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Stellar Explosion

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After apologizing to Sulu ("After you disappeared into thin air, I thought we were going to turn on NY1 in the morning to see your damn body floating in the East River," his roommate had ranted when they saw each other the morning after the club thing), and being apologized to by Gaila ("Jimmy, I really only was trying to help. Like, Spock gets jealous, he storms down to the club, you get Spock, get it? But okay, okay, I'll never ever ever do anything like that. Unless it seems like a really good idea. No, ugh, okay; I promise I won't, fine."), Jim cracks his knuckles and gets to working through his admittedly short list of connections.

Asking other models turns out to be a dead end. Sulu doesn't seem to have any info, which irritates Sulu like crazy whenever Jim thinks to ask again if he's heard anything. The blonde model he'd met at a recent shoot, Carol Marcus, is newer even than Jim at the business, and she doesn't know any of the recent gossip. And Uhura, the model paired with Spock at that last shoot, only snorts in amusement when Jim trips over himself explaining he's only bugging her with a phone call because he's trying to get in touch with Spock. "Good luck with that," she says before hanging up on him.

Janice Rand doesn't prove to be much help in Jim's quest ("Honey, Spock's people just are not returning any of my calls. Yes, I did ask them about that first job we were going to book with both of you. But I do have a different job for you starting next week -- as long as you're not scared of snakes?").

Even Christopher Pike, when Jim finally gets up the nerve to stammer through the request at his enormous expensively-decorated office, can't lend a hand ("If the VSA people weren't so closed lipped -- but I'll think of you first, son, should I hear anything. You can count on it.").

Jim even grits his teeth and phones Rodney, the make-up artist who had been such a pain at the NoHo Threads shoot ("Who? Jim who?). But that doesn't lead anywhere, except Rodney deciding by the end of the call that Jim is actually his new best friend and telling him they should go to Fire Island sometime, because Rodney's roommate's best-friend's ex-boyfriend's former leather-daddy's partner has a totally amazing place with a huge pool.

By the time a few days have passed, Jim is nearly at his wits' end. He hasn't been able to work out how to get near enough to Spock just to talk to him again, much less carry out his plan of convincing Spock the two of them should give a relationship a try.

Then, in search of a distraction from all the dead ends, Jim happens to sort through his towering piles of laundry. After all, he owes Scotty a nice shirt in trade for the one Spock ripped up -- even if, after clutching the ruined top to him like it was an injured child, Scotty had happily taken needle and thread to mend the frayed garment and proudly pronounced it "better than ever". And as Jim makes faces at the coffee stains on his t-shirts and empties out his various pockets while in search of something Scotty might like, he gets a very different flash of inspiration in the form of a business card sticking out of his jacket pocket.

After all, he's tapped nearly every other contact he's got, and come up blank so far. It can't hurt to check with a person he knows already got him one job just on his say-so.

So that's when Jim leaves the rest of his laundry in a big heap, flops on his futon, and quickly taps out Leonard McCoy's number on his phone.

"Listen, you've got to get me on the next shoot Spock has coming up," he rushes out as soon as the call connects.

"And hello to you, too, Jim," Bones says sarcastically. "I sure do love these friendly, polite chats of ours that always start with you asking after my health." He yawns loudly and then makes a dissatisfied noise. "Hey, what's the big idea, calling me at four o'clock in the goddamn morning?"

"Huh?" Jim glances takes his phone away from his ear and stares at the hour on the screen in surprise. Okay, so he's been spending the past few days giving all his attention to Operation Get Spock, and he has kind of lost track of time.

"See, this is what it means to work with stupid kids who decide you're their new chum," Bones complains. Something creaks, probably a bed frame, and Bones huffs in effort as if he's begrudgingly sitting up. "They act like of course you're free when they're free, like it's nuts to think you've got a life of your own. And god forbid they take even a moment to consider their adult pals don't keep the same crazy timetable of getting home at the ass-crack of awful as their little club friends --"

"Look, I'm sorry I called you so late," Jim interrupts. "But I just had to try to get a hold of you as soon as I realized you might be able to help me."

Bones snorts. "Help you work with Spock, huh? What's going on, Jim?"

Jim explains as quickly as possible, reining in the details when Bones groans and tells him he doesn't want to hear all the touchy-feely parts ("at least, not when it's you and Spock touching and feeling, because a man's got to set some boundaries!").

