It happens like this.
They’re on Nmia Delta, negotiating a new trade treaty. Jim, as usual, lets Spock do all the work. Spock, as usual, indulges him. The rest of the crew, as usual, can’t believe either of them.
One of the Nmian high diplomats, as usual, takes a shine to Jim and propositions him. Jim, not as usual, turns him down because Spock is watching and he’s just kind of stupid like that.
The Nmian diplomat, also not as usual, promptly loses his shit, grabs a weird laser gun thing from the nearest guard, and shoots Jim in the face with it.
Apparently, rejecting a proposition in Nmian culture is equivalent to committing murder. According to their laws, the diplomat acted in self-defense.
Jim wakes up in sickbay some hours later with one hell of a headache. Bones’s dark, scowling face hovering an inch above him certainly doesn’t help.
He groans, rubbing his head. “Th’hell happened?”
The doctor snorts. “You and your dumb luck, that’s what happened,” he answers, waving a tricorder over Jim’s face. “That thing the crazy Nmian shot you with? It should’ve killed you, ‘cept Nmians don’t have skulls, and yours is thicker than the walls of this goddamned ship. It scrambled your brain ‘stead of frying it. I’m not sure which outcome is worse.”
“Oh.” Jim starts to smile, but then a fresh jackhammer goes off behind his eyes. “Ow.”
Bones’s expression goes soft for an instant before he turns away and starts rummaging in a nearby drawer. “The headaches should go away after a few hours,” he says. “Believe me, considering you beamed back up babbling something about unicorns and tutus, you’re lucky it’s just this left over. And the other thing.”
Jim frowns. “What other thing?”
In answer, Bones taps a nearby screen. Jim blinks at the image that pops up: a detailed scan of his own brain, everything dark except for one dime-sized spot near the middle, lit up like a diamond in a coal box. “What’s that?”
Bones shrugs. “We managed to fix most of the damage, get you back to normal,” he says, “but this one part of your brain activated when you got shot and now it won’t turn back off. Something related to your language center, best I can tell, but seeing as you’re still being your annoying, impossible-to-shut-up self, I’d say it’s not having much of an effect. More likely than not, it’ll go away on its own in a few days.”
“Oh, good,” Jim says, “So I’ll still be the resident smartass—ow!”
“You deserved that,” Bones says, smirking as he withdraws the hypo.
Jim rubs his neck and glares at him. “So am I cleared for duty then?”
“Light,” his friend answers. “Just until we know for sure your brain’s back to normal. Or what counts as normal for you, anyway.”
Jim grins at that. “Aw, I didn’t know you cared, Grumpypants.”
Bones freezes, hand halfway to the controls of the biobed. “What’d you just call me?”
Jim blinks. Yeah, that hadn’t sounded right to him either. “I meant Grumpypants.” He narrows his eyes. “Grumpypants.” Shit. What the fuck?
Bones narrows his eyes. His fingers twitch, as if unsure whether to go for a tricorder or a particularly vicious hypo. “I swear to god, Jim, if you’re fucking with me right now—”
“I’m not!” Jim cries, and he’s actually really freaked out right now. He concentrates hard, brings his lips together for the first ‘b’ sound, and— “Grumpypants. Fuck! What’s wrong with me? Grumpypants. Dr. Grumpypants! What the fuck!”
And Bones, bless him, must see the panic in his eyes because he quickly lays a calming hand on Jim’s shoulder, any trace of annoyance gone. “Okay, Jim, take it easy,” he says. “Language center, remember? This is probably just a side effect. Given the giant clusterfuck that is the human brain, you’re lucky if this is the extent of it.”
Lucky? Jim gapes at him, and to his credit, Bones withers a little. “Okay, let’s do another scan,” his friend says, paging a nurse. “And then we’ll run a few more tests.”
Six hours and what feels like every single test, injection, and scan available in sickbay later, he gets a verdict: everything normal, except for that one part of his brain that insists on bypassing all his inhibitions and making him call everyone he comes across by a nickname based on the way he feels about them. Case in point: Grumpypants.
Bones grumbles all the way to Jim’s quarters. “Honestly, of all the nicknames in the world, you pick the one that’s copyright Fisher Price.”
“Hey, it could’ve been worse,” Jim answers, keying in his passcode. “I could secretly think you’re an asshole. Or hot.”
