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Things Said and Unsaid

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Title:  Things Said and Unsaid  
Characters:  Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, various. Background only Spock/Uhura, and blink-and-you’ll-miss Jim/Carol Marcus, but overall this is gen.
Rating: T
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for all AOS movies. Rated for movie-level language, no real angst or violence in this one.


VI.

It’s not his finest hour, by a long shot.

Jim, I think I love you.

…That’s so weird.

In his defense, there’s been nothing to indicate they were headed at all in a serious direction with this, and it’s taken him totally off guard. He’s not the relationship type, they’ve discussed that multiple times, and while he may not be the best man in the world he’s at least never been a dick enough to lead a girl on with empty promises. He’s always clear from the beginning about his intentions, however shallow those may be. Complete honesty, and make sure both of them have as good a time as he possibly can – he can do a lot, and quite well, thanks very much – has always been his modus operandi, and it’s worked for him fairly well. With a notable few exceptions that have turned out to be varying levels of psychopathic and hey, everyone needs a little variety in life and he’s no paragon of stability himself so who is he to throw stones.

I think I love you.

But this? This takes him by surprise, and in retrospect later that evening he takes a second of annoyance to think how unfair and yeah, how weird it was, before brushing it off as the embarrassing incident it was, hoping it will just blow over. He knows better than anyone else, how he’s not relationship material, and definitely not love material. In the heat of the moment, things can be easily said and then forgotten later, hopefully, and they can laugh about it tomorrow.

Unfortunately, tomorrow never comes.

Or rather, it comes in the form of nearly 90% of his fellow classmates being killed in the space of mere minutes when they drop out of warp straight into an ambush over Vulcan.

The next few days pass in the hellish blur they are, and it doesn’t really hit him, the sheer magnitude of loss they’ve all experienced – because while it certainly can’t compare, the Vulcans still weren’t the only ones who lost loved ones and friends that day – until about a week later, after he’s had time to recuperate physically from his injuries and kind-of-sort-of take control of this damaged ship as she limps like a wounded animal back toward Federation space, crawling along under impulse power until she can be met by salvage crews and someone more fit to take command.

They can have it and welcome. He’s not sure he really wants it, after all. Not if this is what it’s going to be like out there, every day.

He still isn’t used to these cadets doing a double take at his borrowed gold shirt and snapping off sloppy, belated salutes as he passes in the corridors, some semblance of training reminding them that for some reason he’s still in command of the Enterprise since Spock categorically refuses to take back command, and so he’s taken to trying the least-traveled corridors as he sneaks into Officers’ Mess at the least-busy hours of the night in order to avoid as many people as possible. (If he didn’t know there is comfort in structure, he would take off the damn shirt; it feels sacrilegious enough wearing it but if it helps the crew knowing someone at least appears to be in charge of this irretrievably doomed mission, he’ll do it for a few days.)

Thankfully, it seems as if Bones has always been meant to oversee the flagship’s Sickbay, or at least hasn’t been able to break away from it until now. It’s testament to the man’s own state of mind that he doesn’t even bother trying to gripe at Jim’s less-than-healthy choice of dinner, only shakes his head and returns to his own soup and half-sandwich with a roll of the eyes as Jim slips into the seat next to him at the empty table.

They eat in silence for probably a good ten minutes, but it’s not a weird silence; just one born of exhaustion and the death-toll that still hangs over the ship. The final counts had come in earlier this afternoon from Command, confirmed casualties from Terra, Vulcan and the other ships of the Fleet – and they both had reviewed them with increasingly horrified attention to the unbelievably high numbers. It will be a long time before there’s laughter in the halls of this ship again.

“Pike still stable?” he asks at last, poking the last bite of string beans around his plate in an aimless effort to distract himself.

McCoy blinks, as if coming back to the present, and then nods, eyes warming slightly in reassurance. “He’ll be fine, Jim. Or as fine as he can be, I dunno what it’ll look like after that ‘Fleet neuro-surgeon gets a hold of him when we meet up outside the Sol system. I’m not specialized enough for that kind of work, I don’t want to risk it. But I’d bet he’ll recover enough to be fully reinstated after a couple years of ground work.”

“Good, good.” He drops the fork and runs a hand wearily over his face. “No Medical fires popping up I need to worry about, I assume?”

“Everything’s still under control. I’m keepin’ a close eye on the Vulcans but they’re doing as well as I guess they can be, under the circumstances. Spock insists he’ll let me know if anything happens I need to know about, and I have to trust him on that. He’s a damn good officer when you’re not provoking him, and Pike says to trust him if he says he’s fit to serve.”

“Understood.”

“How are you holding up, Jim?”

“I’m fine.”

“Like hell you are. You took a beating even before the firefight really started, and I barely got you patched back up before you started runnin’ all over this tin can trying to help with repairs. You have to be careful, Jim.”

“I’m fine, Bones. Seriously.”

McCoy looks him over skeptically. “That death toll was a nightmare to read through, kid. You sure you’re okay?”

He chokes for just a second on the last drink of his water, hand clenching on the glass. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t a very social animal at the Academy, too busy studying to really make true friends. He’d had many acquaintances, but few real friends; and now those friends are basically all dead. It’s sheer good fortune or fate that the one he has remaining is sitting beside him now. There’s quite literally no one else left who even cares if he’s alive, when so many else weren’t so fortunate.

I think I love you.

That’s so weird.

But they’re all in that same boat, aren’t they? What right does he have to mourn when so many of them have lost so much more?

“I’m fine, I said.” He stacks the cup and plate back on the tray, flatware sliding in an angry accompaniment. “It is what it is. We move on.”

“Spoken like a true captain. And just as full of it as every other gold-shirt out there.”

“I really don’t think I asked you.”

“Nope. Since when did I ever wait for you to?”

He snorts, grinning despite himself. “I’m needed on the Bridge. Take care of our people, Bones.”

“You’re one of my people, Jim. You don’t take care of yourself, I’ll sic that Vulcan on you. Don’t think I won’t.”

