the book of love is long and boring
no one can lift the damn thing
it’s full of charts and facts, some figures
and instructions for dancing
but i, i love it when you read to me
and you, you can read me anything
the magnetic fields, "the book of love"
Before Jim knows what he’s doing, he is taking a bullet for Spock.
Technically, it’s not really a bullet - Jim’s imposing a Terran term on a far more sophisticated piece of alien technology that he doesn’t know the name for here - but it may as well be a good, old-fashioned bullet because the effect is the same: Jim feels it tear through him in a flash of blinding agony and he crumples to his knees in the lilac dirt of this (evidently) hostile planet. Immediately, blood begins to pour from the wound and Jim quickly presses a hand to it while he uses the other to fire blindly in the direction of their attackers, aiming blasts only meant to stun despite the pretty damning fact that they tried to kill his First Officer.
Suddenly, Spock is there, pulling Jim to him just as Jim feels his body start to go weak all over, trademark adrenaline abandoning him as the pain in his abdomen flares angrily and radiates through him like a particularly vicious aftershock. Somehow, Jim resists the nearly overwhelming urge to be sick, choosing instead to drop his phaser in favour of clutching desperately at the front of Spock’s shirt.
“Jim,” says Spock, his tone uncharacteristically urgent, “Can you stand?”
For a moment, Jim doesn’t understand the question and he simply stares at Spock, vision starting to go black around the edges. “Spock,” is all he can manage in response before his eyes seem to slide shut of their own accord, his grip on the cool fabric of Spock’s shirt slackening.
And then Jim feels strong arms wrapping around him and lifting him from the ground in one fluid motion. Cradled against Spock’s chest, Jim’s head slumps onto his shoulder, the comforting thrum of what must be Spock’s pulse the last thing he hears before everything goes dark.
Although Jim recognizes the sound of Spock’s voice, it takes him a few minutes to comprehend what Spock is saying. When Jim realizes that the word Spock keeps repeating is, in fact, Jim’s name, it takes him a few minutes more to be able to formulate a reply.
“Uhhhnng,” Jim groans eventually and he hears Spock shifting closer before he feels a warm hand touch his cheek - there and then gone in less than a second.
“Jim,” Spock says again, “Can you hear me?”
“I shall take that inarticulate response as a ‘yes.’” And Jim thinks he hears a thin thread of relief in Spock’s voice. “Are you in considerable pain?”
With his brain only starting to spark back to life, it takes Jim more effort than he’d like to focus on his body. What is he feeling? Definitely pain, but it’s duller now. He feels the wound in his abdomen throb in time with his heartbeat, every muscle in his body aching and impossibly tender. Jim also feels feverish, the sickening swirl of nausea clouding his head and curling like a snake in wait inside his stomach.
“Feels like I‘ve been run over,” Jim gasps, forcing his tongue to formulate proper words.
“An apt simile,” says Spock before launching into the debrief Jim is expecting. "The blast was from a phaser-like weapon similar to our own,” Spock explains, "According to the readings on my tricorder, foreign toxins were introduced into your blood when you were shot, which leads me to believe that the main difference between our weapons and those belonging to the locals is that theirs are designed for biological warfare.”
Jim processes this. “So… I’ve basically been shot with a poisonous bullet?” he asks, trying for wry, but sounding tired.
Where Spock would have normally huffed out a breath to laugh at Jim’s gross oversimplification, there is only silence and this scares Jim more than anything else up until this point.
“Essentially,” Spock replies easily enough, but there’s something evasive in his answer. Jim feels unease stir within him, an alarm in the back of his head flashing red. “I believe,” Spock continues, “that in addition to your injury and the accompanying loss of blood, you have also suffered an allergic reaction to whatever toxins were present on or in said poisonous bullet. This explains the speed with which you lost consciousness and your currently elevated body temperature.”
Jim heaves an internal sigh because of fucking course he’s allergic to whatever the hell that bullet was made of, but something stops him from commenting on that. Instead, he musters up a frown and hopes he’s pointing it in Spock’s direction (he hasn’t found the strength yet to open his eyes).
“There’s something you’re not telling me,” Jim whispers and he knows immediately that he’s right when he hears Spock suck in a breath.
