and then down at the board again. Go back to playing chess as though nothing had ever happened, as though I weren't breathing hard in barely leashed frustration. Something in me rebelled.
"Spock, I can't."
"I understand," he said. He stood up quickly, his hands smoothing his uniform tunic, and turned toward the door. "It is best that I go."
"Wait." He stopped, almost at the doorway, and turned to look at me. His eyes were dark and unreadable.
Stay, I thought, and knew I couldn't say it.
I've seduced plenty of women before, and fed them lines to get what I wanted. I admit it. But I will never pressure one of my crew into going to bed with me. That's not negotiable. I will never do that to anyone under my command.
And if he stayed I knew I would pressure him. I would use every trick of command and seduction I knew to get him to touch me again, and if that didn't work I would probably push him up against the wall of the cabin and kiss him.
I didn't say a word.
I looked down at the chessboard and decided to indulge myself. I upended the board in one sharp motion. The noise the pieces made as they clattered to the floor was momentarily but intensely satisfying.
I thought seriously about getting drunk, and then decided that if I appeared on the bridge with a hangover, he'd know I'd been drinking, and why. Besides, we'd managed to get this far into the evening without breaking any regulations. Why start now.
I took one of the books down from the shelf next to where the brandy bottle lived, sat down, and turned the pages for a while without reading the words. I wanted to go after him.
Eventually I moved to the bed, not bothering to do more than take off my uniform jacket and kick off my boots. One of the survival skills you learn early in Starfleet is to be able to sleep when you get the chance, no matter what the crisis; otherwise you burn out fast. It's useful even when there isn't a war on.
In the morning I woke up half-expecting him to be there. At the moment between waking and sleeping, I rolled over and reached for him, and felt my chest tighten as I realized he wasn't there. Of course not. Can't miss what's never happened.
I sat up. I smelled of sweat and my mouth tasted wretchedly like brandy. I wondered, a brief guilty thought, what kissing him would have tasted like. I put the thought away firmly and got a grip on myself. What I needed was a hot shower, a clean uniform, and three or four cups of coffee. Coffee can fix anything.
After finding all of the above, I felt nearly human. I would have actually been ready to face the day if I'd been able to think of any way not to face Spock. There wasn't one. We were on the same shift, so the chance that I wouldn't see him was basically zero.
I told myself that I was making too much out of a momentary impulse. That people did and said things sometimes that weren't really in character. That he was probably just as happy as I was to forget that last night ever happened. Only the last thought was any comfort at all.
The hardest part was stepping out of the turbolift doors and seeing him at his station, his back to me. I went and sat down in my chair, and let a yeoman pour me coffee.
He came up around my chair. I didn't have to look up from my coffee cup to know when he was standing there, waiting for me to look up. I looked up, with my best attempt at casual interest.
"Good morning, Captain," he said calmly. Maybe he stood just a little farther away than he usually does. Maybe I'm just paranoid.
"Good morning, Mister Spock," I said. "Are those status reports from Engineering ready?"
"They just came in, Captain," he said, handing me a data pad. He seemed just the way he always does on the bridge; calm. I let myself relax a tiny bit, and glanced at the report.
"It all seems to be in order, Spock. I'll take a look at it, though."
He nodded, and seemed momentarily at a loss for words, and then went back to his station. My hand was gripping the data pad so hard that my knuckles were white. I thought on the whole the morning was going better than I'd expected it to.
By the end of the shift I'd actually forgotten that anything had happened, for a while. Sulu came up to relieve me as Spock was shutting down his station, and we reached the turbolift doors at the same time. I stepped back and let him go first. I had to force myself to step casually through the doors after him. We stood there, not three feet apart, and didn't say a word the entire time we were in the lift.
When I got back to my quarters, I had the nagging sense that things were not the way I'd left them. The first thing I saw were the brandy glasses back on the shelf. I hadn't taken the time to put them away.
"Spock?" I said, but of course there was no answer. My quarters were empty. Then I looked down at the chess table.
The chess board was back on the table, not lying on the ground where I'd sent it flying. The pieces were back on the board, neatly arranged. Order restored, as though nothing had ever happened.
Which I suppose is the message.
Or maybe the message is that it's my move again.
The problem is that I have absolutely no idea what to do.
I took down the bottle and a glass and poured myself a drink. Neatly, the way he would have done it. I raised it in an ironic toast toward the wall between our cabins.
"Goodnight, Spock," I said, and the empty room didn't answer.