“Geez, I do not deserve that.”

He’s made some big – colossal – mistakes in recent days, ones that he’ll never forgive himself for and ones that he can never take back. But the one thing he can do, is to ensure he doesn’t repeat them. Ensure he learns from them. Ensure that he continues to do his part to keep the galaxy a place of freedom for everyone, human and Vulcan and Orion and otherwise.

Ensure that as long as he does sit in that chair, on that Bridge, that he tries as hard as he can to learn. Learn what it takes to lead, to inspire a crew that someday might be willing to follow him as a captain in his own right, not a lucky nobody who stole the chair.

And maybe, just maybe, he’ll get a second chance to build the relationships he was too foolish to before.

 


 

V.

It’s not the best way to wake up from a nap.

He’s spent the majority of the last three weeks sleeping, which hasn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone. His recovery was a miracle, yes; but that miracle came at a price he’s going to be paying for months. Months of long, agonizing recovery that’s either going to kill him (again) or make him wish he’d just stayed dead.

He should be grateful to be alive, but right now all he can be is in pain. And a little angry, when he has room to be anything else.

Bones has been a patient, steady, almost bizarrely kind presence at his side this entire time, or so he’s been told (since he’s not been alert for most of the last six weeks). It shows, too; the man looks exhausted beyond measure, enough that Jim enlisted the help of Lieutenant Uhura to fly the poor guy’s daughter in for a weekend just to drag him out of the hospital for two days. Dying did not kill all of his brain cells, thank you very much. He will not have his friend keeling over just because he refuses to sleep until he’s sure Jim’s not going to kick it again in the middle of the night or something.

Unfortunately, that means he’s stuck with a keeper of some other sort for the weekend, because apparently someone with no real Medical authority decided that people from the Enterprise were going to keep an eye on him so Bones wouldn’t go nuts while away.

Joy.

At least Chekov and Sulu had the decency to look apologetic the first night, and to play a holo-chess game on their padds across the room in silence when he snapped at them that he didn’t need a babysitter, waving off his apology the next morning with easy grins that told him they were unoffended at his mini-tantrum.

They obviously warned the next shift, however, because he got to fall asleep by himself before it came on that afternoon. Small favors.

It means that he is a little disoriented on waking, however, and so takes a second to try to focus before opening his eyes, not saying anything as the world slowly starts to coalesce into something resembling sense, as much as it can when he’s under the influence of those drugs they insist on giving him overnight to help stimulate neural regen in his frontal cortex.

Yeah, that’s Spock and Uhura, which is interesting. They’ve been by to see him, Spock pretty regularly and Uhura twice; but never together, which is a pretty big red flag for them. They’d been having issues even before that twice-damned volcano on Nibiru he now almost – almost – wishes he’d just let burn, and he can’t imagine his death helped lessen the strain much. He knows what grief can do to a relationship, steady or otherwise, and theirs was already shaky due to his poor decision-making. Another tick in the guilt column for him, and they’re getting too numerous to count now.

Pike was right, he should never have risked not just one of his officers but several of them in the first place, completely going against the Prime Directive to save that planet at risk. He nearly killed the only people in the universe who come close to caring if he lives or dies, and it’s a mistake he may never make up for. His choices had endangered the people he loves most, forcing them to then make terrible choices of their own, putting them in unfair and tenuous positions. Spock’s report, betrayal though it felt like? That’s on him, because he should never have put a subordinate in the position where they would have to choose whether or not to lie on an official account. His over-confidence had been his own downfall, and he can’t blame anyone but himself for that. If things had gone differently in the manhunt for Harrison, even now Spock would be halfway across the galaxy, calling another man Captain – and Jim would be trying to remember what it feels like to take orders instead of giving them.

Granted, he would rather be taking them, and still have Chris Pike be alive to do it, than the alternative which he’s living right now.

Right now? He’s not sure he should be the one giving orders to anyone, ever again. Spock proved that more clearly than anything, damn him. No one else would have kept the crew that calm while the ship literally dropped out of the sky underneath them – and no one else would have been able to not just outsmart Khan, but have the guts to beam over a payload of live torpedoes with two of the Enterprise’s senior officers and an unshielded command bridge in close proximity, not knowing if Khan would beam them back or the ship be able to retreat before detonation or not. It was one hell of a hail Mary, and it was the right decision. Throughout what he can see now was nothing more than a revenge mission, Spock had proven to be a better captain than he’s been the last year, and the thought is a very, very sobering one.

Dying makes you look at things with a lot more clarity.

There’s a reason why the two of them make such a good team – and a reason why there are times that they absolutely hate each other. If they could just have a chance in an environment that let them somehow finally stow their issues and work together? They would be unstoppable.

He’ll die before he tells anyone that’s why he was hoping so much for a five-year mission. Putzing around the middle galaxy knowing you can be yanked back to Earth on the whims of the admiralty has not really been conducive to building relationships aboard, and not just his.

They’ve always been consummate professionals, Uhura and Spock; half the lower decks don’t even know there’s anything going on between them. They know they have to be above board even more so than regulations state, because it’s the flagship; and Jim knows he never has to worry about them not being so. But this hasn’t been an easy year for them. And being Chief Comms Officer, Nyota would have been the first to see Spock’s Bradbury transfer orders come in; and while Jim has no idea how that news was received he can’t imagine it was welcome. She’s also loyal to the core – not just to Spock, but to him too, gods only know why – and he knows she was pissed on his behalf about Spock’s actions just by the simple fact that she refused to take sides on the issue when it was brought up during one of her visits recently.

So the fact that she’s here with Spock tonight, babysitting in his recovery room instead of somewhere else on the base, is interesting.

And they’re arguing about something, even more interesting. He’s not sure he’s ever heard that, as they’re almost ridiculously careful to keep their private relationship out of anything public aboard ship. Obviously, it’s urgent enough that they’re risking it in his sickroom.

“I do not comprehend your meaning, Nyota.”

“That could be the problem.”