“As always, Captain, your intuition is exceptional," Spock says and Jim is horrified to note that he sounds - of all things - sad. “Although I transported you to a secure location after your injury and have subsequently tended to your wound with the few supplies I brought with me, I am unable to treat the infection spreading in your blood.”
“That’s not your responsibility, Spock,” Jim says gently, "I’m sure Bones will -“
“I have been unable to contact the crew,” Spock interrupts and Jim feels his heart sink. “It may be an atmospherical interruption or something more deliberate on the part of the locals,” says Spock, obviously struggling to keep his voice even, “but we have been stranded here without any word from the Enterprise despite the two hundred and twenty eight attempts on my part in the last three point one hours to re-establish communication."
Finally, Jim lifts his abnormally heavy eyelids, blinking a few times to bring everything into focus. He finds Spock’s gaze already fixed on him, his dark eyes pools of something Jim doesn’t dare analyze.
“So, what you’re saying,” Jim croaks, fighting against the lump building in his throat, "is that we’re stuck down here for an indefinite amount time.”
Spock nods his curt nod. “Affirmative, Captain.”
“And if we don’t get back to the ship within the next…” Jim trails off deliberately to allow Spock to interject.
“Few hours,” he supplies, but Jim won’t have it.
“Don’t be vague with me, Spock,” he whispers, "Come on. You can tell me.”
Spock presses his mouth into a thin line. “Two point two hours. Point three at the most.”
“So, if we don’t get back to the ship within the next two hours and roughly fifteen minutes,” Jim says slowly, “I’m going to die here. Is that right?”
Spock falters, mouth working once before he can get the words out. “Affirmative, Captain,” he repeats, voice catching and oh, no.
“Don’t ‘Captain’ me,” Jim whispers, willing away the tears suddenly in his eyes, “Not now."
“Jim,” Spock says instead, but it doesn’t sound like an amendment or an apology. No, the way Spock speaks his name just now is all quiet intensity - he always could pack so much into so little - and Jim can hardly bear the weight of everything he is not-quite-saying.
“God,” Jim chokes out, closing his eyes as a black wave of panicfeardespair momentarily overtakes him, "Not again. How can this be happening again?”
The answer comes swiftly. “You cannot resist saving people.”
Jim’s eyes fly open and his world narrows to Spock. “You,” he corrects, "I can't resist saving you.”
“And yet you never allow me to return the favour.”
“It’s not a favour.”
Spock looks away. “You will not die here.” His words burn in the darkness of the cave, crackling with so much anguish and frustration that Jim feels them prickle on his skin.
“I thought Vulcans couldn’t lie,” Jim teases, trying for humour. Spock, however, is not amused, turning his fiery gaze back on him.
“It is not a lie. I will not let -”
“Spock,” Jim interrupts, "I know. I know you would tear this cave apart to fix this, figure something out.” He lets out a humourless laugh that sounds more like a cough. "Fuck, you’d probably tear time and space apart to find some kind of solution. I know you’d do that for me.” Jim pauses, drawing breath. "But, right now, all I want is for you to stay right here and talk to me. You’ve done all you can. Now… we hope for the best.”
“Hope is illogical.” The waver in Spock’s voice is like taking a second bullet.
“What about luck?” Jim tries.
Something in Spock’s expression shifts, softens and Jim knows he’s remembering that day on the bridge when they looked at each other like nothing else in the galaxy mattered. Glowing with their most recent success and high on the thrill of having once again evaded death, the praise they’d exchanged in that moment had been the closest either of them has ever come to anything resembling a confession.
"Captain, you almost make me believe in luck."
"Why, Mr. Spock. You almost make me believe in miracles."
“I almost believed in it once,” Spock whispers.
“Can you almost believe in it again? At least, for the next two hours and fifteen minutes?”
Spock sighs, solemn. “Jim, there is nothing you could ask of me right now that I would refuse.”
“Is that so?”
“Within reason, of course.”
Jim grins, the pull of muscle in his cheeks slow and difficult. “Then stay with me. Talk to me. Tell me things.”
“What do you wish to know?”
Spock nods, face set. “Very well.”