"And I thought of you right away," Jim adds as he wraps up, even though that isn't exactly the truth. "Because you helped the last time. I mean, Janice Rand told me you talked me up to that designer, the one who brought me in on the second shoot I did with Spock."

"Oh, of course, where you first figured out the two of you were destined to be together," Bones says sardonically.

"Uh, not exactly. Because Spock got so mad at me about stuff that happened with Gary that I thought he was going to wring my neck." When Bones makes a disgruntled sound at that, Jim pushes on before Bones can start to grumble again. "But I got to see him again, is the point, and I need to see him again now if I'm ever going to prove to him he's all wrong about us. So I thought, just maybe, if you could do the same thing this time? Help me get in on whatever gig Spock's got lined up next?"

Before Jim can reply, Bones grunts and says something nearly too quiet for the phone to pick up. Jim almost asks him to repeat whatever it was, but when it dawns on him what Bones murmuring softly probably means, he stifles a nervous laugh instead. Obviously he hasn't just woken up his photographer friend but whoever else is in bed with him.

While Jim gears up to apologize once more for being a big jerk and calling super early, he hears a soft litany of complaints from Bones's bed partner. It sounds like whoever else Jim's awoken isn't psyched about having their sleep disrupted, which isn't a huge surprise. But what is a revelation is that it sounds like the person is grumping about the unwelcome wake-up call in Russian.

"Oh my god," Jim blurts before he can think it through. "Bones! You and Pavel?"

"Yeah? What about it?" Bones barks back at him.

"Nothing," Jim says quickly. "I mean, that's cool!" His mind can't help but tick back to remember moments of Pavel trailing worshipfully after Bones on shoots, and how pissed off Bones was when Gary said some pretty suggestive stuff to his assistant. "I mean, whatever makes you happy, right?"

"Well, that's terrific. I'm so glad I've got your blessing; been waiting on it for an age," Bones snaps.

"Tell whoever it is to go away," Pavel murmurs petulantly in the background.

The soothing noises Bones makes shushing him, telling him to "Go back to sleep, darlin'," make Jim grin. Obviously Bones is a big old softie in spite of all his spitting and hissing.

"I'll go away, I promise," Jim vows, keeping his voice quieter this time. "Just tell me before we hang up, will you help me?"

There's a scoffing sound. "Give me one good reason why I should."

Jim grins to himself. The more he gets to know Bones, the more he can tell this kind of crabby foot-dragging is the precursor to Bones agreeing to pretty much whatever he can do to lend a hand. "Because we're friends," he tells Bones confidently.

Bones snorts at him. "With friends like you -- all right, all right. I'll see what I can do for you. No promises, though. The folks over at Spock's agency VSA Unlimited aren't exactly sociable with me, or anyone else for that matter. They like to keep mum about the kinds of gigs they book for their talent, so there's no guarantee they'll let the details slip. I'll have to ferret it out somehow, and damn it, Jim, I'm a photographer, not a super spy."

"Thanks, you're the best," Jim says gratefully. "Anything you can do would be awesome, okay?"

"No promises," Bones reminds him. "But like I said, I'll put my ear to the ground; see what I can find out."

"Tell Pavel I said sweet dreams," Jim can't resist telling him. He ends the call with a snicker when Bones swears at him to mind his own beeswax.

**********

Jim plays it out in his mind in all sorts of ways: how it will go the next time he and Spock are finally in a room together.

He can see himself walking right up to Spock, in the middle of whatever set he's wrangled his way onto, and grabbing a fistful of Spock's shirt to yank him close and kiss him hard.

He can imagine making an entire shoot rife with sexual tension, using playful words and teasing glances to get Spock all worked up (because Jim knows for sure now he can) with a flash of skin and a few smartass remarks.

He can even picture ignoring Spock for the entire job, paying attention to everyone but Spock the whole time, and finding himself whirled around as Spock struggles to maintain control and demands what Jim's game is.

In the end, though, he thinks long and hard about all the things Spock said to him last time, and everything Jim's figured out he wants for all the times to come.

So the day of the job, he heads to the rehabbed factory in Brooklyn where they're booked for the gig with his shoulders squared and his mind focused on exactly what he's gunning for. A P.A. standing guard checks his name and waves him along, and Jim slips inside.