“I was unaware there was a problem.” He hears a chair squeak quietly. “If you wish to know my thoughts, ashal-veh, you have but to ask. I cannot read yours.”

A soft sound of half-amusement. “Spock, I don’t need to ask your thoughts. Vulcan as you are, you have zero poker face where he’s concerned.”

“I do not understand.”

A sigh. “I didn’t think you did. To use a human expression? You suck at identifying your emotions. Then let me make it much easier with direct lines of question.”

“Perhaps that would be best.” Spock sounds uncertain. “What are your questions?”

“I basically only have two. Just answer me honestly, Spock. I deserve that much.”

He cracks one eye to see that they’ve not noticed he’s awake, and he feels a little awkward intruding on the conversation at this juncture now, so he closes his eyes again and keeps his breathing in the same shallow register it’s been, thanks to the drugs still keeping him in a drowsing state. Hopefully whatever it is, they get it out of their system and get back to normal. And he can get back to sleep, because, like he said, awkward.

“I have always been honest with you, Nyota. That will not change.”

“The captain. Do you…have feelings for him?”

He nearly swallows his tongue, because what.

“That…is apparently not an inaccurate assessment.” The lack of clarity in the answer’s even more disconcerting. What the actual hell.

Uhura clears her throat slightly. “Do you love him the same way you love me, Spock?”

“Negative.” Thank God, there’s no hesitation in that one.

Seriously, so awkward.

A soft exhalation, and the chair creaks again. “Then we have nothing to worry about, ashalik. But I had to ask. You’ve not been yourself since…well. None of us have, but you most of all. I had to know, if we are to move forward.”

“My feelings for you have not changed, Nyota. Inadequate as I may be at showing it in the manner of a human, that much I can state is fact.”

“I don’t expect you to demonstrate your emotions as a human would, you know that. Which is why it was so…disturbing, to see you that day.” An awkward pause. “Spock, you scared me. And that is not a feeling I should have in any relationship, much less a romantic one. It is unacceptable, and I won’t do that again.”

“I would agree, and I regret that I caused you distress, Nyota. However, the cause was…unusual.”

“You’ll have no argument from me on that. But I have to wonder if you’d have the same reaction if it had been me.” The words are quiet, matter-of-fact but not unkind.

Silence. Then, helpless, “…I do not know. Nyota, I cannot answer to your satisfaction a hypothetical equation with completely different variables. And they are completely different, I assure you.”

“Give me a little credit here, ashalik; I’m aware nothing in our lives can be categorized as normal. I just…we all are a little out of orbit right now, and we need to work together to fix it. All of us, not just you and I. The fallout from this is affecting the entire crew, and you know that we promised to keep our relationship out of the command chain if we were to stay aboard. We have to fix this, before we can fix the crew. And he needs us to fix the crew, because he’s still working on himself. Agreed?”

“Agreed. I do not wish to terminate our relationship. Therefore, you have my full cooperation in this matter.”

“That is welcome news, Spock. And all things considered, I think we probably have plenty of time in the future to work on balancing our differences. But if we do end up heading into deep space, I don’t want to do that without having addressed this in counseling. With McCoy at least, if you don’t want a ‘Fleet therapist, the man’s a good psychologist even if he drives you nuts sometimes. No matter how uncomfortable the topic may be – to either of us.”

“That is an eminently logical request, Nyota. I look forward to this.”

“Indeed. And I look forward to seeing you try to explain why you’re lying there eavesdropping on a private conversation, Captain.”

Busted.

He waves a hand absently in the air, eyes still closed. “Don’t mind me.”

A hand smacks his ankle, the only place anyone can really touch him that doesn’t hurt like hell right now. He still yelps, twitching away out of reflex.

“You’re lucky you’re still so fragile.”

“Do not blame me for your emotional issues! Nobody asked you to have a therapy session in my room. And I can’t even move a hand yet with any kind of motor control, so don’t act like I could have gotten your attention without yelling and totally ruining that bizarrely logical lovefest you’ve got going on.”  He blinks innocently at Spock’s pissed expression. “You do know that doesn’t scare me anymore, right. You might as well be wearing an I Heart Jim Kirk t-shirt for all the good it’s doing you.”

Uhura snorts, and turns to leave in a flying swirl of ponytail. “I’m going to pick up dinner from somewhere that’s not the cafeteria. And then we’re going to eat it in front of you, just for payback.”

“Oh my god, I hate you.” He’s still on a liquid diet and will be for at least another week.

“No you don’t.”

“Yeah, I don’t, you’re too good for me. Jury’s still out on you, Commander.”

 


 

IV.

It’s not really how he thought this would go.

They’re grounded for almost a year while the Enterprise is refitted, and he basically learns to be a human again, plenty of time for everything to change and yet nothing to.

The crew, what’s left of them, scatters for additional training or short-term missions. Sulu gets his pilot’s training certification, meaning he can now teach anyone aboard to fly, a useful skill to have in deep space where shuttles will be their secondary mode of long-distance transport. McCoy starts recruiting an even more laser-focused medical team to potentially serve under him in uncharted space, weeding out young hopefuls with a cold ruthlessness that’s equal parts hilarious and impressive.

Spock and Nyota finally get their shit together, thank the deities of every religion he knows, and agree to sign on for the deep space mission Command finally decides to hand them, those same deities only know why.

As for him? He’s been all over the place, quite literally. From San Francisco to Riverside to New Vulcan to a couple of weeks in the European continent to shake off Bones’s incessant mother-henning and back again, he’s been slowly but surely walking a long road of recovery that’s been painful, physically and mentally and emotionally.

And this? This is the kicker for the emotional bit, one he didn’t see coming but probably should have. He’s anything but stupid, but boy is he dumb, apparently.

Despite his reputation to the contrary, Jim has never, not once, gotten involved with someone on a Starfleet vessel. It’s a PR nightmare waiting to happen, and his crew is too important to him to risk that. Granted, there are few fraternization rules actually on the books about it, and unless a quid pro quo can actually be proven there wouldn’t really be any official consequences; but he won’t risk anything happening to his command, or the reputation of anyone on his ship or another in the ‘Fleet. He respects his crew, and the crew of other captains’ ships, too much to even think about it.

