He is going mad.
No; that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. He has been going mad, slowly, for a long, long time. Now he knows he has reached his destination.
He’s seeing the dead.
Jim closes his eyes, trying to come to grips with his new way of existence. Hi, I’m Jim Kirk, and I’m a schizophrenic. This is an anonymous meeting, right? It’s not like anyone is going to want to call Starfleet or something.
Oh, God, he really is losing it.
He wasn’t expecting this – who would? When the captain of the Antares sent him the field notes from his last mission solely for Jim’s amusement, Jim was expecting nothing more than a glimpse into yet another alien culture; anything to help him fill another couple of hours of his life with the illusion of doing something, to distract him from the emptiness that has long replaced his middle name.
Jim watches the peculiar customs of the planet called Rytsy on his vidscreen, taking notes to give his hands something to do. From where he stands, the Rytsy are a strange people. They know of space travel, but aren’t interested in it. They have no use for technology. They built a space port to trade with other species for goods, but they aren’t overly friendly or hostile. Indifferent types; live and let live.
Their planet is a great depository of minerals, and the Rytsy take a good measure of them every year. They refine precious stones and create some of the most beautiful jewelry Jim has ever seen. They sell them, but mostly they’re interested in the art of creation.
Jim’s attention begins to slip and he forces himself to stay focused. The fight for concentration is now his constant companion. He’s best at it when he’s on the bridge or down on an away mission, but the moment his shift is over, his attention starts to wander and it never takes him where he wants it go. This place, if one could call it that, doesn’t exist any longer.
As the tape progresses into showing the mining operation in progress, Jim chokes on his own breath suddenly.
Because one of the miners is Spock.
It can’t be. It is absolutely, absolutely, impossible. Spock is dead. He’s been dead for almost a year. He cannot possibly be mining emeralds on some godforsaken world.
Except that he is.
Jim freezes the tape; his voice breaks as he gives the computer the order. His eyes are focusing so hard they hurt, and still he tries to see more. But it is undeniably Spock – Jim would recognize that tall, slender silhouette anywhere. The strict, chiseled profile; the delicate curves of his ears; this look of total concentration on whatever it is Spock is doing.
It’s him, or Jim really is insane.
The buzzer startles him into jumping. Right, he called Bones to come see him.
“Come in,” he calls hoarsely.
The door slides open and Bones strides in, somber and grim. Bones is always somber and grim these days.
“What’s up, Jim?” he asks, resolute and weary. “I was trying to save my ruined relationship with my bed.”
Jim turns to take in his form; his eyes are dry, almost crusty.
“I need you to look at something, Bones. And then I need you to tell me if I’m crazy, and possibly relieve me of command after that.”
Bones looks at him warily but doesn’t say anything, and it’s a marker of their new realm. No way would Bones have let something like that slide in the before times. No way. So many times in their long association, Jim had wished Bones would hold his tongue. When he was bitching about Jim’s escapades at the Academy; when he was lecturing him on his recklessness on away missions; when he was bickering with Spock like there was no tomorrow. Now Bones is silent, and Jim wishes he would bring some of his snark back. He always seems to wish for what he can’t have.
He stands up, and Bones takes his place in front of the vidscreen. Jim has skimmed it back a few minutes to let Bones get into the feeling of things. He releases the pause and settles in to watch Bones’ face as Bones watches the tape.
He doesn’t know what it is they have together.
They start off as uneasy coworkers, which remains bizarre, at best, for quite a while. Jim doesn’t know what made Spock come back and request to be appointed first officer; he has never asked. Deep down, he knows that it’s probably because he’s afraid that if he did ask, the magic charm would dissipate and Spock would see the mistake he’d made.
They make a surprisingly good command team right from the start. Jim doesn’t know if it’s because of some strange fluke of destiny they’d been warned about or simply because they understand each other so well when it comes to taking action. They save each other’s lives more times than Jim is consciously aware of, but he suspects the score would still be in Spock’s favor – Jim’s either more reckless or less fortunate than Spock is.
Somewhere in the middle of it, they evolve from brothers-in-arms to friends. Jim marks the change by the conversation about their childhoods that Spock initiates. Jim doesn’t usually relish the topic, but he finds himself eager to speak because Spock asks and Spock is interested.
And then… it happens. They are halfway into the second year of their five-year mission. There is nothing remarkable about this particular evening; there’s been a birthday celebration and Jim is pleasantly relaxed when he and Spock enter his quarters to share one more drink, and a talk.
They’ve been doing that a lot lately – talking. Spock is usually sparse with words, especially as they relate to anything personal, but Jim seems to have touched some invisible base with him. He now knows that Spock likes Walter Scott and Edgar Allan Poe; is fascinated by ice sculpture; is allergic to orange juice; and dislikes the color lemon-yellow with a passion.
Spock knows things about Jim, too, now – things that nobody else, not even Bones, knows. Spock knows that when Jim was five, he wanted to be a confectioner; that he used to be scared of the neighbor’s dog; that he tried ecstasy when he was fifteen but never actually went for black powder; that he always sleeps with some kind of light on when he’s alone (and Spock knows why).
Jim doesn’t know what brings it on just then. Maybe he’s had a little too much to drink or maybe it’s the aura of warmth that Spock projects that make him do it, because he doesn’t even think of what he’s doing. It’s just that Spock is right there and the surge of affection for him suddenly overwhelms Jim. He reaches out instinctively, and Spock takes his hand. It’s better, but not enough, so Jim kisses him.
Jim kisses him, and Spock doesn’t choke him. Jim slides his hands under Spock’s tunic, and Spock lifts his hands to help him take it off. And then Spock pushes him down on the bed, and Jim has seen all and then some where sex is concerned, but he never knew it could be like this, and his last coherent thought that night is that maybe there is something to all that talk about trust after all.
He wakes up the next morning and immediately has a panic attack because he’s alone. He sits up on the bed, perspiring and suddenly nauseous, but then Spock walks out of his bathroom, hair slightly damp and wearing only his pants.
Jim wants to say something but is struck speechless as Spock walks over to his – Jim’s – drawer and pulls out a spare regulation t-shirt. They aren’t exactly of the same build, and the fabric hangs a little more loosely on Spock’s frame than it usually hugs around Jim. But most people wouldn’t notice. Most people aren’t Jim.
“I assume you do not mind?” Spock asks. As if Jim could.
Jim shakes his head slowly. He is still unable to utter a word. Spock glances at him and lifts an eyebrow, then walks over to the bed and sits down on the edge gingerly.
“Jim.” He takes Jim’s hands in his own, as if talking to a frightened child. “You are engaging, I believe, in the human custom of ‘freaking out.’ It is entirely unnecessary.”
“But…” Jim manages, “last night—”
“—was extremely enjoyable,” Spock interrupts him gently. He presses his thumb to Jim’s lower lip and rubs it tenderly before getting up to his feet. “I will see you on the bridge, Captain.”
Despite Spock’s words, Jim does freak out for the whole day, which seems to amuse the Enterprise’s first officer to no end. His panic gets old by the end of the day, though, and the next morning as he runs into Spock in the turbolift, Jim can’t help a grin. They repeat the whatever-it-was two nights after that, then do it again the night after that. It becomes something to be expected, and suddenly there’s a whole new set of things Jim knows about Spock.
His eyelashes are soft, and his navel is sensitive; he has a small birthmark where his left thigh meets his body, and he’s almost self-conscious about it; he gives the most wonderful, complex, sophisticated massages, but turns into a melted heap of a Vulcan when Jim does something as simple as running his fingers through Spock’s hair. When Jim does that – just that – Spock would allow him to do anything with him, because his enjoyment of this simple action is not even erotic so much as it is pure bliss that goes deeper than desire and totally escapes words.
And it’s only fair that Spock learns something new about him, too. Like – that Jim can’t relinquish control voluntarily, but loves, needs, to have it torn from him; that he likes to stay connected for as long as possible; that he can never stay put in his sleep; that he babbles and never remembers what he says as his orgasm is mounting, and that he likes to kiss for hours after that; that he’s not a screamer, but can beg pretty much shamelessly – and this is a discovery to them both, because Jim has never known anyone who could reduce him to begging before.
They are a little wild, Jim thinks. It’s the desperation of adolescence and adult need. It’s never having enough time and always remaining hungry. It’s wariness of each other’s injuries and adrenaline-induced frenzy. It’s glances speaking volumes when they’re in public, something that neither of them can help. It’s remaining the most efficient command team ever and hiding their new layer zealously, without any kind of agreement, simply because neither of them has anything else that is entirely theirs and they are not ready to share this, not by a long shot.
Jim is afraid to give it a name, this something they have between them. Spock asks him once and only once, almost timidly. For all his ‘no freaking out’ bravado, Spock is just as scared – he only hides it better. When Jim hesitates, Spock kisses him and never asks again. Jim promises then, to himself, that he will find that answer, that name or something, for both of them, because he needs it, wants it, craves it, too. Because it will cement them and chase away their fears.
Because Spock is worth it.
He spends a year working on that one, and is almost ready to accept the incredible, improbable, unfathomable truth and share it with Spock. He’s almost ready when Starfleet sends them to Pollax.
Jim doesn’t know, at first, that Spock is gone. Later he will ask himself how it is possible that Spock has been taken, has been hurt so badly, tortured, violated, and finally killed, and Jim doesn’t know about it. But he doesn’t just then; he really doesn’t.
He concludes negotiations with the Pollaxians, promising them that the Federation won’t stand for piracy and that they will deal with the Nausicans, who have been hindering trade. He calls Spock, who took the opportunity to explore the planet and has been taking tricorder readings of the settlement and its surroundings.
Spock doesn’t answer.
It’s unusual, but Jim isn’t worried, not at first. The Pollaxians are peaceful as sheep and, besides, it wouldn’t be the first time for Spock to become so fascinated by something he’s studying that he would get slightly distracted. Jim beams up alone and asks Scotty to give Spock another thirty minutes to indulge his passion for exploration and then beam him up. Scotty grins at him. Spock’s quirks are well known to the crew by now.
Thirty minutes slip by and go unnoticed. Jim assumes Spock is long aboard, but decides to check before giving the order to leave orbit.
And that’s when he gets concerned and then downright alarmed, because Scotty sounds anxious over the intercom, and suddenly they can’t find Spock anywhere.
Reality transforms into the longest seventy-two hours Jim has ever lived through, but neither the search parties nor the natives discover what’s become of the Enterprise’s first officer. That’s when they receive the transmission, and it’s so graphic and sharp that half the junior staff on the bridge is vomiting while the senior set watches, steady and stone-faced.
They find him – what’s left of him – right where the message says, at one of the outer moons; an L-class world, too cold to live on. Jim doesn’t beam down, sending McCoy and his people instead, because he’s the captain and the Nausicans can’t be too far away. He paces the bridge restlessly until the transporter room signals that the away team is onboard. Jim clenches his fists and orders them out of orbit.
He has known Leonard McCoy for almost six years by then; they’d been through thick and thin together. Jim had never heard Bones’ voice shake until that day.
‘Don’t go in there, Jim.’ The hand on Jim’s shoulder is trembling.
But of course Jim goes. ‘I need to see him.’
‘It’s not him... I mean, you won’t be able to—’
It’s not Spock. This shapeless, repulsive mass of distorted tissue is not – could not ever have been – a living person.