“Oh god, spare me,” Bones says, making gagging noises as he shoves a hypospray and a couple of capsules into Jim’s hand. “Blue one’s for headaches, yellow one’s for sleep. Comm me if anything comes up, okay?”
Jim nods. “Night, Grumpypants,” he says, and gets one last scowl for his trouble before closing the door.
In the safety of his quarters, he looks up at the ceiling and takes a deep breath. Truth be told, even though he’s been playing it cool with everyone so far, he’s actually pretty anxious. And it’s not for the expected reasons. He’s not worried about accidentally sexually harassing a random ensign or calling one of his crewmembers the scum of the earth when he asks for a report. Jim’s always been pretty open with the people around him, not overly concerned about making his opinion known, be it good or bad. It’s the way he’s always operated, and it’s earned him his fair share of enemies, but also a large group of fiercely loyal friends.
So no, Jim isn’t worried about accidentally insulting the rest of the crew.
He’s worried about Spock.
See, Jim maybe sorta kinda completely has a bit of a thing for his First Officer. At the same time, he also spends roughly half of every shift hating Spock’s guts. It’s part and parcel of what makes them such a great command team: they needle and argue and drive each other up the wall, while simultaneously sharing quiet chess games in each other’s quarters and watching each other’s backs when away missions go tits up. Every time Jim looks at Spock, he gets this confusing mix of irritation, fear, hope, and longing. Half the time he isn’t sure if he wants to murder Spock or pin him up against the nearest wall and fuck his brains out.
And he’s kind of afraid of his now fucked-up brain making the decision for him. He’s scared the next time he talks to Spock, he’ll call him a name that will be either the biggest insult in the universe—in which case Spock will strangle him—or something stupidly sappy and romantic—in which case Spock will still strangle him.
No-win scenario? Meet Jim Kirk.
Jim drags a hand across his mouth and takes another deep breath. Maybe he’s blowing things out of proportion. After all, Bones said his little “problem” would only last a few days at most, and in the meantime, all he has to do is not talk to Spock. And on a ship this big, how hard can it be? Spock’s generally pretty busy anyway. He probably won’t even notice if Jim switches their schedules around for the next few shifts.
Yeah. Jim nods to himself, straightens up, and heads to his desk to start working on the mission report. It’s gonna be okay.
And over the next couple of days, surprisingly, it is. Bones sends a shipwide memo explaining Jim’s predicament in an uncharacteristically professional fashion that promises new, uncharted heights of pain for anyone who tries to take advantage. Several crewmembers still do, but Jim’s assessment of himself proves true: though he does cause a few double-takes, he doesn’t offend anyone and nobody seems particularly surprised by the nicknames his brain comes up with for them.
On the third day, he slides his tray onto the table next to Uhura’s and plops down on the seat across from her. “Morning, Hot Legs.”
She rolls her eyes. “I can’t wait for this to be over.”
“I know you secretly love it,” Jim answers, digging into his pancakes with gusto.
But her eyes are smiling, so Jim just grins and continues, “So how’s that Pruduti translation project coming along? Hey, Spazztastic.”
Scotty mumbles something incoherent, blinking blearily at his coffee mug. Uhura smirks and says, “It’s going okay, considering half their language is nonverbal. I’m having to go through a lot of the ancient texts in order to figure out some of the more complex conjugations, though. Spock’s been putting in some extra hours to help out.” She pauses and looks straight at Jim. “And speaking of which, why have you been avoiding him?”
Jim coughs and looks away. “What do you mean?”
She narrows her eyes. “You switched his shifts around so that the two of you don’t have any overlap at all,” she says, “and he told me you turned down his invitation to play chess yesterday.”
“I had a lot of work to do,” Jim mumbles, but it sounds pathetic even to his ears.
“Uh-huh.” Uhura folds her hands on the table before her. “Why don’t you grow a pair and tell me the truth.”
Jim sighs and rubs the back of his neck. “Look,” he begins, “it’s—”
And that’s when Spock walks into the room, glancing around quickly before his gaze falls on Jim. A determined look comes over his face and he starts making his way over, and even though it’s a total asshole move, Jim knows he can’t stay here.
“I’ll see you on the bridge,” he mumbles, gathering up his tray. “Good luck with the Pruduti project.”
As he hurries away, he’s pretty sure he hears Scotty mumble, “Whassa Pruduti?”
Spock casts him a look as he brushes past: confused and more than a little hurt. Jim swallows and doesn’t stop. He’ll explain everything to Spock later, he promises himself. When this whole debacle is over, he’ll go and beg forgiveness, but for now, what he’s doing, it’s best for both of them.