The risk is not worth the reward, and so he keeps his liaisons firmly ashore, or to the extremely occasional willing dalliance with an alien visitor or civilian ambassador. Those, are even fewer than his reputation suggests, because again, the risk is just not worth the reward. He can keep it in his pants until shore leave for the sake of his ship, thank you very much, he is not seventeen any more. But his reputation helps the odd mission on occasion, and so he doesn’t really do anything to quash the rumors to the contrary.

But this has been a hell of a year, and the circumstances are a little unusual. What he’d never intended to be more than a flirtatious companionship while he was stuck in Starfleet Medical had grown unexpectedly into something dangerous, several months into his recovery period. He’d never expected that, especially given that his appetites for such things had undergone drastic changes after his resurrection, or whatever they were calling it. And so he hadn’t exactly been prepared for it.

Apparently, neither had she, and so they’d just sort of went with it at the time. He always had been a live-in-the-moment type, she was a powerful woman who knew what she wanted and asked to have it. Carol wasn’t officially assigned to the Enterprise since her original orders had been forged, and even if she had been, the fraternization rules only stated there could be none with more than two ranks between officers, so there was nothing technically wrong with what they were doing while grounded.

And they’d been ultra-careful at the beginning, have been even until now just to be safe. No one but Bones has ever caught them even close to a compromised position within the Medical building, and no one but him and Spock, maybe Uhura, suspect a thing, Jim is fairly certain. Or if they do, they’re only people who know to keep their mouths shut.

But all that said, he never intended for it to be more than emotional support during the worst year he’s had since he joined the ‘Fleet. Sex has always been easy for him; it’s the rest of a relationship that’s difficult. And in his defense, he had been totally honest about that from the beginning with her, telling her up front that he wasn’t interested in a relationship and had no intention of returning to space with one ongoing.

In retrospect, he should probably have reiterated that, more than once in the months following, especially after she started dropping hints about finding a shared apartment in the city and visiting her home town.

Like he said, he’s not good at these relationship things, and he also isn’t good at recognizing signs in them, apparently.

So when it all goes to hell the night they’re out celebrating the news of the Enterprise’s set launch date, it totally blindsides him, though it likely shouldn’t.

The rest of the crew is inside at the bar, placing drink orders, and they’ve stopped outside, paused for a moment under the glow of a street-light. When she’d said she needed to tell him something before they went inside, he’d thought she was about to tell him she had decided to stay behind on Terra, or transferred to the NVSA, or something like that. Her career is important to her, as it should be; she’s intelligent and driven, and he would totally support that even though he’d love to have her as a Science Officer. He is expecting news like that.

Not that she is in love with him.

What the actual hell?

Granted, that probably isn’t the most tactful response, but thankfully he’s been seeing a scientist, and after a moment of startled silence, a disappointed sigh and then a quiet laugh meet his clueless expression.

“That is rather unfortunate,” she says quietly, blonde hair falling over her face as she looks down. “I have only myself to blame, I suppose. You were honest at the beginning, and I should have been clearer when the conditions of the experiment changed on my side.”

Now he feels like a tool. “Gods, I’m sorry…Carol, I didn’t know.” He rubs a hand over his face, casting a glance around as if to find inspiration for how to fix this mess from the starlit night. “I mean, I…”

“Stop, if you please. Allow me to keep my dignity as intact as I can.” She smiles, a sad smile, but not an angry one. “It has been a difficult year, for all of us. This was…a comfort, while it lasted.”

“It was,” he replies, sincerely. “I didn’t mean to lead you on, Carol. I thought that was…all, that it was. I just can’t be involved with someone and captain a starship. Call it old-fashioned, if you want, but…I won’t take the risk.”

“I respect that decision.” She pulls her coat tighter, re-opens her umbrella against the San Francisco drizzle. “I presume you’ll respect the fact that I’d rather not be part of your crew if that’s the case.”

“I really am sorry, Carol.” He doesn’t know how to make this better, but for all his faults, he never has lied to one of his partners. He’s not about to start now.

“The Enterprise is a lucky woman, Jim. Take care of her.” She smiles, and kisses him on the cheek before stepping back into the rain.

 


 

III.

It’s not the way he planned to spend his birthday.

Maybe Bones is right, about not putting himself through this solely out of duty every year. There’s probably something to be said about “cutting toxic people out of his life” and all that garbage he hears about when he does drag himself to therapy sessions.

Problem is, he’s only ever had a few people in his life, period; cutting out the toxic ones would simply leave him alone, and that might be worse.

Even fewer, now that half his real family are dead, buried in space or having gone down trapped in the wreckage of his beautiful ship on a barren planet near this too-pristine space station he’d managed to save only just in time.

On-screen, his correspondent glances at what he’s sure is a wall chronometer. Nice.

“Good talking to you, Mom,” he says dryly.

“Jim…” A sigh. “It doesn’t need to be like this.”

“Believe me, I’m well aware. This is entirely your choice.”

“You caught me at a bad time. You know that.”

“You know what? I am not going to do this, this year.” He shakes his head, realizing anew just how right Bones has been, all these times. Now that he’s facing a tragedy of the same epic proportions as the one that destroyed the Kelvin? It would never cross his mind to abandon his people to feel sorry for himself, if one of them called him right now asking to talk. “I can’t. Not this time.”

“Jim?” For the first time, he senses uncertainty, the only inflection he’s ever heard in these dreaded duty calls.

“Sorry, Mom. No yearly Let’s-make-Jim-feel-bad-that-he-even-has-a-birthday call for you. Sorry to break the family tradition, but I have four hundred-odd condolence letters to write, and they’re a little more important than your yearly pity party.”

Okay, so that probably was a bit over the line, but damn did it feel good after so long biting his tongue for the sake of keeping the peace.

He has no peace left to keep. His mind and heart are still seething with too much anger and bitterness and depression for that. It’s too raw, right now. There will be no peace for him for a long time.