‘Transporter scramble.’ McCoy speaks breathlessly behind him. ‘Without the DNA analysis, we’d never know it was Spock.’
‘We do know that they tortured him before they did this,’ Jim says, voice flat and matter-of-fact. Steady; foreign. Not his.
‘I don’t get this!’ McCoy snaps angrily, smashing his fist into some unfortunate medical apparatus. ‘Don’t they know we’ll hunt them down for this? The fuckers are dead – deader than dead, for fuck’s sake! He was Starfleet – he was Vulcan! Don’t they get—‘
‘Bones,’ Jim says, very quietly. ‘Shut up.’
He walks out, without looking back. He knows their orders, having just talked to Starfleet. Hunting down the Nausicans isn’t a suitable task for a flagship; they’re needed at the Klingon border. Some other vessel, a smaller vessel, will deal with the obligations to the Pollaxians. As for Spock, Starfleet is sorry, but their resources are limited and they have to prioritize.
The worst of it is that Jim actually understands.
He goes to his quarters and waits. Spock always comes to him two, sometimes three hours after their shifts end. They eat a light meal and talk some, and then... It’s not always sex, though. Sometimes Jim just needs to hold Spock, or needs to be held. Sometimes he needs Spock to guard him through the night, and only Spock would do that without asking for an explanation. Jim waits.
Spock doesn’t come.
It’s all right, though, because sometimes Spock needs to stay up late, working in the labs when some of his experiments are in their vital stages. On those nights, Jim would doze off on the bed without taking his clothes off until Spock comes and helps him, sleepy and warm, out of them. Jim trusts Spock’s hands with whatever they’re handling: a tricorder, a phaser, or – him. He doesn’t trust anyone else’s hands quite the way he trust Spock’s.
Spock doesn’t come.
It’s weird, because when Jim thinks about it – actually thinks about it – he knows that Spock won’t. He’d filed the appropriate forms himself, after all; he had sent a message to Sarek. He’s pretty sure he’d delivered a eulogy. So he knows this, he really does – knows intellectually that Spock is dead, that it’s senseless to expect him to just turn up in Jim’s quarters again like nothing happened.
He waits nonetheless.
It’s not a conscious decision or anything, but this sense of tugging anticipation seems to be engraved into his muscle memory. Two months later, he still has to remind himself not to set up a second plate when he prepares a meal. Six months later, he still falls asleep in his clothes with the lights on. He still waits every evening without fail, still wonders what keeps Spock from arriving every morning – inevitably, it’s Jim’s first conscious thought of the day.
The crew is angry at first, with the Nausicans and with Starfleet, but they try not to express themselves too violently out of respect for Jim. He discovers suddenly that he and Spock had been the lousiest conspirators ever, because as it turns out, everyone knew.
Jim had never let it slip even with Bones, and Spock had never uttered so much as a word to Uhura, and they had never, never, engaged in anything more than friendly in public, had never been caught in flagrante, had never even stolen a chaste Vulcan kiss under the table or planetside – and still, from the bridge crew to the chef’s cat, every single person onboard was in the know. Maybe even earlier than Jim and Spock themselves, Jim thinks bitterly. Pike calls him, for crying out loud, and his condolences are anything but professional. He promises to keep an eye on the Nausicans and never rest until justice is served.
Jim doesn’t much care about justice; it’s a Pyrrhic victory if he can’t have Spock back. And he can’t, because from where Spock had gone, anyone has yet to return.
The crew walks on eggshells around him, though they try not to show it. Jim does his level best to meet them halfway. He eats enough not to upset Bones’ radar; he agrees to take some of Bones’ sedatives to help him sleep. It’s strange, really, since he’s never been much of a sleeper, because – well, there’s life to live in the waking world, and sleep’s drastically overrated. Now he sleeps like it’s the best activity he’s ever been introduced to, and it probably is. It doesn’t hurt so much when he’s sleeping. His days become a struggle to get to the moment when he can go to bed again.
Bones catches him pretty fast, though, and cuts off his allowance. Jim doesn’t complain, even though he misses the drugs, sometimes to an extent that makes him climb the walls. He starts dreaming of the pretty little pills more often than he dreams about Spock, which is weird but probably for the best. Dreaming of Spock always entails waking up in tears. Jim hates it; he’s never been that person.
He hates what he has become.
His libido turns itself off like a light, as if Jim was born without it. It’s beyond ‘out there’ weird, because when Jim was with Spock, he wanted anytime. Since they never discussed it, they’d never actually arrived to any kind of pact regarding others; there seemed to be no need. Jim would still look, even though he’d never touch anymore. Occasionally someone would catch his eye, and he would entertain certain thoughts, and then he would look at Spock – lean, graceful, too-hot-for-hell Spock – and Spock would meet his gaze and smile with his eyes, and the mix of trust-certainty-possession in them would leave Jim gasping for air and wishing he could jump his partner right that instant.
He doesn’t want anyone. Bones asks him carefully once, during his physical, and it’s the first time Jim actually thinks about it in almost nine months. He realizes then that he no longer looks. He doesn’t look, doesn’t fantasize, doesn’t jerk off in the shower, doesn’t have wet dreams, doesn’t – he just doesn’t. And he’s not bothered by it, which is probably the weirdest part. He should be freaked out, maybe even panicked – but he can only shrug vaguely. He really doesn’t care beyond some faint sense of surprise.
Bones sighs, shakes his head, and says nothing.
Three months after that, Jim is hit with a frightening realization. He sits in the main rec room, watching it being decorated for the New Year’s party, and it strikes him like a lightning bolt out of the clear blue sky.
He loves Spock. That’s the name of what was between them, the answer to Spock’s question. And it’s every bit as real and there now as it has been all along.
Dear gods in heaven.
He’s in love with a dead man.
‘You have to move on, Jim,’ Bones tells him quietly at some point. ‘Spock wouldn’t have wanted for you to—’
Jim has to stop him. He can’t go there, can’t listen to what Spock would or wouldn’t have wanted. It’s too early for that, and Jim just can’t, he can’t; he’s only just realized that other thing – that incredible, unfathomable, wondrous thing – and he’s not ready to listen to any of this. It’s too early, way too early, for this.
Besides, in any case, it’s too late.
“Oh my God.”
Jim takes in the way Bones’ eyes turn almost round with astonishment and lets out a quiet sigh of relief.
“Guess I’m not crazy, then.”
McCoy looks up at him wildly, looking totally thrown. “Crazy? Jim – this is – Spock.” He utters the name in disbelieving whisper. “Spock... But how can this… How is it possible?”
“I was hoping you could tell me.”
Bones meets his eyes, and there’s fear there: the wide-eyed, bone-chilling fear of a healer who’s scared he has done harm.
“Jim, I swear...” Bones’ voice is low and raspy, like his mouth is drier than the Sahara. He rises to his feet, facing Jim with an almost imploring expression. “I triple-checked the data when we beamed... him up. It was Spock; DNA analysis doesn’t lie. It was him – you can cut my arms off if it wasn’t.”
Jim shakes his head. “I have a feeling you’re going to need your arms right where they are really soon.”
“I don’t understand it,” McCoy manages incredulously. “I don’t understand. Did he have a twin brother we didn’t know about?”
“I don’t know,” Jim says grimly. “But I’m going to find out.” He switches the intercom on. “Kirk to bridge.”
“Sulu here, Captain.”
“Mr. Sulu, alter our course to Rytsy and go to maximum warp.”
“Rytsy, sir? But that’s—”
“I know where it is, Mr. Sulu. Change the course.”
Pause. “Aye, sir.”
“He looks malnourished,” McCoy notes, staring at the tape again. “From what I can see, anyway. And the way he moves – it’s like something’s restraining his movements. That all you got of him?”
Jim closes his eyes. “All there is on the tapes.”
“Jim.” McCoy speaks very carefully.
“Please, Bones; don’t.”
He knows what his friend is about to say: that Jim shouldn’t have his hopes high; that this may all turn out to be some incredible coincidence. A mistake; a phantom; an equipment failure. Anything.
They are silent for a long time.
“You know I’m here if you need me,” Bones says finally.
Jim finds it in him to look up at his friend and smile. “I know. Bones, I…” He exhales hard, as if trying to blow the weight in his chest away. “I know that last year wasn’t exactly fun for you; for any of you. I know I was far from my best.”
“No; I just want to say – thank you.” He holds McCoy’s eyes. “For sticking to me.”
McCoy nods, serious. “We’ll get through this, Jim. I promise.”
Jim smiles at him weakly and doesn’t reply.
They beam down, following the steps the Antares’ landing party had taken. Jim walks slightly ahead, feeling Bones hovering at his shoulder. Two security guards hold their distance behind them, respectful and alert. The Rytsy observe them carefully, without any real curiosity. Jim approaches the tall, slouchy alien who seems to be in charge.
“Buying or selling?” the Rytsy asks Jim blandly.
“We’re not here for trade,” Jim says curtly. “I’m Captain Kirk of the Enterprise. We’re looking for someone; an off-worlder who works at the mines?”
The Rytsy wriggles his eyebrows, probably frowning. “There are several off-worlders working with the Rytsy people,” he says. “Rysty people are not many in numbers. We welcome everyone. Why are you looking for him?”
“He used to be part of my crew,” Jim explains, voice still tenser than he’d like. “We were told he was dead, but a Federation starship stopped here a week ago and they spotted him here. They had it on tape.”
“The Antares?” The Rytsy nods, showing a complete lack of interest. “They only visited one mining facility; I can provide you with a map. You may look for your alien there. If he is one of your crew, you may take him. We do not keep anyone here against their will.”
“Thank you,” Jim says, feeling Bones breathing down his neck. “If you help us find him, I’ll make sure your troubles are compensated adequately.”
For the first time during the conversation, the Rytsy shows a sign of interest.
“My name is Hatsy-n, Captain Kirk. I shall escort you to the mines.”
Jim shares a glance with Bones; his friend looks as troubled as Jim feels.
They follow the Rytsy silently as the alien walks in a surprisingly fast gait toward what looks like an entrance to an underground tunnel.
“Great,” Bones mutters. “Now we’ll have to use some kind of mine car and risk the whole thing falling on our heads.”
“Hey, Earth used subways for centuries.” Jim tries to cheer him up, though his heart isn’t quite in it. “They’re still open somewhere for tourists.”
“An accident waiting to happen,” McCoy grumbles. Jim gets the distinct impression he’s doing it mechanically rather than out of any real concern. He shrugs to himself. Everyone has their own way of dealing with stress.
The car ride through the caves isn’t as fascinating as Jim imagined; mostly it’s just traveling through really dark corridors. He does have the sense, however, that they’ve covered a vast amount of land when they emerge on the surface again.
“Here is the mine your people visited,” Hatsy-n tells them, pointing at the ill-proportioned construction.
It looks shabby and unsafe; Jim’s heart dwindles unpleasantly at the thought that Spock might have been working here.
“Spread out,” Jim orders to his people. “We all know who we’re looking for.”
It takes them hours to search the facility. Hatsy-n keeps close to Jim, guarding his potential reward, but Jim doesn’t care. The Rytsy miners don’t pay them any heed, concentrated on their work. No one even stops to tell them that the area is off-limits. Jim thinks absently that the only reason the planet hasn’t been conquered by one galactic power or another is its incredibly low strategic value. Otherwise, it might have been the easiest conquest in history.
“There.” Hatsy-n points his finger suddenly. “Is that him?”
