The light flares up around him.
He throws up his arm against it, shielding his eyes, but it's blue-white and bright even behind his eyelids and he swears he can feel it in his bones. His body is thrumming, vibrating, crumbling into dust from the inside out. The light is a living thing, breathing and expanding, and it crushes him, pressing the air from his lungs—
Jim wakes up gasping, temporarily blind in the shocking darkness of his room.
The light flares every time he blinks.
He avoids Bones as much as he can.
Uninterrupted sleep is a rare thing for him nowadays and he knows that he must look like shit; he can see the concern in Bones' eyes despite the perpetual frown on his face, but he just can't deal with it at the moment—can't deal with the questions, with the check-ups, with the same awed optimism that got him released from hospital within two days of waking up.
He's a picture of perfect fucking health, on the record, because apparently Khan's blood can not only stimulate the regeneration of his own cells, trick his heart into beating again, but can compensate for sleep deprivation, counter the adrenaline constantly coursing through his veins.
Falling asleep isn't his problem. Staying asleep is another story entirely.
The crinkle of splintering glass is loud in the nothingness that surrounds him and it grows until it's a roaring in his ears, unbearable in its intensity, until with a final snap it breaks; and then there is nothing, just a sucking rush of wind and the lightness of space taking him apart—
The Enterprise was nearly destroyed under his command, Jim knows that. Once the clusterfuck of bureaucracy that is the upper echelons of Starfleet command had some clear idea of what had happened, no one exactly blamed him for the state of the ship, but that didn't change the fact that the Enterprise was his.
It doesn't change the fact that she's docked, and probably will be for years. Jim thinks he can do without space, for a bit; and there should be enough paperwork and briefings to keep him busy, but there really aren't: Perks of a Vulcan First Officer and an exceptionally efficient crew. So he goes to what meetings he's required to—hell, he even gets a medal—but he finds himself with a lot of free time on his hands and yet can't bring himself to go to the docks, to personally oversee the repairs: Scotty and Sulu check in with him once a week, and that's good enough for now.
Uhura calls him a few times, starts her messages with "Jim—" but he deletes them before listening to them and feels awful for doing it, knows that she's only trying to help; but her voice loops through his dreams—"Is Commander Spock on board, Sir?" and how can he even answer that, how can he tell her that "No, he's—" and he has to fight down the panic that threatens to overwhelm him, that makes his breath catch in his throat at the very thought.
Aside from these fragmented interactions and the appointments with Bones that he can't get out of, that is all of the contact Jim has with his crew.
Aside from the day he woke up, he hasn't seen Spock outside of official gatherings, hasn't spoken to him once. But sometimes Jim can still feel the thrumming under his skin, cool glass under his fingertips, and he doesn't seek Spock out.
He learns very quickly that he can't get drunk.
It doesn't stop him from trying.
His grip is loosening and he can feel Scotty's fingers slipping through his own, the sweaty slide of skin with no friction to speak of, and he can't look away as Scotty falls, eyes wide with fear, his own hand empty and grasping—
He's asked to speak at Admiral's Pike's memorial service, because of course he is, but the missive is crumpled in his fist before he realizes what he's doing, and he hopes that they'll take his silence for a "No."
Spock speaks instead and Jim watches him from where he's sat in the first row, back ramrod straight and hands clasped loosely behind his back, the picture of professional condolence. It's beautiful, what Spock says, because Spock loved the man in his own way and words…words are something that Spock has never had a problem with.
If Jim didn't know any better, he would say Spock corners him at the reception, but when Jim glances at him, finally allowing Spock to hold his gaze, Spock simply looks at him, head tilted as if confused, and Jim is not the first one to turn away.
(Spock is good with words; except, it seems, where he is concerned).
Pike's chest stills under his hand, his last gasping breath ragged on blood-stained lips—
As it turns out, he's one science experiment after another, because while his body metabolizes alcohol at an inhuman rate, he can apparently still suffer from memory loss. There are gaps, on his messier nights, whole stretches of time that he can't account for; and he wakes up with a pounding headache and blood on his knuckles and he can't remember where he was, where he stumbled home from.