“Jim, that’s not what this is about. You know I love you.”

“Do I?” He shakes his head, bitterness not truly aimed at her. “You may be my mother, but you are not my family. I have one now, I know what it should feel like.”

He wishes the words would actually hurt, or even make an impact, but it looks like they’re only being half-listened to, as the rest always have been, or perhaps are just being tolerated, like someone letting a child ramble indulgently, waiting for them to tire themselves out.

He sighs, and waves a hand vaguely at the screen. “I didn’t call to fight with you, just to tell you I was alive before the newsreels get hold of the official reports from Yorktown. So. Here I am. You can check this off your calendar for another year.”

An eyeroll. “Stop being dramatic. Call me again when you’re calmer, Jim. For what it’s worth, I do love you.”

The screen goes blank, and he resists the urge to throw the padd at the wall, just barely. After glancing up, he sees the shadowy flicker of someone awkwardly not-hiding in the doorway, and he lets his head thunk against the wall.

“How much of that did you hear?”

“More than I was intended to, I presume. I…apologize.” Spock’s voice is genuinely remorseful, so he can’t really be angry. “By the time I realized it was a private and not Starfleet communiqué, the damage had been done.”

“Ugh. Yeah, well, my family issues are a badly-kept secret at the best of times anyway.” He tosses the padd on the nearby table and collapses in the closest chair, rubbing the tension headache from his temples. “Happy birthday to me.”

“Your tone is incongruous with the sentiment.”

“It’s called sarcasm.”

“I am cognizant of the term, but do not understand its employment in this event. I am aware you do not find joy in your date of birth?”

“Yeah. You can probably extrapolate why my mother, of all people, also does not find joy in it?”

Spock is silent for a moment. “To be quite honest, I do not,” he finally says, cautiously. After all this time, this is no longer the battle-ground for them it might once have been, yet he is still obviously wary of saying the wrong thing.

“I’m an unpleasant reminder of what might have been. Dunno why she insists on a yearly call to drive the point home,” he mutters.

Spock’s blank look is almost funny.

“What?”

“I sometimes forget, Captain, just how different the Vulcan Way is from the human method of thinking,” his First replies, almost pensively.

“How’s that?”

“To a Vulcan, all life is precious, and to be protected; and a child, is the most precious gift a relationship can produce, under any circumstance. One would never dream of inflicting such an opinion upon the offspring of a deceased partner. It is nearly sacrilege, the Unthinkable.”

Jim’s smile softens. “That’s good. That’s really good, Spock.” At least the poor kids who survived the planet’s destruction will have a more loving childhood than he did.

Isn’t that just the irony of the century.

He leans back, an exhausted sigh escaping at the thought of the amount of work still to do, in trying to help their remaining crew cope with the tragedy that has befallen the dead Enterprise. His eyes close briefly.

He feels a decade older, not just a year.

Also…

He opens his eyes, and sits back up. “Hey, look, I’m also sorry,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “I’m over here complaining about, you know. My mother may be a narcissist, but, well.” He makes a vague sort of circular but-she’s-still-alive gesture, knowing Spock will take it for the apology it is.

His XO raises an eyebrow, looking almost amused. After these years, they can now have civil discussions over what would have been mine-fields long ago.

“Anyway. What was it that’s so important you decided eavesdropping on my personal drama was worth it?”

And that’s definitely a human eye-roll. “Your therapy appointment at 1700 hours, sir. Doctor McCoy reports you conveniently ‘forgot’ about your last two, and requested I assist you in remembering this one.”

“One of these days, Spock. One of these days.”

 


 

II.

It’s not where he thought he’d spend the night.

“Okay, here we go. One decaf Vulcan tea that tastes like rocks.” He hands over the mug, ignoring the snort of laughter that accompanies the muffled thanks as she takes a drink. “Now you want to tell me why the hell I’m chasing you down in Spock’s cabin the night before your wedding?”

“It really isn’t any of your business.”

“Probably not, but that has never stopped me before.” He sets his own coffee cup down on the nearby table, scooching into a more comfortable position to face her on the couch. “Also, Spock’s literally terrorizing our entire 14 Science departments up on the rec deck, so you kind of need to tell me what’s going on. You of all people aren’t getting cold feet, or you’d have done it a long time ago.”

She raises an eyebrow over the cup.

“Wouldn’t you?”

“Ugh, you’re impossible. Yes, I would. I’m not getting cold feet, Captain. And Spock should know that. Gods.” She sets the cup down with a little too much force. “Why is a man’s first reaction to a woman asking to be left alone, to immediately force the issue?”

Interesting. She’s the least sexist person he knows, so the fact that she’s drawing gender roles uncalled-for, points unconsciously to the fact that the issue, whatever it is, is likely somehow related to her gender or possibly different species.

“Is his family giving you a hard time about something? Something to do with you being human?” he hazards with caution.

She looks at him strangely. “No, they’ve been surprisingly supportive. More than we anticipated them being, all things considered. I think they gave up years ago trying to get him to return to the colony.”

“Then it’s something to do with you personally, or you wouldn’t be this defensive.” He shrugs when she glares at him. “What. I’m not an idiot.”

“That is debatable.”

“Fair point, but you’ve yet to say I’m wrong.”

She’s weirdly quiet, and she won’t look him in the eye.

“Nyota, are you, like, sick or something?”

If she’s hiding something medical, that might be an explanation. She might have found something she’s scared to tell Spock so close to the wedding. His stomach drops out at the idea that she could be seriously ill and none of them even noticed.

“Not exactly.” She scuffs a boot-toe along the flooring in a bizarrely uncharacteristic fidgeting gesture.

“You’re not making me less worried, Lieutenant.”

“Gods, Jim, I’m late, all right?” The words are a near-explosion of frustration, and it takes him a second to even realize what they mean (to a biological female).

“That doesn’t…Wait. You mean –“

“Yes, I mean,” she says dryly. “And it’s like clockwork, so this has literally never happened in 15-plus years.”