Jim turns immediately and freezes. His mouth goes dry, and his surroundings fade. The sounds are tuned out until the only one remaining is the desperate flutter of his own heart.
“Spock,” Jim whispers.
It is him, unmistakably. He’s thinner than Jim has ever seen him – the ugly, baggy clothes hung on him lifelessly. His hair is cut haphazardly and has nothing at all in common with Spock’s usual impeccable neatness. He’s performing his task – cutting through the layer of rock – methodically and impassively, like a drone.
Jim can’t take the sight one second longer. He steps forward with a sharp, “Spock!”
Spock flinches and looks up, alerted not so much by the sound of his name as the loud voice aimed in his direction. Jim’s breath catches in his throat as their eyes meet. He wants to move, to run toward Spock, to wrap his arms around him, but he can’t move.
Just as he’s about to take a step forward, Spock looks up at him. His expression slowly changes to the one of terror.
And then Spock drops his drill, turns on his heel, and runs.
Jim can’t follow – in fact, he can’t even stand. His knees buckle and he hits the ground with no warning while the rest of him – all of him that isn’t the physical – rushes after Spock. For a horrible moment, Jim feels as if he’s being literally torn in two, and it hurts so much that he sees white.
“Jim! What the hell…?”
A strong hand closes around his arm and Bones yanks him upright hard. He must be asking something and Jim must not be answering, because Bones shakes him like a rag doll. That’s when Jim comes to his senses enough to order search parties.
Ten hours, forty-two minutes. That’s the exact amount of time they spend searching meticulously through shafts and tunnels, with tricorders because the ship’s sensors won’t penetrate the upper layer of rock. Ten hours and forty-two minutes before Jim gets an exuberant comm message. “Captain, we have him cornered!”
They do. Jim rushes to the site, hyperventilating and almost collapsing again, and what he sees nearly breaks his heart all over again. Spock is cornered, his back flat against the wall, his stance defensive – but it’s so inapt, nothing at all like Spock’s usual dangerously efficient battle pose. His eyes are the eyes of a wild animal, feral and fatalistic; as if he knows he’s about to die, fears it, and knows he can’t escape.
“Spock.” Jim steps forward, bypassing the ring of the security guards. He lifts his hands in the air to demonstrate his peaceful intentions. Spock eyes him closely, but there’s no sign of recognition – or relent. “Spock, it’s all right. Don’t be afraid.” Part of him is really freaked out that he even has to tell Spock something like that, but his focus is completely elsewhere. “We’re here to help you.”
He takes another step toward the trapped Vulcan, and that’s when Spock jumps. In a violent fight that ensues, Jim is too busy shouting for everyone to get the hell off of Spock to care for his own well-being. But the struggle is short-lived – Spock is still stronger than a human, but he’s malnourished and weak and can’t possibly last long.
And Jim’s heart does break when he’s got Spock pinned to the crude floor of the cave, because Spock suddenly slumps and speaks for the first time, his voice a beaten, broken whisper.
“Please; do not hurt me.”
Jim swallows and has to stifle his trembling hands. His voice shakes badly when he speaks.
“I would never hurt you, Spock. Never.”
He would have stayed right there, too, but there’s a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“Jim,” Bones says. “Let’s take him home.”
Slowly, Jim nods, and feels something sharp stabbing him precisely through the heart at the look of defeat and absolute misery in Spock’s eyes.
Bones finds him eventually, sitting in the empty officers’ mess and slicing an apple methodically. He has yet to put a single piece in his mouth.
Bones sighs as he sits across from Jim. “It’s him.” Bones nods, looking tired and empty. “There’s no mistake.”
“That’s what you said the last time.”
Jim’s voice is flat, but Bones winces.
“I know, but I can explain.”
Jim looks at him; squints. “So what was that... that thing we found?”
“A mimetic simbiot. There are these – creatures, I guess. Lyssarrian desert larva. Banned from the Federation worlds, but we don’t rule the galaxy. When injected with somebody’s DNA, they become this person – exactly the same, perfect to the last twist of a chromosome.”
“How do you know that it’s that thing that died and not Spock?”
Bones looks at him sadly. “They only live for fifteen days, Jim. They bred that with one purpose only – to kill as it reached Spock’s exact age.”
Jim shivers, closing his eyes for a moment. “That’s just–”
“I know. There’s a reason why they’re banned from all civilized space powers.”
Jim swallows down an upsurge of nausea. The idea of a Spock living, feeling, having been created only to die, makes him sick to his gut.
“What I don’t get,” Bones continues, “is why the Nausicans would do that. Why kill a – a clone – and keep Spock alive?”
Jim shakes his head, returning to his apple slicing. “It doesn’t take a genius for that one. A dead Spock is a played card. Keeping him alive is like dangling him over my head whenever they’d want something.”
Bones’s expression shifts to one of disgust. “An insurance?”
“Something like that,” Jim confirms hollowly. “Carrying him around must have been dangerous or inconvenient, so they stuck him where he wouldn’t ever be found, unless they started talking. They were probably waiting for a good moment to ambush me with it.”
“Well, then.” McCoy sighs. “The good news is we have him back. There’s the bad, though.”
Jim looks up at him, suddenly very quiet. “Go ahead.”
Solemnity supplants tiredness in Bones’s face. “There was a device implanted in his brain. It was providing him with false imagery and memories. For instance, that we’re the ones who tortured him.”
Jim closes his eyes briefly. “That’s why he ran from us.”
“Yeah,” McCoy drawls unhappily. “This thing was affecting several key areas, so I removed it. But, Jim…” Bones looks him squarely in the eye. “It has been operating in his skull for a year. There’s no way to tell how his brain was affected until he wakes up.”
Jim swallows. “When will you know?”
“In five hours, maybe six.”
“I want to be there.”
McCoy sighs again and shakes his head, but in sorrow, not denial. “I’ll comm you as soon as he starts to come round.”
Jim nods and turns back to the messy pieces of apple on his plate, eyes empty as his stomach.
Jim always liked watching Spock sleep.
There was something, ultimately, more intimate about it than even having sex. Admittedly it wasn’t as intimate as a meld, but it still felt deeply personal in a domestic kind of way – the type of everyday closeness that was simple in itself but not easy to come by. Just the thought that another person felt so safe and protected around him as to give up consciousness in his presence was slightly insane – and yet so very pleasant. And somehow, Spock just closing his eyes and falling asleep beside Jim made him all kinds of fuzzy, warm, disbelieving, and happy.
He never did get a chance to get used to it, and now, as he is watching Spock drifting on the quiet waves of artificial sleep, Jim wonders if he ever will.
“I can bring him out of it if you want,” Bones says quietly. “It’s about time.”
Jim shakes his head. He can already see Spock stirring. In a moment, he shifts on the bed slightly, and then slowly opens his eyes.
Jim watches him blink, taking in the room and the people in it. There’s still no sign of recognition, not even as Spock’s eyes linger on him. It hurts, but at least Spock doesn’t look like a wild animal about to be slaughtered anymore.
He does stiffen, collecting himself visibly, as Jim has seen Spock do countless times before a fight. And he’s not talking. His gaze shifts from Bones to Jim and back, but he keeps determinedly silent. Jim suppresses a sigh. He knows that look. He has seen, and been at, entirely too many prisons not to recognize it.
“Do you know where you are?” Jim asks gently.
Spock glances at him, and so does Bones. The Vulcan’s eyes are calculating and impassive. Bones seems surprised.
It becomes clear in a moment, however, that Spock isn’t planning on answering. Jim knows he should sympathize, but for some reason he’s seized by an inexplicable surge of irritation.
“Do you know who I am?”
Suspicion. Spock’s eyes are guarded as he studies Jim – closed up and so damn wary. Jim wants to shake him or hit him. He also wants to weep.
“Do you know who you are?”
Bones shoots him a warning look because Jim’s voice sounds sharper this time, but Jim can’t help it. The expression in Spock’s eyes is twisting Jim’s guts into knots, ripping something inside of him. A slightly insane thought invites itself into his unpleasantly hazed mind: Could he just kiss Spock and break the goddamn spell?
Fortunately for everyone, McCoy is perceptive enough to step forward, drawing Spock’s attention to himself.
“I know this is confusing,” he says, and Jim is certain he’s never heard Bones use that tender tone with Spock – anyone – before. For the first time in his life, Jim hears Bones talking like a model doctor. “And it’s alarming. But you have to know that you’re safe. You’re onboard a Federation starship. We’re your friends.”
The way Spock absorbs information is tangible; it’s like he’s breathing McCoy’s words in with every molecule of air around him, concentrating with 200 percent of himself. Jim can practically feel Spock’s mind working.
“My instruments,” McCoy continues, “tell me that you’re suffering from some form of memory loss. I take it from your reaction that you don’t remember us or this place?”
It’s a struggle; Jim can see it as clearly as if it’s happening within him and not Spock. A struggle to work up some minimal trust when there is no reason for Spock to trust them. Don’t be so stubborn, Spock, Jim prays silently. Give us something to work with. I know you’re frightened, but please. Don’t be like me.
Spock glances at him shortly, eyes boring into Jim’s, and Jim has to stop the instinctive impulse to scoop Spock into his arms and hold him fast and steady till they’re both breathless and it doesn’t matter anymore. He knows he can’t come closer, and, with an effort, resigns to stand still and let himself be evaluated.
He isn’t sure what it is Spock sees; the blasted Vulcan gives no outward reaction. But he turns to McCoy and finally speaks.
“I have no recollection of either of you or this place.” He pauses, and Jim knows what he’s thinking to the letter. Don’t give out any information if at all possible. Admitting weakness in front of an enemy is detrimental. Admitting he doesn’t remember makes Spock vulnerable, completely open to any and all harm. But if he doesn’t risk trusting them, he’s trapped within the blankness of his world. And Jim sees it, feels it buzzing under his own skin, that moment when Spock – his brave, indestructible, impervious Spock, the man who gave new meaning to the word ‘integrity’ – backs into himself and decides that the risk does not outweigh the benefit.
Jim turns away abruptly, his blood pounding at his temples, and he’s seeing red, because they had broken Spock, beyond what could be salvaged: they had broken Spock forever. And Jim is suddenly overwhelmed with anger and despair, and his eyes are filling with tears the way they didn’t want to when Spock ‘died,’ and he feels the deck entering rodeo mode under his feet, because now it’s lost – it’s all lost. Spock is broken, and Jim will never make him whole again.
That is the exact moment when Spock decides to speak again.
“I have no recollection of anything whatsoever,” he says. “Clearly, I understand your speech, and I know what everything around me is. However, apart from that, my mind is a void.”
Jim bites his lip as his knees go weak, threatening to give. Spock’s voice is low and just that much quieter to transmit that yes, he understands that he might be cooperating with the people who hurt him in the first place. But he reaches out nonetheless. He takes a leap of faith, and maybe – maybe there’s hope for them after all.
Jim whirls back toward the biobed and takes a step closer, ignoring the way Spock recoils.
“You are Commander Spock of Vulcan, and this is the starship Enterprise, and you have been my first officer and chief science officer aboard this vessel for almost three years. You and I saved Earth together, and you decided to stay with me, stay in Starfleet, even though I was mean to you, and there hadn’t been a day during those three years, not a single day when you weren’t a pedantic ass, an outstanding officer, and an awesome friend. And I don’t know how many times I owe you my life, but it’s a lot, Spock; trust me, it’s a lot.” Jim only pauses long enough to draw in a shaky breath. “And I’m going to fix you. No matter what, you’re going to be okay.”