"But you're not concussed, either," Bones tells him, frowning, and Jim feels Khan's flesh under his fists, the echoing ache in his arm from giving blow after blow after blow, Khan's face impassive and utterly unmarked.
Jim's not surprised.
His hand is clamped on Spock's shoulder and Pike looks back at him with lifeless eyes and this time he's the one who's falling, the comfort of Spock's presence slipping away from him, and Spock doesn't reach out, doesn't grab him, lets him fall—
Jim wakes with a shout in the shape of Spock's name.
Four months into the overhaul of the Enterprise and he can't exactly avoid her forever, knows he's needed to oversee the more important repairs, sign off on the newest upgrades, but he'll be damned if he doesn't try.
It's not that he doesn't miss her. He does. He loves that ship more than life itself, but that's the point. She's docked because of him, almost half—half—of her crew dead because of him, and he thinks that maybe Pike was right—that he didn't respect his command, that he thought himself invincible, and now everyone under him was paying the price of his arrogance.
His whole bridge staff is technically on leave, but they love the Enterprise as much as he does and want to be there for the repairs. Sulu hints not-so-subtly that they need him, but no one is pushing, no one is approaching him, and Jim doesn't know if he's grateful for it or not. Starfleet seems more than happy to give them leave in order to rest and prepare for their upcoming expedition, but eight months is a long time and he wishes he had something to do other than try to catch what sleep he can in between reading reports and getting reacquainted with the shadier side of the San Francisco nightlife.
Five months in and he's still only talked to Bones. Uhura's stopped leaving him messages. He still hasn't talked to Spock.
He watches from the bridge of the Enterprise as wave after wave of lava hardens on the ocean floor, a twisting behemoth of rock that reaches for him, engulfs him, screams of an absence he cannot yet conceive of—
He comes to in an alley with a broken bottle in his fist, and something inside him snaps and he thinks, Enough—
Sitting on a bench in Bones' hijacked med bay at Starfleet HQ, he wonders what, exactly, Bones can do for him. He's been tested for everything in the books, cleared for all of it, declared to be in better than perfect health.
Bones jabs him in the neck with a hypo. "For the PTSD," he tells him.
Jim almost wants to laugh. "PTSD? Bones, what—"
"Khan's regulating your norepinephrine levels," Bones tells him, matter-of-fact, "so chemically, you're not testing positive for it, but he's not preventing the onset of flashbacks, either, so I'm giving you this and fuck your tests, Jim."
Something cold settles in Jim's stomach that has nothing to do with the diagnosis. "Bones, can you please not talk about him like he's inside of me?" he asks, and maybe it's the tone of voice, maybe it's the charts in Bones' hands completely at odds with the person in front of him, but he stops. He stops despite the fact that, really, Khan is.
Two appointments, three weeks, and five injections later, Jim can sleep, at least.
The Admiralty pushed through the expedition of the Enterprise's repairs and she looks good, Jim thinks, his cursory tour of the lower decks more than satisfactory. Scotty and Chekov both assured him that engineering was up to speed, and he almost wants to be insulted that they apparently think he can't handle inspecting the warp core himself; but at the same time, he's glad to be spared the experience, at least for now.
(He can hear the humming of it even from the catwalks leading to the heart of the ship, and suddenly his bones feel fragile and he has to remind himself to breathe, barely keeps himself from fleeing back to the upper decks).
He paces anxiously in the turbolift and steps onto the bridge with trepidation, hoping to convey a confidence that he doesn't feel. He avoids the chair with a single-minded intensity that borders on psychosis and, for the first time, tries to make himself as small as possible in the company of his crew.
Because Khan's blood may have saved him, may have wiped the radiation from his cells, but it could do nothing to put him back together, could not make him whole. He may be healthy but he is not healed, and he can take no comfort in his command, a command that he doesn't even think he deserves. On the bridge again, he is sure now that Pike was right: He didn't know what he was doing; his luck ran out and he almost got everyone on board his ship killed. They didn't survive because he is their Captain. They survived because he has surrounded himself with people who are better than him, because his crew are exceptional.