“Oh, shit.”

“Exactly.” She picks the tea back up and sips it, almost mechanically, before putting it down still only half-drunk. “I have no idea what to do. It’s too early to panic but I’m not going to lie. I am, a little.”

“Gods, Nyota.”

“I can’t even call a nurse or go to Sickbay for a test yet, you know how the gossip chain is. McCoy’s people would never say anything, but all it would take is one wrong person figuring out why one of them is making a house call and it’s all over the ship before the wedding toast is even finished. The wedding’s going to be broadcast on Federation networks as a concession to the colony, I can’t take the chance. Just the rumor would ruin both our careers, you know that as well as I do. They don’t take kindly to mistakes like that in the ‘Fleet.”

He leans forward and rubs his temples for a minute, trying to assimilate what this might mean – not that it’s any of his business, but it does affect his crew.

“Have you told him?”

“Gods, no. If it’s nothing, I am definitely not torpedoing our relationship like that. He’s already panicked once over ‘repopulation efforts’ at the colony, I’m not going to say anything unless it’s actually a thing we have to talk about.”

“But in the meantime your anxiety has to be off the charts, right.” He shakes his head. “No wonder. Jesus, Nyota, I’m sorry.”

“So am I, believe me.” She snorts. “This was very definitely not in the plans. We’ve discussed it, tabled it for another discussion maybe a decade in the future, and we have been very definitely protected on both sides the entire time. If it’s happening, it’s an accident, and not a welcome one.”

“And if it’s happening?” he asks quietly.

“That’s also none of your business,” she replies, pointedly. “What happens to your command chain is, and I would tell you when the time came and we decided an outcome.”

“Fair enough, and I apologize. I was out of line asking.”

“You’re fine, Jim, you’re basically the nosy brother-in-law I’m getting by default. I’m just…I wanted to enjoy my wedding.” She swallows hard, looks away for a minute. “That isn’t going to fully happen now.”

He scowls, and sits back for a minute, tapping a finger against his lips. Then he looks down at the table, and grins.

“Hey, did you know I’m actually super allergic to that gross Vulcan tea?”

She blinks at the non sequitur.

“So if I chug this,” and he promptly does so, despite her startled screech of protest, “someone from only the highest security clearance in Medical will be summoned to fix my dumbassery. Right?”

“Jesus, Jim, what are you playing at?” She darts to the desk, the closest comm-unit, throwing a concerned glance over her shoulder as he automatically slides down the couch to a position on his side. “Uhura to Sickbay. Medical team to First Officer’s Cabin immediately. Preferably Doctor McCoy or Nurse Chapel, the captain’s having a severe allergic reaction to Vulcan Spice Tea.”

Yup, there are the hives starting, and his throat’s getting scratchy.

“Hang on, Captain.” She’s kneeling in front of him, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Why the hell?”

“Because,” he says, grinning. “Nobody’s going to really think twice about medical personnel coming to Spock’s cabin for a Code Gold. And Bones can take a blood sample while he’s in here and run it through the medical mainframe from Spock’s computer. Get your test, Nyota.”

She sits back on her heels and stares at him.

And then smacks him upside the head.

“You dumbass, you do not risk anaphylactic shock over something like this!”

“Ehh, I have people for that.” He coughs roughly from around a closing throat. Granted, those people better move it, but he’s got confidence they will. It’s only a three-minute lift ride from Sickbay to Deck Five, he’s fine.

She sighs, head dropping for a second to rest on his arm, and then finally pats his shoulder, shoving a pillow under his head to elevate his airway. “Spock’s not going to be happy, with either of us. How am I supposed to explain how you managed to ingest this while I was sitting right here?”

“I don’t keep you in your position for your looks, Lieutenant-Commander. You’ll figure something out.”

“There are times I love you, and times I really, really hate you.”

--0--

 

As it turns out, his Comms Chief’s problem was simply due to wedding stress, nothing more. There would be no star-crossed babies crawling around the Enterprise anytime soon, and the thought makes him oddly sad.

But it is probably just as well; if those two ever did decide to have children, they would probably end up ruling the galaxy, and he’d definitely be out a job in twenty years.

 


 

I.

It’s not that he hates shore leave, exactly.

He just hates being off the ship, hates not knowing what’s happening aboard, hates being out of immediate reach of the life-blood of his precious Enterprise, where he can within minutes be on-site if something happens to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Bones says he’s just a damn control freak, and that’s probably accurate, too.

He knows a good chunk of the feeling still stems from the fact that there have been multiple times where he’s still been on the ship when it’s literally exploded under him, so he can be excused his freakouts, thank you very much, and besides that this is his home, okay. He’s responsible for her and all the souls aboard, and if he wants to be a little possessive he damn well can be at this point in his career, fight him.

Also, he’s just so freaking tired, for real. It’s non-stop these days, it seems like, go go go from one planet to the next to the next, with all sorts of crazy and not-crazy-but-still-exhausting missions in-between, and because they’re the first starship out this far in the void they draw the short straw for everything, it seems like. He would love nothing more than to just crash in his cabin for the five days they’re orbiting Draconia XI, and he’s fairly certain no one would miss him.

But Bones mandated shore leave in his medical file, of all places, which means he’s required to leave the ship for at least 48 consecutive hours or get an actual, honest-to-god citation, and after Jim tricked the transporter the last time he knows he won’t be able to pull the same thing twice with a bio-signature duplicator. Besides, he can’t say no to any of them, and Sulu’s made a dinner res at some weird exotic sushi restaurant in the capital for all of them tonight.

The thought of seafood oddly turns his stomach as he flicks through the thirteenth report of the hour, but he firmly pushes the feeling down, scribbling his initials with practiced ease. The crew are already rotating down to the Starbase with all the exuberance of a long-awaited holiday, and the ship is fairly humming through the walls with excitement. He can hear laughter in the halls outside his cabin as officers depart, able to forego their uniforms for the rare occasion.

He sneezes suddenly into his sleeve.