“C’mere.” Weakly, Jim nods to the ground beside him. Spock hesitates for a fraction of a second before lowering himself to lie at Jim's side. They turn their heads to stare at one another and Jim wonders if Spock feels it, too – the sheer intimacy of this moment. Despite his fever, Jim revels in the heat of Spock’s body so close to his, the backs of their hands brushing in a barely-there feeling that is enough to anchor Jim to this moment, to his body, to Spock.
“I do not know what to say,” Spock confesses at last, voice soft and small, “I am presently at a bit of a loss.”
Jim feels his heart break for the twentieth time in the past ten minutes, but manages a smile. “Don’t worry,” he murmurs, nudging Spock’s hand in reassurance, “I’ll start.”
“Let’s talk art,” Jim decides, “I never get to talk art.”
A thoughtful pause. “I was unaware that art was a topic you longed to discuss.”
Jim stares at Spock, something sad and secret unfurling inside his chest. “I’m only realizing now that there’s so much we’ve never talked about,” he says.
Spock’s eyes go soft. “Likewise,” he replies and Jim needs a minute to collect himself. No time to think about this being their last conversation ever. No time to contemplate the chasm of grief waiting for him if he thinks about anything having to do with Spock as a 'last.'
Jim takes a rasping breath.
“I love art,” he admits, “I’ve always loved it. I love paintings and books and poetry and music and theatre. I’m actually pretty damn cultured, y'know.”
Spock smiles his almost-smile. “I, too, am partial toward those things. May I inquire as to your favourites?”
“God,” Jim croaks, “There are so many. Um... Well, my favourite painter is Van Gogh.” He wheezes out a self-deprecating chuckle. “A bit cliché, I know. And my favourite painting of his is also a huge cliché. I’m sure you can guess it.”
“Vulcans never guess."
Spock takes a moment to think, a tiny crinkle of concentration forming between his brows. “Is it, perhaps, ‘The Starry Night’?”
Jim musters up a smile. “Bingo. I had a print of it in my dorm back at the academy. I just love the colours - all yellows and blues.” He hesitates, a tender expression stumbling over his mouth. “Kind of like us.”
“Me in my command yellows and you in your science blues,” says Jim, eyes flicking down to indicate Spock’s uniform. “We’re like a walking ‘Starry Night.’”
A rare smile curves Spock’s mouth and Jim thinks it might be the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. “I must admit that I am fond of that idea.”
Jim allows himself a moment to stare at Spock before answering. “And what about you? Do you have a favourite painter?”
“Vulcans do not have –”
Jim grins. “If you had to choose,” he interrupts gently.
Spock does not seem to mind. “You may call my choice a cliché as well; however, I must admit that I hold a genuine admiration for Leonardo da Vinci and his work. I am drawn to the symmetry of his art and believe him to be a genius. His notebooks are a prime example of his intellect.”
Jim nods, the motion a supreme effort. “They're great, aren’t they?”
“I always liked his flying machine sketch best. It shows just how long humans have been dreaming up ways to get to the stars.”
“You have always been an ambitious species,” Spock allows.
“Good thing, too,” Jim rasps, smile flitting across his lips. “Without that ambition, there’d be no Starfleet. And without Starfleet, we would have never met.”
Spock’s jaw sets and Jim swears he sees him jut out his chin the tiniest bit. “I am confident our paths would have crossed somehow.”
Jim feels the thrill of this statement ripple down his spine. “Oh, so you believe in fate?” he asks, but before Spock can reply, Jim stops him. "Wait, no. Don’t answer that yet. I want to talk about art more.” An idea flares in Jim’s brain and he is voicing it before thinking it through. “Hey, if we get out of here, let’s go to a museum on our next shore leave. Have you ever seen da Vinci's notebooks?”
“I have not.”
“I'll take you,” Jim vows, “We'll find out where they are and we'll go there.”
It takes Spock a moment to respond and, when he does, Jim hears the catch in his voice. “I am amenable to that plan.”
They know. They both know. They are planning for a future Jim will not live to see.
“Great,” Jim whispers. He swallows with difficulty. “Now, talk literary to me,” he commands, injecting as much false cheer into his voice as possible, “Do you like to read? I never see you reading anything but reports.”
