Twenty-six hours and seventeen minutes, give or take a few. That was Sulu's estimate, and even though Kirk, under normal circumstances, would have shaved off a few hours and assumed Scotty would get them there in a day, this time he had no intention to. No, for once he'd settle for nothing less than Vulcan precision. Fifteen hundred and seventy-seven minutes left until the Enterprise reached space dock. Until she'd be home.
Kirk rocked back on his bunk, squinting down into his brandy as if that would somehow bring a revelation, but of course it didn't.
Home. After five years in deep space, the word sounded strange when applied to Earth. Not exactly wrong, but… confining. Because in the end, what was home, if not what you took with you?
"Captain?" A familiar voice made him glance up. Spock stood perched against the desk, one arm wrapped around himself. On the other side of Kirk's quarters, folded into an armchair with his mouth slightly open, was McCoy, looking for all the world like a man who'd just been clubbed over the head. Judging by what was left of the bottle of brandy, Kirk suspected he'd look even worse in the morning. Then again, so might he. Spock gave the sleeping doctor a long look, his expression softening for a moment. "Jim…" he said quietly. "It is illogical to wish for things not to end."
Kirk leaned his glass between his knees, feeling his lips twitch into a smile. "Why, Spock, you always claimed you weren't a mind reader." He held up a mock-admonishing finger. "You know that lying to your captain is a court-martial offense."
Spock's eyebrows rose obligingly. "I disagree, Captain." He took a step closer, so that Kirk had to tilt his own head back to meet his first officer's eyes. "Starfleet regulations clearly stipulate that, under specific circumstances, an individual may choose to safeguard his privacy even if -"
"Yes, I know," Kirk cut him off, more abruptly then he'd intended; he hadn't expected Spock to return the banter so ardently. "I know, Spock," he repeated, aiming for a lighter tone. When the silence dragged on, he averted his face.
Damn. He hadn't planned for this. He'd planned one last night among friends before they reached Earth, sharing a drink and exchanging stories, which was exactly what he'd got. But he hadn't planned for McCoy to fall asleep afterwards... or the way his own chest seemed to tighten whenever he met Spock's eyes.
There were rules, of course. He knew that. You didn't get involved with the people under your command and you never, ever, put them into a position where they might feel pressured to cater to your needs. The rules were important, not just because they were written down but because they mattered. But those rules said nothing about people getting under your skin, treacherously, as the years passed, until you realized they were there to stay. Spock and him… they'd been toeing the line, he knew. But he didn't think they'd crossed it. And when Spock lowered himself beside him on the bed, all he knew was that it felt right.
Spock sat down with both arms braced on his knees, then carefully shifted one hand, palm upwards. It was a subtle gesture, but Kirk had spent too many years learning to read every nuance in Spock's posture not to know an invitation when he saw it. He breathed out, flexing his own hand.
Their fingers touched and threaded together. Spock's skin seemed warmer than it should be, even though Kirk knew all about Vulcan body temperatures being just a fraction higher than human ones. But there was theory and then there was experience. He'd take the latter every time.
He followed Spock's gaze over towards McCoy, who was snoring gently. A quick exchange of glances, and he knew they'd reached the same conclusion. To hell with privacy. This was Bones, after all. And there was only tonight.
They were shoulder to shoulder, so all it took was a slight shift in position for Kirk to lean in and press his mouth against Spock's collarbone, letting his lips graze the fabric of his shirt. He felt Spock shiver in response. Slowly, he lowered his guard, quieting his mind the way Spock had taught him. Warmth pooled inside him as he followed the mental thread that was Spock's presence: too faint to make out details, but enough to amplify each movement and feed it back to him, steeped in feelings that weren't his own. Tenderness, need, and an undertone of… was it regret?
Kirk raised his head, grip tightening around the brandy snifter he still held in his other hand. He gulped down the last of his drink compulsively, trying to drown the sudden rush of fear.
"I'll be promoted," he said. "They'll pat me on the back and call it a reward, but they'll tie me behind a desk and…"
"And you would consider it punishment." Spock nodded. "I concur."
Kirk forced a grin. "What, you're not going to tell me the illogic of looking a gift horse in the mouth?"
Spock shook his head. "I see no illogic in accepting what you are. You are a starship captain, Jim. No promotion will change that. But as you, and especially the doctor are fond of saying, I am no expert on human emotions, so I will not presume to counsel you on yours."
And yet you are, and you did, Kirk thought. Just a few years ago, he would have taken Spock's claim at face value, but he'd learned to read between the lines. With a jolt, he remembered Edith Keeler's words to Spock: you, at his side, as if you've always been there and always will. All of that would change if they made him an admiral… or maybe it wouldn't. Maybe he'd find a way to stop the clock somehow.
A groan from the other side of the room shook him out of his thoughts. Spock's hand shifted under his, then settled down again, just a moment before McCoy cracked open an eye.
There was a second or two of precarious silence while McCoy squinted at them hazily. "Don't think I can't see what you two are up to," he muttered, sounding strikingly lucid considering how much Saurian brandy he'd been sleeping off.
"What's that, Bones?" Kirk said, all innocence. He was acutely aware of Spock's body pressed against his, but since Spock wasn't moving a muscle, neither was he.
"Oh. You know." McCoy waved his hand as if the gesture alone would get his point across. "Getting me drunk so you two can…" Long pause. "Smooch. Or whatever word it is you Vulcans have for that." Somehow he didn't sound at all surprised.
Spock raised an eyebrow, the pinnacle of composure, but Kirk could see the amusement in his eyes. Laughter bubbled up in his own chest, but he held it down. "Doctor, you must be hallucinating," Spock said, deadpan. "I see no evidence at all for your claim."
"In a pig's eye," McCoy said affably, then closed his eyes.