And before Spock’s eyes can get any wider or Jim’s knees finally give, Jim stalks out of the ward in a blurry motion.
Bones finds him in his office some couple of minutes later. He takes in Jim’s hands pressed against the messy desk, as Jim leans on them, head bowed and breathing hard, and sighs.
“You should probably...” Jim manages. “I mean you shouldn’t—”
“I left Chapel there,” McCoy says simply, and rubs Jim’s shoulder cautiously. “You okay?”
“I…” Jim tries intelligibly. “I – Bones...”
Bones tugs at his shoulder until Jim straightens up, and then Bones grips his arms, shaking him slightly and looking into his face. Jim stares back dazedly, and Bones sighs again, his grip tightening.
“One hell of a way to talk to a patient with amnesia,” McCoy grunts, but Jim can tell he isn’t really angry. “Spill the resume of his life in total amount of two seconds – sure, why the hell not? Can’t believe it’s not in the medical books yet.”
“Yeah. If it was anyone but Spock, I might have had to kill you. But he’s–” McCoy pauses. “Maybe he needed it. He’s the only one who could ever truly catch up with you.”
Bones is aiming for humor, and Jim nods.
“We’re gonna fix him, Bones. We’re gonna fix him.”
Bones holds his eyes steadily and probably gets that Jim won’t listen to reason. He settles for another sigh and an awkward one-armed hug.
“I only hope we can.”
Six hours later, Spock hacks the Enterprise’s computers. He’s dissatisfied with the carefully organized files Chapel prepared for him to study, which are screened painstakingly for upsetting and potentially health-hindering facts. Jim rolls his eyes at the news and grins as a very dismayed Chekov reports that he couldn’t stop the attack.
Jim does, however, log into the system himself, because while he’s fairly certain what Spock is after, he’s only too aware of Spock’s computer prowess – apparently unaffected by his time spent mining – and Jim can’t risk Spock interfering with critical systems. Jim makes his presence known but doesn’t take any action; he simply watches.
Just as he thought, Spock isn’t interested in the navigational controls or engineering subroutines. He’s skimming through the database, and Jim knows that Bones would be livid, but he leaves Spock to it. Spock is trying to recapture the essence of his life, and Jim can’t deny him that. He won’t.
Jim derives a fairly dark sense of satisfaction from explaining to Command why they haven’t reported to Starbase 14 yet. Jim remembers only too well that Admiral Cartwright looked anything but upset when Jim informed him that he no longer had a first officer. The son of a bitch has been trying to push his own protégé for the position ever since, while Jim rebuffed him. True, Sulu is only acting XO, but he does his job fine. Jim knows that the chances of Spock actually being back are moot at this point, but he doesn’t even try not to gloat when he gives Cartwright the news and watches the admiral pale and squirm.
After Jim’s earlier escapade, he’s banned from Med Bay, but he wouldn’t be eager to return there anyway. Truth be told, he’s grateful that Bones seems determined to keep him away for the moment. Jim has no idea what he feels.
It is ironic, really. For over a year when Spock had been considered dead, Jim couldn’t assimilate that knowledge no matter how hard he tried. He kept glancing over his shoulder, expecting Spock to be there, and being momentarily surprised every time that he wasn’t. It almost started to seem like Spock had gone on a long vacation, but his presence lingered, refusing to fade away.
But now that Spock is back, snatched from hell and oblivion almost literally… Now that Spock is actually right here, Jim doesn’t feel anything. There’s no euphoria, no elation, no bliss. There’s a stranger wearing Spock’s face, looking at Jim with eyes devoid of warmth and recognition, and Jim feels enervated and indifferent. Not overjoyed; not even angry.
He stares at the wall of his quarters unseeingly. Has he been deceiving himself? He thought he was in love with Spock, but the truth is that he was only in love with a phantom. This must have been one of the most brilliant schemes he’s ever come up with: he and Spock were having a lot of sex, and Jim apparently had activated some kind of latent subroutine telling him that if he was staying this long with one partner, there must be deeper feelings involved.
Only there weren’t. Jim never found them, and then Spock died and Jim decided that he had. It was convenient; it made his suffering so noble.
It was also a lie. He had never loved Spock. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be hiding in his quarters now, afraid to look Spock in the face.
Jim had probably never loathed himself so much in his life.
Somehow three days slip by unnoticed. Jim lives on rumors and hearsay, drinking them hungrily whenever he comes across them, and shying away from all the mirth and sympathy directed his way. He can’t exactly forbid people to discuss Spock’s miraculous rescue, but he does his best to discourage them from doing so in his presence. His face hurts from all the glaring, and he vaguely asks himself how long it has been since he adopted any other kind of facial expression.
Bones is waiting for him in his quarters when Jim comes off shift. Jim knew about it – they’d arranged it – but this knowledge does little to prepare him for this conversation. Bones squints at him disapprovingly; Jim only shakes his head.
“Is that your report?” Jim nods at the PADD McCoy is holding.
McCoy nods in kind, looking terse.
Jim sighs at his friend’s continuous silence. “Well, spill it, Bones; let’s get this over with. Is his memory loss permanent?”
McCoy purses his lips. “I don’t know that yet, Jim. From what I can tell, he’s suffering from some kind of extreme form of source amnesia.”
“He knows things. If you ask him the value of pi, he’ll tell you. If you give him a tricorder and ask him to scan for something, he’ll do it. In fact, we’ve tested him through and through, and he’s as knowledgeable in every science and skill he possessed as he used to be, before all this. But he doesn’t remember where he knows all that stuff from.” McCoy sighs. “In other words, he’s got a full skill set of an Academy graduate, but he doesn’t remember attending the Academy. He can hack the damn computer, but he can’t remember when the first time he worked on one was or who taught him how to use it.”
Jim ponders this. “You said ‘extreme’?”
“Source amnesia usually doesn’t spread onto personal stuff.”
“Meaning that he could forget what his mother told him when he left for Earth or even that they had a conversation, but he should still remember that her eyes were brown?”
Bones nods unhappily. “Roughly, yeah.” He jerks his chin to the side as if trying to loosen an invisible, strangling tie. “He doesn’t, though. He doesn’t remember anything personal about himself or other people. At all.”
Jim frowns. “Brain damage?”
“I don’t think so.” Bones shakes his head. “And it’s good news. It means his Vulcan mind had probably come up with some kind of defensive mechanism and the memories aren’t eliminated; just suppressed.”
“Is there anything you can do to make him remember?”
McCoy’s face darkens, and he looks at Jim gravely. “No. Even with a human brain there are no certain methods for this, and messing with a Vulcan one is never a good idea.”
Jim feels his frustration well up. “So we just… What? Sit on our butts and wait for him to remember?”
“Vulcan minds have incredible capacity for self-healing.”
“He had a year to remember,” Jim mutters bitterly. “He didn’t.”
“He still had that implant in his head,” McCoy reminds him. “Besides, I’m starting to think it’s a good thing.”
Jim stills. “What do you mean?”
McCoy cringes. “Jim. You saw that tape. You remember what they did to him, and what we saw was probably only a glimpse.”
Bones pauses, as if expecting a reaction. Jim is stubbornly silent.
“You know Spock; you know he’s not a doll. He’s been through hell and then some, and he always bounced back. If his mind chose to wipe itself clean this time, they obviously subjected Spock to something that even he couldn’t handle.” McCoy shakes his head angrily. “Brainwashed him, probably; screwed his entire mental system. As long as he doesn’t remember it, he doesn’t have to deal with what I’m sure was a horrible experience.”
McCoy steps closer, leaning toward Jim. “You know Vulcans and their mind powers. This was probably the last resort to save him from clinical insanity. Jim. If those memories resurface, I don’t know” – Bones swallows – “I don’t know if Spock can survive that.”
Jim closes his eyes. “He’ll bounce back.”
“He might not have that option.”
“Then the Spock we know is gone.”
“Jim.” Bones stares at him. “Just this morning he called me illogically emotional to my face and looked so smug about it that I wanted to slap him.” Jim looks up at him in time to see McCoy’s features soften. “He’s still there, Jim. The Spock we know is there; his personality is intact. He isn’t aware of it, but he’s still the same person. And he—”
“Don’t say he needs me,” Jim snaps.
“I won’t. You know he does. Just as you need him.”
“No.” Jim shakes his head resolutely. “No, Bones. He’s not my Spock; not anymore. And if he wasn’t mine in the first place” – his voice fell down to a whisper – “none of this would have happened. They wouldn’t have taken him if he wasn’t mine.”
“Jim, you can’t blame yourself for this.”
“I’m not,” Jim says quietly. “It’s not about blame, Bones. It’s about truth.”
Jim knows that, much as he might want to, Bones can’t come up with a reply.
Spock is released from Med Bay and Jim starts running into him all over the ship. It’s disconcerting – he sees Spock walking and talking to people; taking meals in the mess; studying something. Spock never gives him any grief – only nods politely at Jim, never initiating a conversation. Jim watches him with masochistic reverence and sometimes catches Spock watching him in turn.
“Captain, may I talk to you?” Lieutenant Palamas, chief science officer since Spock’s abduction, is standing at his elbow, looking at Jim with respectful alertness.
“Of course, Lieutenant.” Jim smiles at her. “What can I do for you?”
“I would like to ask your permission for Mr. Spock to join my staff.”
Jim blinks. He probably should have expected this, but somehow he totally wasn’t.
“As what?” he asks, not particularly smartly.
“As a science officer,” Carolyn Palamas replies smoothly, seemingly oblivious to his surprise. “Mr. Spock is one of the leading Federation scientists and, despite his memory loss, his expertise remains significant.” She looks at Jim calmly, with a patient air of a parent explaining a calculus problem to a child. “I have spoken with Doctor McCoy, and he says he doesn’t see any reasons against it, provided Mr. Spock works under supervision.”
Jim swallows. Trust Bones to ambush him like that.
“I have also spoken with Starfleet Sciences,” Palamas goes on, before Jim can come up with a counterargument. “They raised no objections if it is agreeable with Mr. Spock himself.”
“And what did he say?” Jim asks, his throat suddenly dry.
Palamas blinks, looking both surprised and cautious. “I haven’t asked him, sir. I didn’t wish to offer him a position without obtaining your permission.”
Jim nods, feeling suddenly like a complete bastard. Of course she didn’t want to get Spock’s hopes high when her mean captain could take it away afterwards. He isn’t blind, after all: the whole crew, particularly the senior staff, has been treating Spock like their favorite brother who was missing for a while and had returned home. They tell him stories and answer his questions; they bring him meals and smile at him; they touch him constantly, as if trying to reassure themselves of his presence.
Spock smiles shyly and doesn’t pull away.
His natural Vulcan reserve is still there, but years of imposed inhibitions are gone from his memory, and he reacts much more openly than any of them have ever seen him. The first time Jim caught sight of Spock’s smile, he felt like he was shot through his gut. Spock intercepted his glare and his smile was gone on the spot, and Jim’s self-loathing reached a whole new level.
They tag-team Spock. Chekov plays chess with him; Sulu drags him down to the botany lab; Scotty practically papers him with blueprints; Uhura hugs him frequently like she can’t help herself, and Spock only hesitates for a moment before hugging her back. Even Bones is game, having lunch with Spock almost daily. Jim is the only one who won’t give Spock time of the day – not that Spock is asking.