Spock looks pained for a moment - as if this charade is costing him - but he schools his expression into one of serenity and continues with the conversation. “I do enjoy reading,” he replies, “However, as you have noted, I hardly get the opportunity to do so for pleasure. My duties as First Officer always take precedence.”
Jim’s face falls, blue eyes like rain. “M’sorry about that,” he murmurs.
But Spock shakes his head, firm. “I am satisfied with the manner in which I spend my free time.”
Jim thinks of the meals they’ve eaten together, the silent stargazing they’ve done on the Observation Deck, their evening games of chess... And he relaxes. “Me, too.”
“Are you able to find time to read for pleasure?” Spock asks.
If he could shrug, he would do so now. “I squeeze it in when I can,” Jim answers instead, “Whenever I can’t sleep, I go back to my favourites.” He chokes out a self-deprecating laugh. “I know I have every book ever written at my disposal on my PADD and I really should start something new, but I like reading something I know I love already. The familiarity of certain stories and poems… it's soothing.” Jim hesitates. “Also, it’s kind of stupid, but I’m... kind of afraid of starting something I might not finish.”
“Ah,” Spock says and he pauses, digesting this. “Have you always felt your mortality so keenly?”
Jim finds he can’t move his head anymore, so he vocalizes his dissent. “No,” he admits, “This is more of a post-Khan phenomenon.”
A frown. “I see,” Spock says slowly, displeasure evident in his voice.
“What is it?”
His gaze is distant, unsettled. “That troubles me.”
“M’sorry,” Jim mumbles again and Spock’s eyes refocus on Jim.
“Apologies are unnecessary,” he says gently.
“Well,” Jim ventures, “maybe you could help me out."
Jim takes a breath that rattles ominously in his lungs. “What if we started a book club? After all this is over and we’re back on the ship and I’m no longer poisoned, that is.” He grits out a grin to mitigate the ache in his chest. "We can take turns choosing a book we’ve never read and then meet up when we’ve both finished it.”
“To what aim?” Spock asks, expression half-confusion, half-curiosity.
Jim's heart nearly folds in on itself in fondness. “To do what we’re doing now. Talk about it. Say what we liked. Didn’t like.”
Spock seems to accept this, mouth a thoughtful pout. “And the formation of this ‘book club’ would assist you in overcoming your fear of reading new material?”
“I honestly think it would,” Jim says. He pauses, weighing the words on the tip of his tongue. “If ever I did die in the middle of reading something, I know I could trust you to finish it,” he confesses, expression soft yet solemn. “That gives me comfort.”
Jim knows he isn’t imagining the sparkle in Spock’s eyes. “I would be honoured to join your book club,” he replies.
“It’s settled, then,” Jim whispers, lethargically blinking back the tears pricking at his own vision, “We’re going to a museum and starting a book club together.” He tries for a smile, but isn’t sure if he succeeds. "What should our first book be?”
“Since it was your idea, I believe it fitting that you choose.”
“Hmmmm.” Jim takes a moment to think, desperately trying to ignore the sluggishness of his brain. Spock waits patiently, focus unwavering. “Well, don’t laugh,” says Jim at last, “but I’ve actually always wanted to read Pride and Prejudice.”
A small smile flickers over Spock’s mouth. Jim feels his slowing heart leap in response. “Ah,” Spock murmurs, “A Terran classic.” He nods in approval. “I believe you will enjoy it.”
An incredulous grin ghosts across Jim’s face. “You’ve read it already?”
Spock nods again. “Many years ago. Nonetheless, I would not be opposed to reading it again.”
Jim feels the dull electricity of intrigue crackle and spark at the base of his skull. “I’m sorry, but Austen really does not seem like someone you would just pick up. What’s the story there?”
“My mother read it to me when I was young,” Spock informs him after a slight pause, voice taking on that careful warmth it always does when he speaks about Amanda. “It was her favourite novel.”
“Really?” Jim treasures the moments Spock talks about his mother, drinking in every detail - each memory he has of her is disclosed so rarely and with the utmost reverence. Jim doesn’t know if he’s ever heard someone speak about a loved one like that, isn’t sure what he would have to do to merit such respect, such devotion.
“Yes,” Spock confirms, “I believe she identified with the character of Elizabeth Bennet. She no doubt saw a lot of my father in Mr. Darcy.”