An hour later, he sits in the captain’s chair, keeping one eye on the stars flying by on the viewscreen as he scans the latest departmental requisition reports. There’s nothing too exciting on the agenda today, just some star-mapping on the very edge of the quadrant, and the entire bridge crew is relaxed, people exchanging the latest news and gossip as they work at their stations.
Jim signs off on another report and stretches his neck before turning to the Science station. “Status report, Sniffles?”
Lieutenant Tuuga, Spock’s beta shift relief and a Brammi with a very loud breathing pattern, quirks a smile as he answers, “No anomalies detected, Captain.”
“Course maintained and warp stable,” Sulu reports, and Jim nods.
“Thank you, Lieutenant Badass.”
From his station Chekov snorts, and Jim cocks an eyebrow at him. “You got something to say, Jailbait?”
More chuckles all around, and Jim smiles, settling back in the chair and picking up his padd once again. He might actually miss this, when it finally goes away. It’s kind of nice making everyone on the bridge laugh every once in a while, even though he can’t really help it.
Somewhere over his shoulder, the turbolift doors slide open with a hiss, admitting light footsteps that approach the chair an instant before another stack of padds is offered to him. “For you, Captain,” Yeoman Rand says, cheerful as usual.
She’s been putting in a lot of extra hours over the last couple of days, keeping all his paperwork in order and fielding his transmissions—God forbid he accidentally call one of his commanding officers Admiral Asshole or something—so he actually hasn’t seen her since the incident on Nmia Delta. He makes sure to give her an extra bright smile as he accepts the padds. “Thanks, Boss Lady.”
Brief silence. Then the entire bridge bursts into laughter. Sulu howls, slapping his console and nearly jerking them out of warp, while Chekov looks like he’s about one giggle away from having an aneurysm. Uhura snickers. Rand arches an eyebrow, eyes bright with amusement and not a small amount of smugness. “Of course, sir.”
Jim shakes his head and laughs along with them. Of course that’s what his brain comes up with. All the slave-driving she does, how could it not? In fact, he’s pretty sure Rand could run the entire ship on her own if she really put her mind to it.
He’s so wrapped up in amusement and his own cheerful thoughts that he doesn’t notice the second hiss as the turbolift opens again, and when the new arrival comes to stand next to the chair and says, in a very familiar voice, “I have the results of the Prichian spore experiment, Captain,” Jim replies without thinking about it.
“Great,” he says, smiling up at Spock. “Hit me with it, sweetheart.”
This time, the silence that falls on the bridge isn’t brief. For a moment Jim doesn’t even know why everyone is suddenly staring at him. Then he looks at Spock and sees the open surprise on his face, the way his eyebrows have almost reached his hairline, and it all comes back to him.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
“Right.” His voice comes to him distant and strange as he rises from the chair, everything suddenly far away and dreamlike. His face is burning. “I’ll just, uh, go do that thing. That I have to do. You have the conn, sweetheart. Uh. Commander.”
He bolts for the lift, the stunned silence and the bewildered stares clinging to him like parasites. An instant before the doors slide shut, he glimpses Spock still standing by the chair, staring at him, expression completely blank.
For the next seven hours, Jim diligently does paperwork in his quarters. He edits files, signs off on forms, knocks out his six-month backlog of personnel reports and administrative briefs, and steadfastly tells himself he is not hiding. He is a big, bad Starfleet captain, thank you very much, and he is not in any way terrified that his First Officer is going to kill him the next chance he gets.
Alpha shift ends, and he’s simultaneously relieved and horrified when Spock doesn’t show up at his door. Relieved because he’d expected the Vulcan to corner him the first chance he got (Jim can’t help imagining Spock as a gigantic cat with extra-sharp claws, and himself as a tiny, helpless mouse), and horrified because what if this is the way it’s going to be now? What if Spock is disgusted by Jim’s feelings for him, and avoids him from now on? What if he’s ruined everything?
It’s confusing, to say the least, so Jim continues hidi—spending his leisure time in his quarters. He replicates a truly sad-looking sandwich for dinner and tries to get himself lost in Huckleberry Finn, but the quick-thinking teenaged rebel and the mild-mannered slave who shares his name can’t keep his attention. In the end, Jim throws the book down, calls himself all sorts of derogatory names, and jumps in the shower.