Oh, hell no. He is not sick.

He sends the report back to Engineering with one hand and scrabbles around in his desk drawer for the antihistamine hypo Bones always has stashed in there somehow. No matter how many times Jim uses it there’s always another one waiting. It’s super creepy, actually.

His hand closes around it just as Spock walks in the door.

He shuts the drawer abruptly, barely getting his hand out in time, and blinks innocently up at his First Officer. “’Sup?” he asks, and damn it, his voice is a little hoarse.

Spock’s eyebrow is poking at his fringe, but he doesn’t even bother asking. “Captain. Docking procedures have been completed, and the Governor of Draconia XI sends his regards to Starfleet Command. We are welcome to remain in orbit until all repairs have been completed and supplies are restocked.”

“Thank you, Commander.” He clears his throat, and thank goodness he sounds normal again. “And shore leave?”

“Permitted to all parties. Of course the usual procedures will be followed upon beam-up, and no purchases will be permitted from the planet except from the pre-approved list sent prior to our docking.”

“Good work.” He shudders inwardly; all they need is another incident like the one with the tribbles. “What time is dinner?”

“Lieutenant Sulu’s reservation was for 1800 hours ship’s time. The dress code for the establishment is surprisingly formal.” Spock does not look thrilled about the fact.

Jim snorts. “Great. Why did we agree to this again?”

“I did not. I was outnumbered, and forced to comply or spend the remainder of our leave without Lieutenant Uhura’s presence in our vacation suite.”

This time he laughs out loud – which unexpectedly turns into a dry cough. Ow.

Spock’s other eyebrow inclines precariously. “Are you in need of medical attention?”

He waves a hand in the air dismissively. “Air’s dry. Allergies.” He coughs again, reaches for his cold coffee cup since there isn’t anything else.

“Those are two separate triggers, neither of which are actually present in this room.”

“Spock, for pity’s sake, I just laughed too hard.” Ugh, cold coffee. “Now I have like forty more reports to get through before I can join you guys tonight so go on, scram. Uhura’s probably pacing the transporter room waiting for you.”

“She has already beamed down.”

“Well then.”

Spock hesitates one more second, but finally nods. “I will see to the auto-pilots and the replacement crew before leaving.”

He exhales, a little raggedly. “Thank you.” That’s one less thing he’ll have to knock out before he can leave. “If you really want to be helpful? Drag Bones down with you, I just can’t with him today.”

A slight huff of air which he knows is the closest thing to a Vulcan laugh he’ll ever get. “I will endeavor to do so.”

“This is why you’re the best First Officer in the ‘Fleet,” he yells after the closing door, and hears a laugh from a passing Science crewman in the corridor as it shuts.

It’s only after it closes that he moves to the wall and replicates a cup of hot tea, finally actually trying to hack up the lung that was lodged in his throat the whole conversation.

He doesn’t feel sick, exactly. Just…tired. And achy. He probably has a little cold. He hasn’t actually gotten sick in like, years. He really can’t remember when, it was definitely before Khan; superblood kills basically anything in his system because he’s awesome like that.

He can’t be sick.

 


 

He wakes up with his face stuck to an insistently beeping padd, and immediately curses his clogged head and the antihistamine hypo to every god he can think of when he sees the time. Three hours he’s wasted, and now there’s only three left.

The fact that Bones hasn’t come to check on him at least means that Spock managed to take him down to Draconia, thank goodness. He flies through the rest of the paperwork, snags his duffel, and makes a quick tour of the Bridge just to thank the skeleton crew who’s taking over for them for the next two days. They’ll get their leave, but on the last shift; it’s a sacrifice, because everyone wants to leave the ship ASAP, and he wants them to know he’s grateful.

It’s another hour before he makes it to the transporter room, and motions exhaustedly for the tech at the controls to beam him down.

“Uh…destination, sir?” the ensign squeaks, obviously not expecting him at this late hour.

“Oh.” His head is still super fuzzy. “Right. Um.” His hotel had been set up by the governor and paid for by the ‘Fleet, and it’s on his padd, which is buried in his duffel. “Just dump me in the main square, I’m sure it’s nearby.”

“Sir?”

“Or somewhere near there, geez. I have two legs, Ensign. I can walk,” he says, amused. “If I get lost, I will call for backup, I promise. No matter what stories Commander Giotto tells about me, I am not as much a trouble magnet as he says.”

The young man’s face creases in a brief grin. “Aye, sir. If you say so, sir.”

“I believe I just did, Ensign. And I’m in a time crunch, so…?”

“Uh. Yes, sir. One moment, sir.”

His head is pounding, and this kid is on his last nerve, for real.

The bright lights of the transport beam nearly blind him with a stabbing swirl of proton dispersal, but a moment later he’s safely on a landing pad in the main square of the planet’s capital. He sighs, and digs for a moment in his bag after vacating the pad for another incoming transport. Hauls out the padd and pulls up the directions.

Lovely, they’re nearly twenty minutes’ walk away.

He briefly contemplates beaming back up to the ship and back down in the right spot, but decides the fresh air will clear his head; he already feels a little better, having his feet on solid ground in a cool breeze. He misses this, gets a little claustrophobic aboard sometimes when they don’t get leave for a long period. Also, he’s not entirely confident the kid at the controls could place him in a crowded spot like this hotel looks to be.

Twenty-six minutes later, he finally arrives, more out of breath than he should be, and Bones will never let him hear the end of it if he ever finds out, because he should be in better shape than this. His headache’s returned, and his allergies or whatever it is seem to be aggravated by the exotic smells of the squares he’s passed through on his walk; his sinuses are completely blocked and his eyes are fairly pulsing with his heartbeat.

And, joy, he has less than an hour to be dressed to the nines for a sushi dinner with his alpha shift crew, who are all way too observant and will probably nail him as having the sniffles.

Luckily, there’s a self-check-in option at a kiosk in the lobby, thank all the deities of every neighboring planet, and it’s only a couple of minutes before he’s crashing through the door of a suite that’s hella nice, and maybe he should let Starfleet pay for his shore leave more often now that he’s a galactic bigshot or whatever.