He thinks that they must know, that they must have some idea of his own failures, but they look to him now only for approval, and he steels himself to do his job, to slip into the role he used to perform so effortlessly. He feels like he wants to crawl out of his skin, has never been so ill at ease aboard his ship.
If they notice anything uncharacteristic about his behavior, they don't comment on it, and Jim thinks that he might be able to get through the day, until Spock steps onto the bridge.
"Captain," Spock says evenly, inclining his head, and Jim has to frantically attempt to tamp down the mass of emotions that erupt at the address. Five months and Spock speaks as if it were nothing, as if Jim didn't die and Spock didn't save his life, as if Jim had done nothing to jeopardize Spock's faith in him, as if nothing had changed since before Nibiru. On top of everything, ridiculous as it is, just the sound of Spock's voice calms his fraying nerves.
He suddenly feels nauseous.
"Commander," he replies, trying for light, but he can already taste bile rising in the back of his throat. He slaps Spock's shoulder as he passes, but his fingers curl around Spock's arm instinctively, clinging to him, and Jim freezes, lingering just a moment too long.
He wrenches his hand away with a gasp and he's all but running off the bridge, doesn't stop to breathe until he's ensconced in his quarters, away from the eyes of everyone who would look to him to lead.
"Captain," Spock calls when he lets himself into Jim's quarters.
"Don't, Spock," Jim tells him, not opening his eyes. He's standing with his arms braced against his desk, head dropped between his shoulders, focused on getting his breathing back under control. "Not here."
There is a slight pause from the direction of his door. "As you wish, Jim," Spock concedes, and Jim nods, once, not even sure that Spock can see it.
"May I enter?" Spock asks.
Sighing, Jim pushes himself off the desk. "You're already in, Spock," he says, waving his hand around carelessly, "make yourself at home."
Jim turns to face him, but is brought up short by the look on Spock's face. There is concern there, clear as day, but something else, too—something that Jim can't place, an emotion he can't be sure he isn't simply projecting.
"You are needed on the bridge," Spock tells him, too softly to be a reprimand.
"I know, Spock," Jim sighs, "just give me a minute."
Spock tilts his head, a gesture that is now as familiar to Jim as if it were one of his own. Jim braces himself, and Spock concludes, "You do not feel as if you are qualified to lead."
And, Jesus, it's one thing to think it, to have the echoes of his dead mentor in his head and half-formed doubts itching beneath his skin, but it's another thing to have it thrown back in his face, to hear it so matter-of-factly from Spock, of all people.
Jim can't reply, is actually speechless in the face of it, hanging in the air between them.
Spock continues like he has no idea what effect his casual observation has on Jim. "But it is quite the contrary, Captain. That you feel responsible for what happened proves beyond a doubt that you are capable—"
That, however, spurs Jim into speech. "Capable?" he almost shouts. "Spock, if it had been up to me, the Enterprise would be destroyed and every single person under my command would be dead. The only thing this 'proves beyond a doubt' is that I'm not ready. There was nothing I could have done—"
"You sacrificed yourself to save this ship and its crew." Suddenly, Spock sounds almost angry. "Your actions—"
"The ship shouldn't have needed saving in the first place, Spock! That was a last-ditch effort to prevent the total disaster that it could have been—"
"You died, Jim," Spock says, and it cuts through the mounting tension in the room, Spock's voice quiet and cold and barely contained. The anger seeps out of Jim almost instantly.
Spock strides towards him, stopping only when he is close enough that Jim could touch him, if he wanted to. His voice is hardly more controlled when he continues, "I would not call that—as you say—a 'last-ditch effort.' Your life is worth more than that."
And now Jim is certain that Spock is furious, even if he's not entirely sure why. His words die in his throat as he inspects Spock's face, and he can't hold Spock's gaze, drops his eyes to the floor where their feet are mere inches apart.
After a moment, when Spock speaks again, his voice is soft, almost broken. "When you—" and Jim's only heard him stutter once before, a gasping resignation of his command, "died, Jim, I felt—"
And suddenly it all comes rushing back: Spock on the other side of the glass; their hands pressed together yet so far from touching; I'm scared and How do you choose not to feel; Spock's admission, I do not know, the truth between them at last, a strangely comforting thought that lulled Jim into sleep, let him shut his eyes for the last time with some semblance of peace; and laced through it all the humming of the warp core, the vibration in his bones, radiation eating away at his very cells.