Palamas is still looking at him expectantly, and Jim shrugs.
“Won’t it be awkward for you?” he asks, suddenly more curious than averse. “To boss him around after he was your commanding officer?”
She smiles, and Jim totally gets Scotty’s fascination with the woman right there and then.
“Captain,” Palamas says, leaning toward him slightly. “When I came aboard, I thought that Commander Spock was a demanding and soulless ass of an officer who didn’t know what scientific passion is. But he was my teacher, my mentor, and I don’t know anyone who would be that patient or that generous. He made me a better scientist – he fought me to make me a better scientist. If I get the chance to work with him again, I’ll take it in any capacity. And when he’s ready to reclaim his position, I’ll be the one cheering the loudest in the front row.”
Jim blinks while she stares at him, serene and confident. For a moment, he can see an imprint of Spock in her, and it leaves him breathless.
“Permission granted,” he manages.
Palamas’ smile is less about relief and more about approval. “Thank you, Captain.”
Jim looks after her numbly, his head buzzing, heart pounding erratically in his chest. For some unfathomable reason, he feels as if he has just signed his own death warrant.
It bugs him that he can still pick out Spock’s quiet voice in a crowded room when everybody’s talking, because really, that’s just unfair. It’s been two weeks since Jim stopped flinching upon seeing Spock on the bridge; another week since Spock’s signature under an update from the science department put Jim into a stupor. He’s been handling it well, goddamn it. This is just plain wrong.
He walks across the rec room before he really knows it. Both Spock and Chekov look up at him from their game, and Jim feels like a complete idiot because he has no idea what to say.
“Captain,” Spock says. Polite, civilized precision, and Jim hates him for it like all hell. “Is there anything you require?”
Jim stares at him. Is that a dismissal? From Spock? Shit; Jim has probably earned it for the weeks of avoidance.
“No,” Jim says, fumbling for some kind of intelligently worded inspiration. “No, I just... I’m—”
“Would you care to join us?”
Jim blinks. Spock’s eyes are warm. Different somehow, but warm.
“Maybe you could save my game for me?” Chekov quips, getting to his feet and gesturing at the board innocently. “Mr. Spock says it is unsalvageable, but I have faith in you, Keptin.”
Jim grins automatically. “Thanks, Chekov.”
“Good luck, sir.”
Jim nods at the fleeting hand on his shoulder. He knows it’s not about chess but can’t really spare a glance at Chekov.
He slides into the seat opposite from Spock and takes in the board. Spock doesn’t comment on the abrupt change of his chess partner, and they’re still silent by the time Jim makes the first move.
“Mr. Chekov has informed me that you and I played each other often,” Spock remarks neutrally while taking Jim’s pawn.
“Yes,” Jim says, contemplating his next move. “We did.”
“Did you manage to be victorious?”
That makes Jim glance at Spock sharply over the board. He’s swayed by the sudden sense of déjà vu: the damn Vulcan is teasing him.
“I was often victorious,” Jim tells him, grinning despite himself. “On your lucky days.”
Spock lifts an eyebrow. “What happened on my unlucky days?”
Jim smirks. “I beat the pants off you.”
“I presume your meaning is figurative?” Spock specifies casually. “I cannot imagine crew morale withstanding the literal sense.”
Jim laughs out loud before he knows it. “I wouldn’t be so sure, Mr. Spock,” he teases, meeting Spock’s eyes finally. It only hurts a bit. “For all I know, it could raise the spirits around here.”
“Indeed,” Spock drawls, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Not this time, I’m afraid.” He moves his rook to the upper level. “Checkmate.”
Jim shakes his head, grinning. “It wasn’t my game. Want to start over?”
Spock gives him a hesitant smile that makes Jim’s heart race. “It would be my pleasure, Captain.”
They reset the board. Jim ignores the way his hands are shaking; Spock doesn’t comment, though he must have noticed. Instead, halfway through the match, he starts telling Jim about an experiment he’s currently running and the way Spock thinks it might affect future starship designs. Jim listens, grateful for the work-related conversation to be pulling him through this, and he’s not at all upset when Spock beats him the second time around. With the way his concentration is slipping, Jim is surprised he still remembers how the pieces move.
“We should— well…” Jim exhales, trying to collect himself. We should do this again sometime.” He stands up to go.
Spock inclines his head politely. “I would be pleased to have another game whenever you are available.”
“Same time tomorrow?”
“I am free.”
“Great. See you then.”
He’s already taken several steps toward the exit when he hears Spock speak again, quietly.
Jim freezes. He turns around slowly, not knowing if he can face it. Spock is looking at him oddly.
Spock shakes his head. “I apologize; I do not have an inquiry. I was merely... wondering if the privilege of using your first name was still mine.”
Jim doesn’t even blink, and his tone is so firm when he speaks it could bend steel.
Spock relaxes visibly and Jim immediately hates himself so much more, because he should have been there for Spock all those weeks, and he wasn’t.
“I’ll see you,” he says vaguely and leaves, fighting the urge to smack his head against the nearest bulkhead.
“I understand we did not always see eye to eye,” Spock remarks mildly.
Jim glances sideways at him. The two of them are working on the Observation deck, fixing one of the sensor arrays for Stellar Cartography. Spock self-imposes the task onto himself, as he is sometimes wont to do. When Jim tracks him down, he stays to help.
“You could say that,” Jim offers with a hint of a smile. “The first time I saw you, I wanted to kill you and watch you suffer.”
Spock looks up at him from where his hands are working on the conduit.
“Did I warrant such a ferocious response?”
“Oh, yeah.” Jim smirks. “Though not as much as I did yours.”
Spock gives him an eyebrow. It’s disconcerting how much this simple motion still affects Jim.
“I was – angry? With you?”
“You were murderous. Of course, you’re a Vulcan, so you hid it much better than me.” Jim leans closer to the wiring, trying to single out the one he needs. “Then you were horribly pissed with me, and I was awfully mean to you, and then we were working together.”
“Fascinating.” Spock leans toward the mechanism as well, and suddenly his eyes are level with Jim’s – so very close.
“Yeah.” Jim swallows. “Pretty amazing.”
He flees the room shortly afterwards, trying to outrun the mad drumbeat of his blood.
The music is beautiful.
“Must be the muscle memory,” Sulu says, brushing Jim’s shoulder lightly with his own.
Jim acknowledges him with a slight nod, but doesn’t take his eyes off the corner where Spock’s playing his lyre.
“Do you know what piece that is?”
Jim hasn’t been paying attention to the contents of the concerto and frowns slightly in concentration.
“It’s Serel’s interpretation of the Paganini theme,” he says after a few moments. “Spock liked – likes it. Used to be… my favorite.”
Sulu pats his arm and doesn’t comment. Jim watches Spock finish the piece and nod to a small audience that has gathered around him.
Uhura lays her hands on his shoulders and compliments his performance. Jim reads Spock’s lips as he says ‘Thank you,’ and there’s so much genuine wonder in his expression, as if he can’t quite believe it himself. Uhura leans closer and kisses Spock’s cheek. Spock blushes slightly and holds her hand for a moment.
Jim turns to leave. He can praise Spock’s playing some other time.
“Jim,” Sulu says softly. Jim looks at him. “You know she’d never do that to you, right? Either of you?”
Jim purses his lips, glancing briefly at where Spock is collecting his things with Uhura’s help. Jim suppresses a sigh and shakes his head at his first.
“I don’t think it’s her choice, Sulu – just as it’s not mine.”
He leaves, and this time nobody stops him, but he can still feel Spock’s gaze following him out.
A tray of food is set on the desk in front of him. Jim studies its contents, then lifts up his gaze incredulously.
“Since when do you eat meat?”
Spock seems nonchalant. “It is for you. Doctor McCoy alerted me that you have not been eating regularly lately—”
“He would,” Jim grunts.
“—and recruited me to supervise the correction of this ‘disorder.’”
“Disorder?” Jim grins disbelievingly. “Really, Spock?” Spock gives him an eyebrow. Jim waves him off. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I am aware,” Spock says calmly, folding himself into a chair opposite Jim. He picks up a steaming cup from the tray, and it’s only then that Jim notices there are two of them.
“I will confess that I had an ulterior motive,” Spock says evenly.
Spock shows him the PADD he’s been holding. “I wished to discuss the new resources distribution.”
Jim groans, picking up his fork. “Palamas sent you, didn’t she? That woman plays dirty.”
Spock stares at him unrepentantly. “You have rescheduled your meetings with her five times, Captain.”
“So she sent you and you brought food and now I’m gonna have to listen to how the science department feels they are the ship’s least wanted people because I didn’t give them enough funding to buy a fancy new microscope?”
“Because that makes so much of a difference.”
“It does for us, Captain.”
Jim sighs and pokes at something on his plate. “What’s this? It looks really weird.”
“Artificial meat supplement number twenty-four.”
Jim drops his fork in disgust. “Then it’s not real meat?”
“I replicated it.”
“Why? What happened to the galley?”
“It has been quarantined by Doctor McCoy due to the contamination caused by a stock of bacteria inhabiting the food supplies we uploaded at Starbase 21. The biofilters have not caught it because they are not equipped with the new set of features designed specifically for this purpose, which the new analyzing unit could provide.”
Jim stares at Spock for a moment, then presses his fingers to the bridge of his nose. “I kind of hate you right now.”
Spock lifts an eyebrow silently and hands him the PADD. Jim signs it with another groan, pushing it back to Spock sulkily.
“No one could ever corner me the way you do,” he grumbles. “Moments like this make me wish you’d never come back.”
Spock’s hand drops down slightly as he takes the PADD back, and Jim freezes. Shit.
“Spock, I didn’t mean that,” he pleads, searching the Vulcan’s features frantically. “It was a stupid thing to say, really, I—”
Spock composes himself quickly. “I understand, Captain,” he says quietly. “Please, excuse me.”
“Sure,” Jim mutters weakly, watching him go. “Sure, Spock.”
It’s for the best, he tells himself. For the best. Talk about Freudian slips. It’s better if Spock keeps his distance. Jim gravitates toward him whenever they’re in the same room, and he can’t let that happen. Not again, oh dear God, please not again. Besides, it’s not like Spock wants him. If he did, Jim would know. Spock has never been shy before.
With a resigned groan, Jim pushes the plate away.
When Uhura corners him, Jim raises his hands defensively.
“Please tell me we’re not having this conversation.”
She ignores his plea in favor of incinerating him with her eyes. The woman is a menace.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
“You remember you’re talking to your commanding officer, right?”
“Shut up, Jim.”
“I’m just saying. Court-martial and everything.”
“I said, shut up! How can you do this to him?” she hisses. “His whole world is gone, and the best you can do is keeping him at arm’s length and tell him you’re sorry he’s back? You’re supposed to be his friend, if nothing else – what on Earth is wrong with you?”
“He’s not all that keen for my company, in case you haven’t noticed!”
“Gee, I wonder why, Jim? Maybe if you’d shown you care the tiniest bit, he wouldn’t be so miserable now!”
She jerks her hands up in disgust. “I’m done talking to you.”
Jim is on the verge of giving up, too, but he calls out nonetheless, desperate for some kind of acceptance at least, if not redemption.
“Uhura.” Reluctantly, she turns around, waiting. He pleads with her – he needs someone, anyone to understand. “I can’t do this again. I can’t.”