He vaguely thinks as he kicks the door closed behind him that he should probably keep his mouth shut tonight because his filters totally turn off when he gets this tired.

Duly determined, he flings the bag on the bed and follows suit, fumbling for the zipper to haul out his navy suit (his only suit, he’s not wearing a stupid tuxedo to this stupid restaurant) and toss it in the steam press to unwrinkle. The jacket emerges, then the stupid pants get stuck in the stupid zipper of this stupid bag, and gods he is just too freaking tired to deal with this right now…

 


 

His head feels a lot, sooooo much a lot better when he wakes up, and that’s alarming because he shouldn’t be waking up at all.

Oh, that’s not good.

The lights are too dim, and he didn’t turn them down, and he can’t hear the Enterprise’s engines and he has no idea where he is and he needs a weapon if he’s been kidnapped again, good grief.

“Lights, eighty percent,” he snaps, struggling out from under what is a way too heavy blanket, what the hell is this thing made of.

Nothing happens to the lights, but he apparently scares the shit out of someone nearby because there’s a high-pitched yelp and a small crash, something shatters right beside the bed. A second later, a soft click and warm yellow light floods the sleeping alcove.

Oh, right. Hotel suite.

Wait, what?

“Seriously, can you not wake up like a normal person? No, hold on, there’s glass everywhere.”

He blinks, trying to wake up from what feels like a year of naps, and rubs his forehead.

“…Why?” he finally manages, the only thing he can croak out, because the ache in his head has migrated to his throat now.

Dark eyes flick upward for a second as his Communications Officer sits back on her sparkly heels, large pieces of what looks like a water glass in her hands. She stands, tosses the pieces in a can, and then nudges a pair of house-slippers his way, embroidered with the stupid hotel insignia. “You getting up, or just sitting there staring?”

“Not an answer to my question,” he mutters, but puts on the slippers, avoiding the tiny shards and also avoiding looking too closely at a very tight-fitting crimson cocktail dress. Right, he was supposed to be dressing up, too. And…he’s still in his uniform, although his shoes were off. He’s freezing, so he snags the fluffy robe off the back of the wardrobe door and shrugs it on.

“If you’re asking why we’re here, you freaked out the poor kid on duty in the Transporter Room, beaming down looking half-dead four hours ago, and then didn’t show up to dinner. No one knew where you were for almost ninety minutes, because none of us had seen your hotel reservation; it didn’t come across any open comms channel I ever saw. This is why we share our locations with each other, genius.”

“Sorry.” He winces at the intensity of the tone. “I…legit forgot, honest. I’ve had a killer headache all day. I don’t even remember most of the morning.”

“That might be because you were running a fever when we finally got here, Jim.” Bones’s voice from the doorway of the sleeping alcove makes him cringe.

It’s not happy.

“It couldn’t have been a high one, I was fine all day.”

“Debatable. Spock said you were acting weird.”

“I highly doubt that’s what he said.”

“’Odd, even for him’ was literally the phrase he used.”

“Ugh.” He rubs the back of his neck, coughing again into his elbow. “I can’t remember the last time I got sick, guys. Like, it doesn’t happen.”

“Obviously, it does.” Uhura watches as he stands again, then precedes him out of the room. “You’re not invincible, you know.”

“Hmm, well.” He smirks, though it’s a little sickly as he has to hold onto the doorframe as he moves out into the sitting area. “Oh, for pity’s sake, guys.”

“What.”

“Look, we were hungry. Not our fault you bailed.” Sulu shrugs, turning the volume down one bar on the extra-large holovid-screen and gesturing toward the coffee table and…the entire countertop area of the kitchenette, which is literally covered with probably three dozen to-go containers and what looks like a pile of discarded ties and suit coats. “Have a sushi roll. The ones you aren’t allergic to are on the counter. Sir.”

The smell makes him want to hurl, but the sight makes him want to laugh. Scotty is at the dining table, sleeves rolled above his elbows and eight different sushi rolls spread out all around him like his own private little feast, while his helmsman and navigator have apparently appropriated the entire entertainment center for their own use. Chekov’s curly head is barely visible over the top of the couch, where he is either glued to whatever Japanese cartoon they’re watching or fast asleep. Jim doubts the kid even realizes he’s awake, which is hilarious.

Spock is sitting primly at the desk in the farthest corner of the room, still fully dressed in layered Vulcan robes and typing at a portable computer with one half-eaten vegetarian roll and a steaming cup of tea in front of him, but he closes the computer mid-sentence when they enter the room.

“Look, I’m sorry about the no-contact thing, I legit didn’t mean to,” Jim says first thing, leaning against the counter. Bones pushes a bar stool up to him, and he plops onto it with a sigh. “Also for not saying anything earlier,” he mutters, glancing back at his CMO.

Spock looks more relieved than anything else. “I am…pleased, to see that your illness was not a serious one, Captain.”

“Just exhaustion and he’s got a bad cold,” McCoy verifies from where he’s digging back into his dinner, tie and jacket folded neatly over an armchair nearby. “Would probably have been able to fight through it if you’d actually been sleeping and not working 16 hours a day the last two weeks, Jim.”

“Noted.” He shakes his head hastily as Uhura offers him a California roll, and she half-smiles and takes it back, putting it back under a foil cover and handing him a packet of saltines instead that obviously did not come from the sushi place, and where the hell did they even get them. He smiles, eyes watering suspiciously at the gesture.

“Guys, I fucked up dinner, I’m so sorry.”

“Sir, all respect, but don’t flatter yourself,” Sulu drawls, waving a set of chopsticks over the back of the couch.

Uhura hastily shoves a piece of sashimi in her mouth as Spock sends a look of Vulcan death in that direction, which is totally ineffective since both their youngest crewmen are not even looking this way. Scotty salutes him with a grin and what Jim suspects is an unmarked bottle of sake, not water.

Jim laughs until he chokes on a saltine, and loves every minute of it.