Jim looks up at Spock, breathless, almost afraid to move.
"I felt anger," Spock continues, "and unbearable loss. Things I had tried to assure myself that I would not feel again. But I had no control over them at the time.
"These last several months have been…difficult, Jim. I do not wish to continue conducting ourselves as we have." He pauses, an infinitesimal moment that feels to Jim like a lifetime, and then, "I would not be parted from you for so long again."
Spock's words wash over him, their meaning stunningly clear, and Jim feels like he's drowning. He can remember, vaguely, the anger he felt at Spock's distance since he woke, the muted need for contact, his constant sense of imbalance he tried to compensate for with liquor and sheer bravado; and it dissipates completely with the realization that he was not the only one, that Spock needed him just as badly as he needed Spock, even if Spock must have had his own reasons for staying away.
"Spock," Jim says, but it's nothing more than a croak, an aching syllable that takes Spock's name. Jim reaches out blindly, drawn to the heat of Spock's body so close to his own, the thread of emotion almost tangible between them.
"Admiral Pike believed in you, Jim," Spock says quietly, catching and holding Jim's eyes, "as do I. You are my Captain. I would wish to serve under no one else."
Jim clings to the front of Spock's shirt, unable to look away, stripped bare under the intensity of Spock's gaze.
"I've needed you," Jim tells him, because after everything they've done, everything they've been through, it's so utterly pointless, Jim thinks, to hide anything from him, to say anything less than the truth.
"I need you," he amends, his fingers tightening in Spock's shirt, pulling him impossibly closer.
"Jim," Spock breathes, barely a whisper, and Jim can feel the warmth of Spock's breath on his cheek, his lips.
He feels frozen, rooted to the spot, and as the silence spirals around them, Jim would almost feel dizzy if not for the fistful of Spock's uniform in his hand, grounding him, tying him to this moment.
"I told you," Jim says, voice low in the almost thrumming silence that surrounds them, "that I wanted to let you know why I went back for you."
Spock nods. "Because you are my friend," he echoes his earlier words, no less sincere for the repetition.
"Yeah," Jim agrees, the ghost of a smile on his lips, and finally detaches himself from Spock's shirt.
"I'm needed on the bridge," Jim reminds him, but doesn't move away just yet.
Spock looks as if he shakes himself, slipping back into the logical veneer of professionalism. Jim fights back a smile. "Yes, of course," Spock says, pulling on the hem of his shirt, smoothing out the creases that Jim had made.
"After you, Commander," Jim says, waving Spock towards the door.
It's easier, after that. Jim reports to the Enterprise at least twice a week, even if he's not technically needed, just to get reacquainted with his ship. He grows more comfortable with each passing day, and while doubts still linger in the back of his mind and he swears he can feel the ship vibrating under his feet, he is buoyed by the contact with his crew, by watching the Enterprise come together before his very eyes, by the simple act of doing.
Bones isn't frowning at him nearly as much as he had been, and when they stumble home one night, a still-sober Jim taking most of Bones' weight, Bones even smiles at him outside of his door.
"I'm glad you're feeling better, Jim," he says, with an honesty only borne of alcohol. "I really am." He lays a playful slap on Jim's cheek.
"Thanks, Bones," Jim replies sardonically, but his smile is genuine.
He and Spock stay in regular contact, both professionally and socially, and it's doing more for Jim's state of mind than he'd ever admit to either Bones or Spock himself.
Spock catches him one day at HQ, standing before the newly-erected memorial to the victims of Khan's attacks. Stepping into place beside him, Spock doesn't need to follow the line of Jim's gaze to know which name he is looking at.
They stand in companionable silence for a few moments before Jim speaks. "He wanted me as his First Officer," he says, a lingering sense of wonder in his tone; and although Jim is almost certain that Spock already knows the details, he inclines his head, acknowledging Jim's words.