He's playing calm, but he's nervous, sure. So his heart beats faster as he heads inside the huge space where various lighting and prop assistants dart here and there getting things set up. And when he sees Spock in the chair before a lit-up mirror at the side of the room, his handsome face placid and eyes closed as an intent make-up artist does something to his distinctive eyebrows, Jim's breath catches in his throat.

"Geoff M'Benga," a serene-looking guy introduces himself to Jim after ambling up to his side.

Jim clears his throat, and remembers not to run his fingers through his hair and ruffle it. Instead he sticks his hand out to shake as he says, "Jim, Jim Kirk."

M'Benga nods and grasps his hand briefly before he slings another camera over his shoulder. One of his assistants hurries up with a coffee and rushes off again into a crowd of people sorting through gels, but despite all of the hustle and bustle around him M'Benga looks totally unruffled.

After a moment, M'Benga follows Jim's gaze over to Spock, and Jim would swear his shrewd eyes have taken the entire situation in at one go. But all he says is, "Bones told me all about you. He says you're a hell of a hard worker and a serious natural talent, even if you are kind of a pain in the ass."

Jim lets out a surprised laugh at that, pleased when M'Benga gives him a wry smile in return. "That's me all right. Hey, I can't thank you enough, for taking Bones's word and mentioning my name when they were finalizing the models for this job."

M'Benga shrugs and takes a thoughtful sip of his coffee. "Happy to do it, once I saw your portfolio. You'll add a great element to the shoot; we wanted to go for that contrast vibe anyway."

"We definitely have that going on," Jim mutters. He definitely gets that he and Spock clash just as much as they complement one another. And sure, Jim's already made up his mind that's what he wants, difficulties and intense chemistry and all. But that doesn't mean he anticipates convincing Spock to want the same thing is going to be a walk in the park.

"You'll see it with the wardrobe differences as well," is M'Benga's cryptic last comment before he walks off.

Soon Jim's brought over to the hanging wardrobe racks. The next half hour melts away in the whirl of being outfitted (as much as Jim can call what he's wearing an outfit; he'd balked for about five seconds but then quickly decided, hey, he could make it work). Right after that he's shoved over to hair and make-up for everyone else to do their part in making him presentable.

Though Jim makes sure to take a careful look around every so often, he doesn't spot Spock the entire time he's getting ready. But he figures that's just as well. Especially with springing himself on Spock like this, and given what he's wearing? Jim doesn't necessarily want to give up the element of surprise in the game.

It's only when M'Benga calls for the models to take their places at a set-piece of strong-lined furniture and thick luxurious looking rugs that Spock appears again and realizes that Jim is going to be his sole partner for the day.

He halts in his tracks, looking terribly stern and gorgeous as all get-out in the posh slate-grey windowpane suit that looks to have been tailored for him specifically.

"I did not realize," he begins in a low but charged voice, "that we were to have encountered one another so soon."

"Oh, don't worry about it," Jim says. Somehow he's gotten his voice to stay steady, thank god. "I'm sure we can both be professionals about this."

There's the slightest movement forward of Spock's lips, as if he's pursing them together in apprehension for the barest of seconds. "Indeed," he finally responds, turning away from Jim and facing forward, obviously awaiting instructions.

"Over there by the standing divider," M'Benga tells them, gesturing to a structured lavish silkscreen screen placed in front of the background scrim. "You can each take a seat; whichever side you want. We'll probably switch you around at some point."

There are two chairs, heavy and masculine, with intricately embroidered plush seats and thick wooden arms and legs. They're both drawn up to an ornately carved table. Atop the table is the most beautiful chess set Jim has ever seen, the pieces carved with artisanal care, the board well-worn but with a polish that speaks of decades or even longer of loving use. It's arranged for a game to begin, all of the pieces in their typical starting places.

"We'll take a few shots of you playing, before we move on to some other poses," M'Benga tells them while they approach the designated area. "I want to get the contrast of the two sides to this clothing line, the fine suit and the reveal of what we typically don't get to see under the suit. But both of them, and both of you, should be about elegance and comfort. You're two sides of the picture here; neither of you is complete without the other."

Jim says nothing, just waits for Spock to choose his chair, and by extension, the color of the playing pieces. When Spock hovers in apparent indecision, Jim reaches to run a finger over one of the kings, skimming over the tip of it and along its familiar shape.