When he gets out, scrubbing a towel through his hair, Spock is standing by the desk.
For one terrible second, Jim almost runs back into the bathroom. Thankfully, higher brain functions kick in and promptly inform him that would not only be (a) incredibly stupid and (b) incredibly stupid, it would likely also send Spock the entirely wrong message. Still, it’s a close thing.
Spock doesn’t say anything, and for a moment they just stare at each other. A drop of water creeps down Jim’s neck, making him itch. Spock’s face, as usual, is completely expressionless.
At last, unable to stand the silence any longer, Jim clears his throat. “Um. Hi. I, uh, thought you’d be by earlier, actually.”
At that, his First Officer cocks an eyebrow. “May I remind you, Captain, that I was originally assigned to beta shift today? Therefore, after taking command as ordered for the remainder of alpha shift, I proceeded to complete my duties as originally assigned.”
“Oh.” Great. Now Jim’s guilty. “Yikes, I really didn’t mean to do that. Sorry, sweetheart.” He winces as soon as the word is out of his mouth. “Fuck. I’m sorry. Look, it’s not…it’s no big deal, okay? Just something not wired right in my brain. I’ve been calling people all sorts of weird things, y’know? It doesn’t mean anything.”
Spock blinks. “I was under the impression the nicknames you have been using to refer to the rest of the crew do, indeed, ‘mean something’ in that they are reflections of your underlying opinions of them.”
“Um, well, yeah.” And goddamnit but Jim can’t look at him. “I mean, well, most of them are. But not yours, I swear. Really, it’s just a joke, or my brain being its usual fucked-up self, y’know? It’s not…you don’t have to make anything out of it, y’know, if you don’t want to.”
Spock watches him for a moment longer. Jim stares stubbornly at the corner and tries not to squirm. Then, at last, Spock tilts his head. “You are an exceptionally bad liar, Jim,” he says.
That startles Jim enough to look at Spock, and what he sees on the Vulcan’s face—apprehension and fear, but what also looks alarmingly, wonderfully like hope—makes the freezing terror around Jim’s heart loosen its grip just a little. Then Spock steps forward and continues, “You are also apparently not nearly as insightful or intelligent as the rest of Starfleet portrays you to be, if in all this time we have worked together, you have not yet picked up on the depth of the regard I hold for you.”
He comes to a stop, their faces bare inches apart, and Jim stares at Spock and forgets to breathe when he sees the pure, unfettered emotion in those brown eyes, the devotion and love he never thought he could have. Then Spock reaches down to take his hand, and something warm, encouraging, and utterly wonderful drips down his spine as the Vulcan whispers, “Should you desire, you are welcome to call me ‘sweetheart’ whenever you like. Indeed, I will admit that the use of such an endearment is…pleasing to me.”
Jim swallows. “Yeah?” he asks, and Spock nods.
“Okay.” And, just like that, the ice that had formed around his heart melts away, warmth and elation taking its place. He smiles, and thinks it might split his face. “Sweetheart,” he whispers, and Spock kisses him.
The following morning, they enter the bridge together. Jim takes his seat in the captain’s chair and nods to the rest of the crew. “Sulu. Chekov. Uhura,” he says, smiling as they all beam back at him.
Chekov lays in their coordinates and Sulu takes them into warp. A few minutes later, Jim wraps up a side conversation with Scotty, snaps his communicator shut, and turns to Spock. “Status report?”
Spock swivels around in his chair, eyes bright with amusement. Jim can’t believe he didn’t notice it before, how much Spock shows through his eyes alone. “All systems normal,” he answers.
Jim licks his lips, remembers how Spock tasted the night before, and thinks, To hell with it. He clears his throat. “Thanks, sweetheart.”
Brief silence. Then Uhura chuckles, while Bones, hanging out in the corner as usual, shakes his head and grumbles something about goddamned idiots. Out of the corner of his eye, Jim’s pretty sure he sees Chekov pass Sulu a credit chip beneath the console. He doesn’t know for certain, though, because he’s too busy looking at Spock, whose mouth quirks up in the barest hint of a smile, the most beautiful thing he has ever seen.
“Of course, Jim,” he answers, and Jim can’t help but grin.
No one else makes a comment. After a while, Spock turns back to his station, and Jim dutifully returns his gaze to the viewscreen, settling back in the chair as he looks out at the stars, the vastness of space they will explore, the endless universe they will one day conquer, always and forever side by side.
He smiles. It’s going to be a good day.