"Are you still surprised by that, Jim?" Spock asks him gently, perceptive as ever. "As I recall, it is not the first time he has assigned to you that position."
"I don't know, Spock," Jim answers honestly. "After everything he said, why would he—"
"Do you remember what else Admiral Pike said?" Spock interrupts him, with a calm that Jim is sure belays Spock's fraying patience at Jim's wholly illogical unwillingness to accept perfectly well-earned praise.
Jim sighs. "I do, Spock, it's just…" he trails off, not sure how to express his doubts.
"What if he was wrong?" Jim finally asks, his words coming out in a rush. "What if his faith was misplaced, Spock? What if I really am—"
"He was not wrong," Spock interrupts him again, turning to face Jim head-on. "He would not have defended you if that were the case."
When Spock continues, it is in a tone meant only for the two of them, the words almost intimate in their honesty. "Admiral Pike was not alone in his assessment of you, Jim. You are the best man I have served under," and Jim thinks he sees a flicker of private amusement in Spock's eyes when he adds, "and Vulcans do not lie."
Jim's stomach feels like it catches in his throat. He closes his eyes, sees the steady, yellow light of the sun, and remembers how to breathe.
As the repairs to the Enterprise get nearer to their end and Jim starts to feel the itching, irrefutable call of space, he can almost say he is happy.
However, one very important thing is still missing.
Uhura is rarely aboard the Enterprise and seldom with Spock when they meet, choosing instead to spend her time at the Academy to brush up on her studies.
"Like she needs to," Jim says dismissively, when Spock tells him as much in answer to his query.
"Our upcoming mission is of a significant length, Captain; it is prudent of her to take advantage of whatever resources are available before—"
"Yeah, yeah, Spock, I get it," Jim says, waving off Spock's explanation. "And we're off-duty, for Christ's sake, call me Jim."
"Yes, Captain," Spock replies, and damn anyone to hell who believes that Vulcans don't have a sense of humor, Jim thinks.
He shakes his head, smirking at Spock, and thinks the moment has passed, but then:
"You miss her," Spock says plainly.
"What? Of course I miss her, Spock, I haven't really seen her in months." Feeling suddenly anxious, he pauses before continuing, not sure if he should.
"She called me a few times, earlier this year," Jim admits, and Spock nods, letting Jim know he was aware of the interaction. "I wanted to see her, but I guess I wasn't ready. And now I haven't really been sure how to approach her."
Spock straightens, halts his steps and turns into Jim's space, his face uncharacteristically troubled. "She assumed as much when you did not respond to her messages," Spock tells him. "She thought, despite her personal wishes, that it would be better if she kept her distance. I had not realized such was no longer the case. If I had, Jim, I would have informed her that you wished to see her. I am sorry."
"Don't be, Spock," Jim tells him, slightly overwhelmed by Spock's response. "It's not your fault."
"All the same, Jim," Spock says, as they continue walking towards Jim's apartment, "Nyota wishes to see you. I will tell her of your desire to see her, as well."
In retrospect, Jim should have made first contact.
He doesn't want to call it an ambush, but there really isn't another word for it when both Spock and Uhura corner him in his quarters five months before repairs are to wrap.
The computer announces the arrival of Spock, but when Jim grants him entry, it is Uhura who walks through the door first.
She doesn't approach him, but hangs back almost cautiously, and Jim has never seen her so unsure of herself.
"Hi, Jim," she says, when Jim had tossed the report he'd been reading onto his desk, giving them his full attention.
"Hey, Nyota," he answers, coming around to greet them. He nods to Spock, who is hanging back by the door, letting them get reacquainted. There is a moment of awkwardness as they face each other, unsure of where they stand. Jim figures this is mostly his fault, so he jumps right in, awkwardness be damned.
"I'm sorry I didn't return your calls," he tells her, feeling oddly formal. "I wanted to, I just—"
"It's okay," she tells him, nodding away his apology. "I get it," she says, and it sounds like she really does. He wonders what Spock has told her.
She steps towards him, looking almost as if the distance is unacceptable. Seeing her now, after so many months without her around, Jim is inclined to agree.
"How have you been?" Jim asks, and immediately wants to die of embarrassment, because really? How have you been?