"You can move the pieces if you feel like it," the prop coordinator calls out where she's crouched down with her clipboard, observing the scene she's set-up with interest. "We can always rearrange them into a different formation later if it looks wonky."

M'Benga adjusts his lens, keen eye focused on the tableau. "That would be great. Spock, Jim, if you could pretend to play as soon as you take your seats."

"I don't think we need to pretend, do we, Spock?" Jim asks calmly. This isn't part of his plan, which, let's face it, wasn't super complicated in the first place. It had pretty much amounted to "get in Spock's face and make him talk about stuff." But there's a swell of confidence rising in Jim as he remembers the way Spock had stopped short at the sight of him, the way Spock had prowled forward toward him. It buoys Jim onward with assurance; he knows what he's doing here, and he can absolutely work with it.

When Spock's eyes flick to him in open question, Jim regards him steadily. "I think we're ready to take each other on. At least, I'm ready for it. How about you?"

With no change in expression, Jim strips off long the terry bathrobe the wardrobe head had tossed his way earlier, revealing the tight heather grey short boxer-briefs he's been given to wear. An assistant is at his side unobtrusively, whisking the discarded robe away. He's got nothing else on, but the briefs fit him perfectly along the curve of his ass and cling to the tautness of his stomach, kind of like the way Spock's suit impeccably follows his lean lines.

Spock's dark eyes flash as they scan down Jim's body and up again. "You have some knowledge of the game?" he asks, his voice tight.

Jim gives him a crooked smile. "You could say that. I ran out of people to play where I lived after I beat out everyone on the chess team in one session."

A distinctive eyebrow arches in clear skepticism of Jim's claim. "Very well. Let us begin."

Jim gestures for Spock to choose his seat, and by extension the color of his pieces, and waits.

After clearing his throat, Spock slides into the seat on the left, picking black. For a moment he manages to look only at the board, though his restless hands adjust his tie and his pocket-square, betraying some barely managed reaction even while his face stays relatively impassive.

"Black it is, then," Jim murmurs while he's dropping casually into his seat.

"So that you might have the advantage," Spock notes as he re-arranges himself in his seat. He seems like he wants to look elsewhere, but time and again his gaze returns to Jim, at the expanse of his naked skin, at the way the briefs hug his body. He pulls his long legs stiffly back so that they won't brush up against Jim's bare calves.

"Already got it," Jim says simply. As soon as Spock meets his eyes, a hint of a startled expression in the moue of his lips, Jim makes his first move.

Someone's put on classical music in the background, a far cry from the types of house or pop music Jim's used to hearing on shoots. It sort of sounds like part of a Haydn symphony Jim remembers his school orchestra playing, something that seems simple at first but builds complexity as it continues.

Strangely, the phrases of strings and wind instruments are practically the only sounds around them aside from the shutter and flash of M'Benga's cameras and the quiet movement of various assistants on the periphery of the action. Though they're in a vast space, evidenced by the rows of windows and stretch of concrete in the immense room beyond where the scene has been set up, everything feels centered around Jim and Spock and the game pieces between them. When M'Benga gives one more instruction, to focus seriously on the board, it's easy to do. Jim doesn't take his eyes off the pieces, unless it's to glance up at Spock to catch his reaction.

"You play illogically," Spock says after he's accepted Jim's gambit and they've moved several times in turn each. He sounds more intrigued than bothered by the realization. "I find I cannot determine your strategy."

"Same as always," Jim says as he takes Spock's bishop. "I'm playing to win."

"Indeed." Spock reaches for one piece and then withdraws his hand, obviously recalculating his tactics in light of Jim's move.

After that the play gets more intense, both of them moving the pieces with deliberation and obvious challenge to each other. A few times, Spock's mouth twitches slightly, but unlike earlier, the facial tell doesn't betray any worry. Instead, he looks almost amused at or even impressed by Jim's decisions.

"You were speaking the truth when you indicated earlier that you have an expertise in chess," Spock observes at one point. He sweeps a hand in acknowledgement to those of his pieces that Jim's already captured and lined up on his side of the table.

Jim meets his eyes. "Well, I'm a straight-up kind of guy. I might sound like I'm bragging sometimes, sure. Or a guy could think I'm not telling him everything, if he's the type to jump to conclusions. But when it comes right down to it, I'm someone you can trust to say what he means."

Spock levels an assessing stare at Jim, considering this. "I am surprised at the degree to which I find you a worthy opponent."