She purses her lips, something profound shifting in her eyes as she looks at him.
“He’s alone, Jim,” she says at last. “And you are – you’re punishing him for not being there. He couldn’t help it.”
“I know.” Jim swallows. “It’s just that... neither can I.”
“Has it ever occurred to you that if I die an alcoholic, it’d be your fault?”
Bones looks at him over the rim of his glass, unimpressed. “That’s supposed to be my line to you.”
Jim cringes, gulping the liquid as it burns down his throat. “This stuff is foul.”
“Yet you blackmailed me into sharing.”
“Bones... Am I being an asshole?”
“Jim.” McCoy sighs.
“Maybe you should seduce me,” Jim murmurs, his head rolling precariously close to the bed’s edge.
McCoy snorts. “Sure, ‘cause that would really lighten the mood around here.”
Jim props himself up on his elbows and pouts. McCoy shakes his head. “Not convincing. You’re losing your touch.”
“I lost it a long time ago,” Jim says flatly.
McCoy drinks down his glass and refills it, leaving Jim’s empty. They’re silent for a while.
“I never thought it would happen to me, you know?” Jim says finally. “Not then and not now.”
“Some people would envy you.”
“Some people are idiots.”
“Spoken by the one who should know.”
Jim glares at him, but the angle is wrong, so he picks himself up before he slides of the bed headfirst.
“I hate him. I hate myself. I wish this had never happened.”
“You’re drunk, Jim.” McCoy sighs. “And that’s the only truth around here.”
Jim looks at him bleakly, seconds from passing out. “Yeah; I guess it is.”
“Enter,” Spock’s voice calls, and the door slides open.
“Hi,” Jim says, stepping into the room. “How’s it going?”
Spock glances back at the disassembled pieces of equipment splayed all over his desk. “I am progressing at a slower rate than I have anticipated,” he admits. “However, it is too early to predict a failure.”
“No, never that.” Jim grins, walking toward him. “Though you do know that if you can’t make this piece of space junk work, it’s not your fault, right?”
“Indeed.” Spock nods. “I am most curious about it, however.”
“Maybe I could lend you a hand?”
Spock looks at him briefly and then shifts slightly to the side. “Thank you, Captain. I have heard you are most adept with ancient mechanical devices.”
Jim grins, pulling up a guest chair and sitting down next to Spock. “Flattery will get you nowhere, Commander,” he teases, reaching for a microspanner.
“And yet here you are, assisting me.”
Jim laughs. “Got me there.” Their elbows brush, and Jim forces himself to stay calm. “Is that a concluded chain?”
“Affirmative. I am attempting to connect it with this processor here—”
“Yeah, I see it. Let me adjust this first.”
Minutes tickle by without either of them noticing. Well, Jim’s pretty sure Spock’s time sense is as accurate as ever, but he seems to be as absorbed in putting together this puzzle as Jim is. There’s a soft gleam in Spock’s eyes when Jim finally lifts his head to look at him, grinning.
“A child’s toy. Fascinating.”
Jim’s grin widens. “Of all the things we could pick up...”
Spock turns to him, eyebrow raised. “Would you like to keep it?”
“Hey!” Jim punches his shoulder and forgets to take his hand off. “I don’t see why you get to tease me – you couldn’t tell what it was, either.”
“I was not teasing you, Captain. That was a serious question.”
Jim chuckles, but the atmosphere has already shifted. His eyes are drawn to Spock’s of their own volition, and he can’t move. It’s suddenly overwhelming, being in Spock’s presence, being in his space, breathing in his air. Jim’s mind screams at him to run, telling him it was a stupid idea to stay alone with Spock, but the thoughts are fading.
All Jim can think about are Spock’s lips, so close it hurts, so damn close that Jim simply can’t stand it. He leans in and captures them, greedy and wary, drinking in the feel of Spock, craving every fleeting second of contact, like a man dying of thirst craves water. Spock’s lips are soft and pliant under his, and there isn’t even some token resistance or surprise before he opens his mouth agreeably to let Jim in.
Jim tears himself away with a groan loud enough to spook lab mice two decks below, and so desperate that it frightens him.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, dazed and bleeding because some wounds never heal. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, Spock, I’m...”
He gets to his feet shakily and staggers away, apologies seeping from his lips like rain. He takes precisely two steps when Spock catches his wrist, halting him.
Jim stills, closing his eyes and praying for the deck to swallow him.
“Doctor McCoy told me about our relationship.”
Jim’s heart stops – then comes back with a vengeance. He turns around very slowly.
“He did, did he?” Jim asks, his insides going numb. “It wasn’t his place.”
“Jim.” Spock speaks softly, still holding Jim’s wrist as he rises to his feet as well. “He did not tell me anything that others had not told me before.”
“Great. I have a crew that can’t keep a fucking secret.”
“They did not tell me anything that I had not previously assumed on my own, Jim.” Spock’s voice becomes unbearably kind. “I asked questions. They could not lie to me.”
Jim’s pulse picks up a notch. “Then...”
“I did not speak of it to you,” Spock continues, “because I assumed that since you had not, my current condition must be displeasing to you, and despite our previous relationship, you now find me undesirable.”
His calm, matter-of-fact tone as he says it cuts right through Jim, and he jerks his hand free to grab Spock’s face between his hands, pulling him closer none too gently.
“There’s nothing displeasing about you being alive!” Jim yells in Spock’s face. “Do you know how many nights I spent praying like a little kid to any deity who’d listen, promising them my eternal worship if they could give you back to me in any way they could? I prayed like a weak-minded idiot that they’d give you back to me, without an arm or a leg or hell knows what else, but alive, alive, because I love you so much – I couldn’t fucking live, not without you!” He sucks air in unsteadily. “I’d have taken you any way I could, any way at all, and if you think that I find you undesirable—”
Spock knocks Jim’s hands away and grabs him, bringing their mouths together roughly and cutting Jim off mid-shout. Jim tries to resist at first, but Spock holds him in a vice-like grip, crushing Jim against himself and kissing him with searing intent, as if he wants to physically chase away the pain and grief out of Jim’s body.
Finally Jim whimpers, surrendering; his arms fly up to wrap around Spock and he lets his head fall back slightly, allowing himself to drown in the kiss – it seems to be miraculously resurrecting him from whatever dark place he’d locked himself in.
“I don’t want to need you anymore,” Jim whispers hoarsely, even as Spock’s hands start to divest him of his clothes. “Don’t you understand? I don’t want to... Not again...”
“Shh,” Spock soothes, gentle and certain, lifting Jim up as if he weighs nothing and depositing him on the bed. “It is all right, Jim; it is all right.”
It’s more than all right, and Jim’s mind refuses to take it. He’s painfully hard in seconds within Spock finishing undressing him, and his arousal takes him by surprise almost as much as it had the very first time so many, many years ago. But even this thought is fleeting, because all he can concentrate on is Spock – hovering over him, sliding against him, kissing and stroking him in all the right places.
It’s excruciating despite all the pleasure because it means that Spock’s body remembers when Spock himself does not. Spock’s body remembers.
It remembers that Jim likes to be held down, but only if Spock’s holding his eyes. Remembers that Jim likes his nipples being played with. Remembers that Jim goes wild when Spock licks and nibbles up his inner thighs. It remembers everything – how much time Jim needs to be prepared; how he likes it best. It remembers that Jim loves being opened a little more than he seems to be comfortable with. Remembers that there is that special place on Spock’s back where Jim’s hands go, and Spock always flexes his spine just a little to accommodate him. It’s like Jim slipped into one of his own memories, back in the day when Spock was gone forever, and it’s just this side of cruel to be reliving it like this, reminding himself to cling to the reality of it, tooth and nail, or else the spell would be broken.
It’s been too long, though, way too long, and while Spock’s control over his body might still be mostly intact, Jim’s definitely isn’t. He comes the moment Spock enters him, spilling all over his stomach and chest, incapable of holding anything back. Jim closes his eyes, throwing his head back and shuddering through it, intense pleasure mixed with humiliation and guilt and something else he can’t identify.
It’s a small eternity before Jim realizes that Spock is lying fully on top of him, sheathed deeply in him. Spock is stroking his hair and kissing him, gently, softly, and the angle is wrong, but his lips are tender against Jim’s wet, trembling eyelashes, and he’s warm, so warm all around Jim, and so deliciously hot inside him, throbbing with life-life-life, and Jim aches to kiss him and can’t make his lips comply. Spock senses it, and in an instant he’s kissing Jim’s mouth, opening it delicately, moving carefully but without hesitancy, without doubt. He’s not teasing and not arousing; he’s loving Jim at this moment with every pore of his being.
“Move,” Jim whispers when Spock finally breaks the kiss. Spock holds his eyes and makes to pull away, but Jim has anticipated this and catches Spock firmly, stilling him. “Please. I need to feel you.”
Spock looks at him, eyes unguarded and bare, and the sight is killing Jim. Spock kisses him again, lightly, and starts to move, so slow and even that, at another time, would have been maddening. Jim watches him, watches every motion – every slight crease in Spock’s expression, every feeling flashing in his eyes.
Never breaking eye contact, Jim pulls his knees a little wider apart, and Spock picks up the pace, changing the angle just so, and his body does remember exactly how, and Jim moans in sharp pleasure and disbelief, because spent as he thought he was, he’s becoming hard again.
Spock notices, and uses every dirty trick his subconscious supplies him with to help Jim get there. Jim writhes beneath him, closing his hand around Spock’s wrapped around him. He’s not exactly certain if it’s for guidance or to bat Spock away, but then Spock would hit that spot inside him again and again, and Jim would start to dissolve all anew, forgetting he had any kind of coherent intentions. He’s running way ahead of Spock again, but this time, Spock catches up with him deliberately, because memory loss or no memory loss, he’s a crazy control freak like that.
Except that he isn’t right now, swept up in the power of his release, gripping Jim hard enough to leave bruises, and hissing through gritted teeth, holding back a scream.
Jim knows this is it for him, because he might be captain and all that shit, but he’s only human, and he knows he’ll be asleep within seconds. Spock moves to get up, probably meaning to clean them up, but Jim catches him, pulling back feebly.
“Iduncare,” he mumbles, eyes drooping closed. “Don’t go.”
Spock settles back, without even a sigh, and it’s huge for him, Jim knows, because Spock is neat like a cat and hates being dirty. But Jim rolls onto his side and Spock settles behind him obediently, pulling the covers up. He wraps an arm around Jim’s waist and rests his cheek against the back of Jim’s head, inhaling deeply.
“Love you,” Jim breathes out, more asleep than awake, and finishes his thought in the dreamworld. Don’t ever leave me again.
Spock’s arm tightens around him in response.
Jim is basking in brazen bliss. If they aren’t late for work the following week, it’s only due to Spock’s steely resolve. Jim wants to lock the doors and hold Spock hostage inside for the rest of his life. He’s been avoiding falling back into this for so long, but now he seems unable to let go.
He’s oblivious to the crew’s knowing smiles; to pretty much anything, actually. He’s high twenty-four hours a day. Spock indulges him, and Jim knows that. Jim absolutely can’t help himself whenever he sees Spock, and the Vulcan, who has never been fond of any public displays, doesn’t push him away.
Retrospectively, Jim thinks he should have known then that they were doomed.