She smiles wryly, undoubtedly aware of his thoughts, but she answers nonetheless. "I've been better, actually," she tells him honestly. "You see," she continues, and now she does approach him, stepping fully into his space, "it's been a while since I've spoken to one of my best friends."
And despite the gravity of her words, her eyes are shining with laughter, and she jabs him sharply in the chest with her finger, the beginnings of a smile turning up the corners of her lips.
Jim can't help it: It floods him all at once, this inane happiness to have her back, and he laughs, reaching for her hand where it lingers on his chest. She glances at him quickly, mouth turned down in surprise, but it melts away almost instantly to a smile as she links their fingers together properly, squeezing once before releasing his hand.
After another moment, she steps away. "I have to do some reconfigurations on the com board on the bridge," she says, before making her way back to the door. "But tonight," she tells him, turning around before she leaves, "we're going out." And with that, she's gone.
Jim's still grinning when Spock approaches him, gesturing towards the couch, but his silence sobers Jim considerably. When they are both seated, Spock says, "I am glad that you and Nyota have made amends. You must understand, Jim, it has been hard on her, keeping her distance. She has worried about you greatly."
"Jesus, Spock," Jim sighs, frustrated. "Are you trying to make me feel like shit, here? Because let me tell you, I feel bad enough as it is. I know I've put her—and Bones, and you, for that matter—through hell these past few months, but I'm trying, okay? Just let me have this."
"Forgive me, Jim; that was not my intention. I simply wished to impress upon you just how much you mean to her."
"I know, Spock—"
"To us," Spock corrects himself, and Jim doesn't know what to say.
Two months later, he finds himself in Nyota's apartment, giggling helplessly as she pushes another drink into his hand, settling next to him on her couch.
"I think I'm metabolizing the last of Khan's cells," he tells her, once everything stops being funny. "I haven't felt this drunk since I lost her."
"Who?" Nyota asks, scrunching her nose at him. "I didn't think Captain James T. Kirk had time to date."
Jim snorts. "I don't. I mean her. The Enterprise," he clarifies, gesturing expansively with the hand not holding his drink.
"Oh," Nyota says, and Jim feels the negative swing in her mood and hurries to rectify it, to reassure her that it's okay.
"It's okay," he says. "I've got her back. She's mine," he finishes, and can only smile at her when she laughs at him.
"She wouldn't want to be anyone else's," Nyota assures him.
"I've always liked you," Jim tells her, unbearably happy.
The bridge staff of the Enterprise have been tied up in various meetings for almost two weeks, their unprecedented mission into uncharted space looming ever closer on the horizon, and Jim is so sick of paperwork. He cannot wait to be back in space.
Bones, who over the past year has made quite a name for himself with a clinic at HQ that was never meant to be permanent, only partially shares Jim's enthusiasm. He's been busy handling the temporary relocation of his patients and rallying Starfleet for funds to hire doctors in his stead, but it's slow going, and he wants things squared away before they depart.
"Been an absolute nightmare," he complains to Jim before another of their endless meetings. "Don't know why I get myself into these messes."
Jim could argue that he knows exactly why, but he slaps Bones' shoulder instead as they take their seats in another of endless conference rooms.
"I'm proud of you, Bones," Jim tells him, his smile only slightly exaggerated. Bones barely refrains from rolling his eyes.
"Whatever you say, Jim," he says, but Jim can tell that he's pleased.
"We're coming home with you," Nyota informs him as they stumble out of a particularly trying meeting late one afternoon less than a month before they set off. "Spock's just dropping off a report to Admiral Archer, he'll be back down in a minute."
"Okay," Jim says, slightly nonplussed but way too worn-out to question it.
Rather than take a transport the couple of miles back to Jim's apartment, they decide to go on foot, relishing the fresh air while they still can; and they walk in companionable silence, comfortable in each other's company.
To Jim's delight, Spock prepares them dinner once they arrive: Ever since Nyota let slip that Spock's actually quite talented in a kitchen even without replicators, Jim's been on his case about it, wanting to try one of Spock's creations.