Jim cocks his head to the side. The tip of his tongue darts out to wet his lips before he says, "I'm pretty sure if you let yourself, you'd see me as worthy in all kinds of ways."

Spock steeples his fingers, gazing at the board and the queen that Jim's just put into play. "Fascinating."

They keep on like that for a while. At times Spock seems distracted by the amount of skin Jim's showing; at other times, he seems drawn in by whatever strategy Jim's employing on the board.

Though Jim keeps waiting for someone to interrupt and tell them to switch sides at the table or move on to another area of the set, M'Benga only quietly summons people to get him more film or different lenses and keeps the scene going. After a while, Jim forgets to check on what everyone else is doing, and focuses all his attention on Spock.

Sometimes Spock will set out his knight with alacrity; at other times his slender fingers hover over a rook as he scans the board in strategic assessment. But from the way he regards the board, every so often taking stock of Jim's pose or expression with avid absorption, he seems to have long ago forgotten there are other people in the room.

"You should have moved me into check," Spock says at last. His voice is rich and deep, and Jim looks up at him with heavy-lidded eyes. He's kind of in the zone at this point; it almost feels as though the two of them are working perfectly in tandem rather than competing to win the game. At this point their legs are tangled together, the fabric of Spock's trousers soft against Jim's skin, his body beneath radiating warmth against Jim's bare legs. As they each lean forward to move a piece or recline back with grace (Spock) or sprawl back with assurance (Jim), Jim barely notices while M'Benga moves around them almost silently, capturing their interactions from different angles.

Now, when Spock indicates the square Jim ought to have occupied, the pads of his fingers sweep fleetingly over Jim's knuckles. Jim inhales slowly to stop himself from gasping at the shiver that works up his body at that brief point of contact. That small touch delivers a tiny spark, but it speaks of a larger fire, strong and lasting, waiting behind it.

"And you would have moved right out of it," Jim says softly. "I'm not playing for points with each move, Spock. I want the entire match."

For a time the scene stops as they watch each other: Spock delaying his turn, Jim not bothering to keep his heated gaze from Spock's face.

"You know, you're no slouch at this yourself," Jim tells Spock as the moment stretches on. There's absolutely no reason for him to do it, but he brushes his fingers over Spock's exposed wrist, bare just at the cuff of his finely woven shirt.

Unlike Jim, Spock doesn't manage to hide his reaction at their contact. He draws in a sharp breath, something wild lurking behind the veneer of calm in his eyes. His hand twitches slightly, like he's keeping himself from reaching out in turn and taking Jim's hand in his own.

"I have typically played such games by rules I consider well-established," Spock observes. "Yet perhaps at times, in my readiness to accept the most rational scenario in evidence, I may in fact act in uninformed haste."

Coming from Spock, Jim figures that's as good as hearing Maybe I was wrong. But though part of him wants to crow in triumph at the admission -- because it's pretty clear to him that they're talking about much more than just the chess game -- he doesn't let himself gloat.

So instead, Jim shrugs, letting the smile that badly wants to come out full power just play on his lips. "I see what you mean. I know sometimes I can seem like I'm rushing forward, all spontaneous moves, not thinking things through. But that doesn't mean I don't know what I want. I probably better make that pretty clear, in games like these."

Spock gazes at him. "You will checkmate me in four moves. I must admit, I did not conceive we might...play together so well. This has been most satisfying." He lifts his hand to tip over his king.

Jim reaches out and catches Spock's hand with his own. "It's probably illogical to play the game out anyway." He barely hears the click-click-click of M'Benga's camera capturing the still moment of the two of them poised on the edge of their seats, meeting in the middle where their fingers are now entwined.

Spock's eyebrows rise. "It would be, when I have already conceded. Yet we might, if you wish, make arrangements for a rematch." When Jim doesn't reply right away, Spock says hesitantly, "If you desire such an outcome, of course. I wish only to say, this needn't constitute the conclusion of our...interactions." His solemn brown eyes meet Jim's, waiting.

There's a ton Jim could say to that. Some of it probably involves jumping up and pumping his fist up and down in the air while he shouts out his agreement. Getting Spock to admit something even close to this has been his goal all along, and he almost can't believe they've gotten to this point already. But all Jim does is grin his approval, his smile broad and bright. And judging by the flicker of relief and rush of warmth in Spock's eyes, that's exactly the right response.