Day four – he counts them – is the first time Jim’s lucid enough to actually think. They leave the mess and Jim reaches for Spock’s hand unthinkingly, grabbing hold of it and twining their fingers together. There’s a split second delay, and then Spock responds in kind. Jim grins, thinking how the old Spock would never do that, and then they part ways and Jim’s grin fades.
The old Spock would never do that.
Spock used to be fiercely protective of the two of them, guarding their privacy, guarding them from the world with devotion of a zealot. Spock used to keep them close to his heart, used to shield them adamantly, used to beg Jim silently to do the same (though he’d never admit it), because they were precious. They were a candle on the windowsill, with only their hands to shelter the flame from the vicious winds. Spock cared about that flame. And now...
Now, he doesn’t seem to care.
He responds to Jim; that much is true. He allows the smiles, and the touches, and the holding, without any regard if they are in public, but somehow it’s on the wrong side of casual. And if it wasn’t for the raging storm of emotions pouring over Jim when they make love, if it wasn’t for the fact that Spock’s telepathy is so screwed right now that he can’t control the backlash, exposing Jim to his feelings at the height of passion, Jim would have thought he’s forcing Spock into something he’s not ready for. Something Spock doesn’t want.
Day five. Night five. Jim wakes up in the middle of the night to an empty bed. Jim jumps to his feet, heart racing, only to find Spock kneeling in front of the viewport. His panic receding, Jim pads toward him, hands shaking and a trembling smile on his lips.
Spock winces lightly, and Jim doesn’t like it. He could never catch Spock off guard before.
“Go back to sleep, Jim,” Spock tells him softly. “It is very early.”
“Yeah, I know.” Jim lays a hand on Spock’s shoulder. A moment later, Spock covers it with his own. “Everything all right?”
“Yes,” Spock says, with a pause that doesn’t go unnoticed. “Yes; I just need a moment.”
Jim leans over and kisses his temple. “Take your time.”
But he doesn’t fall asleep again, listening instead to the sounds the ship is making. Spock sighs audibly and climbs back into bed, as if he can feel Jim’s restlessness somehow. Jim rolls toward him immediately and wraps himself around Spock tightly, holding onto him for dear life.
“Don’t leave me.” A whispered kiss, pressed to his collarbone. “Won’t let you.”
Spock’s hands slide up and down Jim’s back, mingle in his hair. Jim lifts his head and Spock kisses him, slow and reassuring, and Jim groans because he senses a desperate note to Spock’s tenderness – not quite an apology and not yet a goodbye.
“Jim...” Spock pleads, his motions becoming unsteady. “Jim—”
Jim shudders at the mixture of longing-pain-fear in that plea. And then Spock whispers, voice shattered and raw. “It’s not me, Jim...” he mourns. “I want...”
I do, too, Jim thinks, choking back angry tears. I want to kill the bastards who did this to you. Want to kill myself for putting you through this again. Want to kiss it better so much you wouldn’t believe, but I can’t – I can’t, Spock, and I’m so sorry...
He doesn’t say any of it. Instead he goes with, “I’ve got you” – a strangled promise while Jim’s fighting to stay strong, melting around Spock, sinking into him, through him, reaching for his very core. “I’ve got you, Spock. I – oh...”
He falls asleep some time later, stubbornly refusing to let go.
Day seven is officially the day Spock starts to disappear.
Jim doesn’t want to be paranoid, but he can’t quite help it when Spock is nowhere to be seen for hours at a time. He feigns ignorance when Jim asks him, and Jim is almost afraid to push it. More and more often, he wakes up to find Spock sitting in front of the viewport. Jim feels sick when he sees Spock there, immobile and indifferent. Jim doesn’t say anything, but he’s becoming consistently sleep-deprived, staying awake during those strange vigils.
Sometimes Spock cuddles him afterward; sometimes offers a few words. On rare times when Jim actually falls asleep, Spock wakes him up wordlessly and makes love to him either so fiercely that Jim doubts his ability to walk the next day or so slowly and tenderly that Jim wants to cry.
Each time feels like the last time.
Jim is afraid to fall asleep. His arms and legs hurt in the morning, the dull pain of tired muscles, because he’s scared that if he lets go of Spock, even for a moment, he’ll never see him again. Sometimes Jim asks himself if Spock’s return has been a fluke of his imagination. There are moments when Jim is terrified but almost completely convinced that he’s been long secluded in a mental institution and everything he’s seeing are hallucinations of the Count of Monte Cristo, who’s had too much hashish in his cave, dreaming of revenge.
Most days, though, his sense of reality is painfully sharp, and Jim just feels he’s walking on a bow string stretched above the abyss. When it starts to sing in a warning of its coming fate, Jim isn’t at all surprised.
Spock disappears again, and when Bones calls Jim to Med Bay, he already knows what it’s about. He just doesn’t know how bad it is.
Spock is unconscious. Jim watches through the glass: Nurse Chapel hovering over him, adjusting the equipment. McCoy clutches Jim’s elbow tightly, and Jim wants to curse.
“He’s been having headaches,” Bones says. He sounds world-weary, and Jim realizes he’s not the only one who’s been lacking sleep thanks to Spock lately.
“Headaches,” Jim repeats numbly.
“Yeah. Vulcans – Vulcans usually don’t. He couldn’t meditate, and it’s messing up his biochemistry. And it’s progressing.”
“You’re not gonna like it,” Bones warns. Jim only tilts his head impatiently. “His memories are resurfacing. He’s struggling to keep them back. It’s killing him.”
“Didn’t you say it’ll kill him if he remembers?”
“I said I didn’t know what would happen if he remembers. But if he doesn’t, it’ll kill him for sure. Vulcans – they really don’t like when something’s out of order in their minds.” McCoy looks at him, eyes despairing. “We’re out of time, Jim.”
Jim ponders this in silence, biting his lip ferociously and staring at Spock’s blank face.
“Why now?” Jim asks at last.
McCoy sighs. “You remember I said his amnesia was functional? Self-induced?”
“His mind reacted to a violent, threatening situation by blocking out his memory. Now that he feels safe enough and it’s seeped into his subconscious, his mind feels it’s safe to let go again.”
“But why now? He’s been on the ship for four months. That wasn’t safe?”
McCoy rubs at his forehead tiredly. “He hasn’t been with you.”
Jim can’t help a strangled laugh. It sounds on the wrong side of hysteria.
“You mean that if I didn’t sleep with him – if I didn’t go back to what we had – it never would have happened, and he wouldn’t have to go through this?”
“He’d still be half the man he used to be,” McCoy snaps irritably. “You can’t blame this one on yourself, Jim.”
“I can try.”
“I make him feel safe – and that’s killing him?”
“I didn’t say it’s his memories that are killing him – only his resistance.”
“He doesn’t want to remember,” Jim whispers abruptly.
“He doesn’t know what he had before any of this. He doesn’t want to lose what he has now. I think...” McCoy hesitates. “I think he’s scared.”
Jim closes his eyes. Twelve days. He screwed this up in twelve days. Spock was happy twelve days ago. Spock didn’t have to choose between remembering hell and dying twelve days ago. Spock was safe...
“If I—” Jim pauses, forcing the words out. “If I step back, Bones... If I leave him be, will he go back to being all right?”
McCoy looks at him, then looks away, his face unreadable. “It’s too little too late, Jim.”
Jim lets out a breath of laughter, hollow and bitter and not just a touch mad. “It was too little too late the day we met, Bones.” He presses his forehead against the glass. “It’s always too little too late for us. Always.” He bites his lip, hard. “It’s not fair.”
The silence behind his back is strained and torturing, and Jim wants to break it, wants to yell: ‘What kind of love is this?’ because seriously, what in fucking hell?
But he doesn’t. He tastes his own blood and says nothing.
“Jim, I wouldn’t ask—”
Jim straightens up. “You need me to talk to him? I’ll talk to him.”
“Jim.” Bones catches his arm as Jim turns to go. “His feelings, right now... They’re real.”
“I know,” Jim says flatly, because if their feelings weren’t real, they never would have ended up in this twisted, fucked-up universe of disaster in the first place.
Spock looks at him with an air of betrayal, like a homeless man who’s been denied shelter on a stormy night.
“Jim, I cannot do this. Please do not make me.”
Jim grits his teeth. “You have to. You’ll die if you don’t let yourself remember.”
“What if I cannot live with what I will remember?”
Jim tries to meet Spock’s eyes and finds, to his despair, that he can’t. “Jesus,” he breathes, looking away. “Don’t do this to me.”
Spock is silent for a while, staring into space.
“I have nothing,” he says finally, his voice even. Defeated. “This is not a life, but an illusion, and I tried to make myself believe, and now...”
“Hey – I’m no illusion.”
Spock glances at him and shakes his head, his lips pursed. “You did not want this.”
“Of course I wanted this!”
“No, Jim.” Spock fixes him with his eyes and still Jim fights to hold his gaze. “Your thoughts... You are – you were in love with him. I am not him. I could never be again, even if I do remember. There is no coming back.”
“There’s no ‘him,’” Jim snaps impatiently. “There’s only you. I don’t care if my thoughts are all screwed backwards – you can’t honestly think I’m that petty!”
“Then why do you insist that I do this?”
“Because I can’t watch you die!” Jim snarls, his chest heaving as words burn his throat. “Tell me I’m selfish now, tell me I just want to get rid of you, and I just might break your neck!”
Spock stares at him, looking hurt and defenseless, and suddenly Jim isn’t angry anymore. He just wants to hold Spock and never let him go.
Spock bows his head and wraps his arms around himself unconsciously. The gesture is a painful reminder of the difference, and Jim’s heart sinks, because he has never seen Spock be so vulnerable and so candid about it.
“Hey.” Jim walks toward Spock and grips his shoulders. “My Spock was not afraid of anything.”
“I am not him,” Spock says flatly. He pauses and looks up at Jim. “But I am yours.”
Jim wavers. He’s been longing to hear that for so long. Now that he finally does, he can’t take it. There is so much grief in Spock’s eyes – grief over their short-lived romance, over the beauty that was them, together, and that will soon be over; already sentenced, awaiting the execution.
“Please, Jim,” Spock whispers.
Jim knows he’s not doing himself any favors, knows he’s going to regret it, knows that it will only hurt more this way, but Spock’s expression is unbearable and Jim gives in to his own weakness as he murmurs, “Three more nights.”
Does believing in fairytale endings make him any more of an idiot?
Spock wilts against him and Jim pulls him in close, pressing their foreheads together.
“Three nights,” Spock repeats, words ghosting over Jim’s lips.
Jim groans, cupping Spock’s face and kissing him, hard, deep, and desperate, and he knows at that moment that this is the end.
They don’t last three nights.
Jim doesn’t remember it very well. He’d like to think he’s invoked his own form of amnesia to escape from the memories, but the truth is, he’s simply exhausted when the moment comes and doesn’t respond much to anything. He remembers Spock going rigid in his arms; remembers the chill that comes in lieu of bone-melting warmth; remembers Spock’s haunted, empty eyes as he steps away from Jim.
Spock remembers everything. He speaks in a horrible, hollow voice Jim has never heard before, saying something about being lost, and depleted, and needing to rebuild himself. Jim doesn’t listen because the words don’t matter. Each of them has exactly the same meaning: ‘It’s over.’ In his mind: overoverover...
He reaches instinctively to kiss Spock one last time, and Spock steps back, one arm raised defensively, back painfully straight.