Spock is the type of person who cleans dishes as he goes (of course he is, Jim thinks fondly) so there's very little mess when they're done, and Jim grabs a bottle of wine and three glasses and is joining Spock and Nyota in his living room less than five minutes later.
"I only have red," he tells him them, setting out the glasses and filling them anyway, not waiting for their response. He hands a glass to each of them, sitting on opposite ends of the sofa, and he only hesitates for a moment upon assessing the seating situation, but it is enough for them to notice. In the end, it is Spock who reaches purposefully for Jim's hand, pulling him down onto the couch between them.
Nyota settles into him, sipping her wine, and Jim finds himself relaxing into their company almost immediately. They chat aimlessly through the first round, and then the second, and Jim is feeling blissfully warm and drowsy when Nyota's voice cuts through the fog.
"—and you know we're not doing this casually, right?" she asks, and Jim shakes himself, thrown by the abrupt turn in conversation.
"What?" he asks, suddenly feeling wide awake, looking from Nyota's grin to the amused glint in Spock's eyes.
"This," she says, and then Nyota is kissing him, gently at first but with more insistence as he opens to her, and Jim thinks that maybe this was inevitable.
The thing is, ever since he began spending most of his spare time with first Spock and then Nyota, he's felt more like himself than he has since he was injected with Khan's blood, since he kneeled over Pike's dead body, since the Enterprise was last under his command.
Being with them has done what Khan's blood never could, has made him happy as well as healthy, and whole.
Nyota breaks off the kiss, resting her hand lightly on the nape of Jim's neck.
"When McCoy said that Khan could save you," Nyota confesses, "I was so afraid that Spock would kill him before I could beam down," and that takes a second for Jim to process, but once he has he whips his head around to stare at Spock, who meets his gaze levelly, eyes cold with residual fury.
"I admit," Spocks says mildly, in a tone completely at odds with the look in his eyes, "that I did not do well without you, Jim, for however short a time it was."
Jim can do nothing but stare at him, completely at a loss. He remembers the day he came back to life, Spock cool and composed at his bedside; he can still hear Spock's You are very welcome, Jim, and somehow he isn't surprised that while Vulcans can't lie, they are apparently perfectly capable of gross understatement.
"Spock," he says, has no idea what to say next, but it is Spock's turn to reach out for him, to pull Jim into his space.
"Do you know why I went back for you?" Jim asks him again, voice steady if quiet, because Spock's answer is correct but it has never quite been adequate.
"I went back for you because I don't want to do this—any of this—without you," he says. "I can't do this without you. And fuck every Starfleet regulation that would make me try."
"Jim," Spock says, no more than a whisper; and then all at once Spock's hands are in Jim's hair and he's pulling Jim in the six inches left between them, pressing a kiss to Jim's lips that is surprisingly gentle despite the frenzy of his movements. Jim sighs into Spock's mouth at the contact, much too long in coming, and his eyes flutter closed as Spock deepens the kiss, pressing more intently into Jim's mouth, one hand sliding from Jim's hair to his chest to settle on his hip.
Jim feels Nyota's hand join Spock's where it rests, and as he leans back into her, pulling Spock down with him, it seems to Jim like his whole world has snapped into place, like he should never be anywhere else.
Jim is the last one on the Enterprise before she spends her last few nights in the docks. He looks around the bridge, lingering on the remodeled helm that gleams under the lights, already feeling more at home here than he thinks he ever has before.
It's not really a surprise when the turbolift doors open and Spock and Nyota spill out onto the bridge. They come to stand on either side of him, looking out onto the abandoned docks, the sky darkening far off on the horizon.
Nyota takes his hand.
"The rechristening ceremony is tomorrow, yes?" she prompts, getting both Jim and Spock to look at her. "What do you say we rechristen her in style?" she asks innocently, squeezing Jim's fingers.
Jim grins at her. "I've always liked you best," he amends, and Spock leans in to bite him hard on the neck in retaliation for the comment. Jim turns to him, catching Spock's lips with his own, and Nyota laughs, the sound filling up the space, drowning out the humming that rises from the heart of the ship.
Jim thinks he'll never be able to sit in the chair again without smiling.