“Please, Spock,” Jim begs, eyes glued to Spock’s lips, not daring lifting to his eyes.
Spock swallows and manages a hoarse, “Goodbye, Jim.”
He walks out of the room without a backward glance.
And when Jim finally emerges out of his quarters in the morning, Spock is no longer on board the Enterprise.
Shouldn’t it be easier? Jim wonders some weeks later, drifting on the waves of his exhaustion. Empty room; empty bed; empty space for one more person beside him. Shouldn’t it be easier, knowing that Spock isn’t dead this time? Shouldn’t it?
Uhura’s mad and Jim can’t even begin to explain it to her. How he wouldn’t stand in Spock’s way, and how he was only making things worse. Jim tries, though. ‘He’ll be safer without me’ isn’t really a hit with her.
All right, he really doesn’t that much, but Bones tells him he’s doing fine. Jim tries to act like he cares, but it’s difficult to remember exactly what it should look like. Uhura berates him for allowing Bones to drink himself into oblivion, but Jim only shrugs. There’s enough guilt to spread around for him to feel greedy. If Bones wants some, he can have it.
Jim calls himself a bad luck charm and tries to rid the ship of it at every opportunity - not that those are ever hard to come by. The universe, though, seems determined to keep him alive out of spite, and it amuses Jim. Mildly. He can’t really laugh anymore, but he can appreciate the irony.
Fifteen days. That’s the overall count. He and Spock had fifteen days and not an hour longer. There are days when Jim wants to smash his head for his stupid game of avoidance and all the time he lost; days when he wishes he’d never give in. Spock was fire and Jim kept playing with fire, and it kept burning him until he turned into ashes. His body seems to be willing to warn everyone of his contagious brand of stupidity. He looks exhausted when he’s at his best, and his golden hair is silvery white at his temples. Jim thinks it makes him attractive.
Half his senior staff ends up in his bed at one time or another. It’s not pity, exactly – more like they’re splitting the task of pulling him through, relieving each other when it becomes unbearable. Jim neither minds nor cares; they share enough professionalism within their little group to never ask any questions.
Fifteen days. Only fifteen days. Napoleon, at least, had one hundred, and Jim finds some kind of evil solace in this comparison. Sometimes he wants to call Spock and ask if he can see the elegance of fate. Then he remembers he can’t and asks Sulu if renaming the Enterprise to St. Helena would be a good idea. It usually leads to either Jim nearly getting himself killed or Sulu and Scotty getting him sloshed, and it’s a comforting sort of ritual.
Calling Spock is a very bad idea. But Jim is apparently suicidal, because he makes calls about Spock from time to time. Mostly what he hears scares him shitless. Spock seems to be living in a self-made purgatory from which he can’t escape, and Jim asks himself if everything he’s going through can even come close to rivaling Spock’s struggle.
At times like these, Jim knows that his decision to leave Spock alone with his demons was nothing short of cowardice.
Sometimes Jim dreams. They aren’t really nightmares, but he wakes up tangled in sweat-soaked sheets, feeling like he’s just killed someone pathetic and defenseless.
He fixates on the strangest things. The way Spock held his chopsticks and how it was different from the way he held a stylus. The stupid sweater he wouldn’t let Jim burn. The imprint of Spock’s hand on the wall of Jim’s shower stall, still visible somehow, revealed by steam and heat. Jim adopts the weirdest habit of staring at it for hours, thinking of nothing.
He works like nothing else exists.
The admiralty keeps praising their performance and never examines their field reports too closely. Jim’s yeoman installs another section to his wardrobe to keep his medals. Jim tells her to knock it off and to use them as Christmas decorations. The deeply insulted look she gives him makes him feel vaguely ashamed, but he can’t quite figure out why.
On the night when their five-year mission ends, Jim falls asleep curled up against Bones, and if he mumbles Spock’s name in his slumber, Bones never tells him.
10 years later
The bar at Starbase 11 is not the best Jim has ever been to, but it’s not that bad. Jim sits at the bar, nursing his second Cardassian Sunrise, and smiles, contemplating the weirdly fluffy umbrella. A girl’s drink; Uhura has obviously been rubbing off on him. It’s not the best place for his crew to have shore leave, but it’ll do. Too bad it’s almost over. Jim swivels the liquid in his glass, getting ready to leave. That’s when the moment comes.
It’s strange really. Surreal. He’s been dreaming about it, fantasizing, dreading, for so long that somewhere along the way he’s accepted its complete and utter inevitability. It’s not a thrill, most certainly not a surprise. It’s as reliable as sunrise, though no less striking for it.
The Vulcan inclines his head, not surprised at Jim’s lack of surprise. “Captain.”
Jim looks at him smiling. On the surface, Spock has changed little. He’s still lean, black-haired, and fluidly graceful, and his hands are still the most refined things Jim has ever seen. His eyes betray him, though. They look old; ancient really. Much older than Sarek’s; much older than anyone Jim knows. There’s a kind of fatalistic acceptance in them that Jim recognizes instantly. And that, too, is somehow not unexpected.
“You look good,” Jim offers. There’s really no point discussing existential questions between the two of them. Everything had been said or not said a long time ago.
Spock seems to weigh his words, searching for a catch. Not finding any, he nods. “Thank you. You—”
“Don’t bother.” Jim raises his hand with a grin. “I know I’m the most handsome thing this bar has seen in years.”
Spock’s lips twitch. “Indeed.”
Jim contemplates his drink for a moment.
“I heard you got married.”
Spock turns toward him, facing him fully. He’s standing too damn close and looking too damn good. Jim sighs, and feels it’s justified.
“That was... a temporary arrangement,” Spock says, just the hint of an edge to his voice. “It was necessary.”
Jim knows, dimly, what this is about, so he nods and doesn’t ask.
“I have been meaning to talk with you about your next mission,” Spock continues nonchalantly. “A team at the Vulcan Science Academy has entered the final stage of the Phoenix Project.”
“The temporal paradox solver?” Jim smirks knowingly and laughs at Spock’s appalled expression.
It’s oddly delightful how they can talk about trivial things without either of them fainting or exploding. It doesn’t even feel forced.
“Sorry.” Jim wrinkles his nose. “I know it’s a secret.” Spock downgrades his look to merely being affronted, and Jim laughs again. “Damn; I should have realized this earlier. Who else could head the most mysterious project of a century but you?”
“Very perceptive, Captain.” Spock reaches casually toward Jim’s glass. Jim watches as he lifts it off the counter and examines it skeptically.
“Can I buy you a drink?” Jim asks, his grin softer, now.
Spock shakes his head, putting the glass back in front of Jim. His touch is very nearly reluctant. “For the final stage of our experiment,” he says, “we require Starfleet’s assistance: a warp-capable vessel with level sixteen laboratory facilities on board.”
Jim furrows his eyebrows. “I’m pretty sure the Enterprise is the only ship that fits.”
Spock eyes him carefully. “Correct.”
“Well, what’s the problem?”
“I did not wish to request Starfleet’s assistance without clearing it with you first.”
Jim swallows around the sudden lump in his throat. “I see.”
“Admiral Pike has informed me that the Intrepid will be launched approximately one year from now,” Spock tells him. “My team can easily wait this long.” He pauses. “Jim, you do not have to agree to this. I will understand.”
Jim knows his smile is breaking, but he tries anyway. “You’ve been in touch with Pike?”
He didn’t mean for that to sound as an accusation. His tone has gotten away from him.
“You have been in contact with Sarek,” Spock counters gently.
“Yeah, well,” Jim mutters, looking away.
Silence cradles the two of them again, and Jim is seized by a horrible urge to cuff Spock to his wrist.
“As I said,” Spock reminds him quietly, “we can wait.”
Jim turns to look at him. His smile is pained, but he holds it.
“Who am I to stand in the way of science?” He holds Spock’s eyes as well. “The Enterprise is yours, Professor.”
Spock looks at him, seemingly drowning in his gaze, and Jim wishes at least one of them had more self-control. He was really counting on Spock in that area.
“Jim,” Spock says softly. “We do not have to...”
Jim closes his eyes for a moment.
No, they don’t have to. Between saying ‘good morning’ every day and ‘good evening’ every night, and being stuck on the same ship for months, sharing meals, and playing chess, working together… They really don’t have to. It’s not like that thought has worked out so spectacularly well the first two times, and it’s not like it ended in total disaster, is it? What with Jim being in an emotional coma for six years and Spock going through hell knows what all by himself. No shit they didn’t have to.
“No, we don’t,” Jim says.
I don’t. I don’t have to want you. I don’t have to need you. I really don’t have to—
Sliding off his seat, he wraps an arm around Spock’s shoulders, and it still feels infuriatingly, disgustingly right, like it never did with any other person. And Spock, blast him, doesn’t even have the decency to tense, not even for a moment. He relaxes into Jim’s touch, shifting closer.
“You smell good,” Jim murmurs. “I missed you.”
Spock closes his eyes, leaning against him.
“I am sorry, Jim.”
“Yeah,” Jim exhales, nuzzling Spock’s neck. “Yeah. Me too.”
Spock straightens up and pulls away, but it’s a smooth motion not an abrupt jerk, because Spock isn’t uncomfortable or embarrassed by their closeness and doesn’t hide it.
“My transport leaves in fifteen point two minutes.”
Jim grins and nods, letting him go. “I’ll see you on board, then.”
Spock nods in a fair facsimile of a military salute. “Thank you, Captain.”
He turns to go, but after taking a couple of steps, stops, and glances at Jim again.
Then, before Jim knows it, Spock is back, gripping Jim’s arm, tipping his chin up, and the next moment they’re kissing.
Jim doesn’t have to melt into it, doesn’t even want to, but he does nonetheless, pulling Spock close, shifting them into a better position with such an easy familiarity as if their last kiss happened yesterday not ten years ago. It doesn’t feel like it has been ages; it just feels so right, right, and home, and tastes only of the present the way it always has, and it’s so good, so good and oh...
Spock pulls away and his eyes are bright, as he looks at Jim from beneath his eyelashes, flushed and struggling for control.
“Didn’t you say... we didn’t have to?” Jim manages breathlessly, grateful for Spock’s arms keeping him upright.
Spock licks his lips and Jim moans.
“We do not, however... I owed you.”
“Oh,” Jim forces out, trying to straighten up. “And now that your debt is repaid?”
Spock looks at him and Jim looks back, and it’s a second or a century before they’re flush against each other again, kissing like the universe is moments from collapsing, and Jim doesn’t care who watches, and Spock doesn’t either, but this time it’s a good thing, because this time it’s real.
“You’re crazy,” Jim rasps. “Completely insane, Spock, you know that?”
“It – takes one to know one,” Spock counters without missing a beat.
Jim laughs then groans, because Spock looks so decidedly indecent that Jim just might have to kill him. They remain quiet for a few moments, just breathing each other in, and then Jim tilts his head curiously.
“Are you ready for this?”
Spock shakes his head. “No. Nor will I ever be.”
Jim feels a slow, lingering smile crawling onto his lips. “Good. Neither am I.” He kisses the corner of Spock’s mouth softly. “See you on board?”
Spock lets out a sigh of concurrence rather than consent.
Jim smiles at the word, because that’s what they are exactly.
Spock walks away stiffly, as if fighting against a powerful riptide, and Jim doesn’t feel guilty, not one bit, or frightened, even though he should be, but only absurdly, devil-may-care happy.
Like a blessedly mad man.