This strikes Jim as very funny, but all he can manage is small huff of breath. “From what I know of Pride and Prejudice,” he says, voice beginning to take on a bit of a warped quality, “Darcy is about as Vulcan as a human can get.”
“He is, admittedly, rather stoic.”
“But he falls in love with someone who challenges him, right?”
“That is putting things mildly.” And Spock is definitely smiling now - barely-there, but unmistakable. “Elizabeth completely upends his worldview. Not only does her vivacity intrigue him, but she also speaks her mind and is unafraid to contradict Mr. Darcy despite his privileged position and economic status. And yet he also causes her to question herself and reevaluate her judgmental nature.” Spock pauses. “In the end, they learn from one another and change for the better - all without compromising who they truly are. It is, in my mother’s words, the perfect love story.”
There is an inexplicable knot lodged in Jim’s throat. “Sounds a bit familiar,” he rasps, hoping Spock will catch the hint in his eyes.
“It would,” Spock agrees, "Austen’s novel has admittedly become something of a template for romantic narratives.”
Jim chuckles, brushing aside the pinprick of disappointment that needles in his chest. “Did your mother read to you a lot?”
“Yes. She relished books and wished to pass on her love of literature to me.”
“Did she succeed?”
Spock shrugs a singular shoulder in an uncharacteristically human gesture. “More or less. While I always insisted to her that the consumption of fictional stories was an illogical pastime, I secretly cherished the ones she chose to share with me.”
Of course you did, Jim thinks. “Any favourites?”
Spock’s eyes cut away. “You will think it a childish choice.”
A tinge of green spreads across Spock’s cheeks. “Margery Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit.”
Jim makes an appreciative sound in the back of his throat. “Your mom had great taste.”
Spock’s eyes are back on Jim, bright with hope. “You have read this book?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jim breathes, grinning. And something particularly lovely happens to Spock’s face in that moment. Even though they’ve discovered an abundance of shared interests since their disastrous first meeting years ago, this commonality seems to strike a chord deep within Spock and he looks at Jim with something akin to wonder.
“I used to inquire whether or not I was Real,” he confesses, making reference to a term used within the book. His voice is hushed and his words halting, which means that Spock has clearly never told anyone this before.
It’s a delicate moment - one Jim knows he could botch so easily - and he wonders how to reply, how to convey how grateful he is that Spock is letting him in on this, on something so personal.
Eventually, Jim settles on words that are not his own.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” he says gently, quoting the character of the Skin Horse, "It’s a thing that happens to you.”
Jim knows he made the right choice when Spock responds with the next sentence in the book. “Does it hurt?”
“Sometimes. When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once," Jim recites from memory, "You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all because once you are Real you can’t be ugly. Except –”
A breath catches in his throat and Jim is seized by a violent coughing fit. He feels Spock shift closer, pressing his forehead to Jim's, as Jim struggles for air. Finally, he quiets, but he is considerably weaker than before, each inhale and exhale laboured now.
“Except,” Jim croaks, holding Spock's gaze through half-lidded eyes, determined to finish the passage, "Except to people who don’t understand.” He watches Spock's lips tremble, control beginning to slip.
“I used to fret over whether I had too many so-called 'sharp edges' to become Real,” Spock whispers, “My mother used to assure me to the contrary. That I was very Real. That I was very...” He swallows. “Very loved.”
Jim speaks without thinking. “You are very Real to me.”
Spock is undone. “Jim.”
“You are,” he insists.
Spock closes his eyes. He knows what Jim is saying, knows what it would mean if he were to say it back and finally make this unspoken thing between them real.
“My mother also read The Little Prince to me,” Spock says at last. And Jim knows that this is his way of saying it back. One personal admission for another.
Jim tries to project a mental smile in Spock’s direction. “Another one of your… favourites?” he says out loud.
“An alien travels the stars... and learns about the galaxy surrounding him?” Jim finds speaking progressively harder, tongue weighing heavy in his mouth. “Must’ve... struck a chord with you.”
“That was... one of my favourites growing up, too.”
“As a child, I remember I did not understand the idea of ‘establishing ties’ as introduced by the character of the fox,” Spock confides, “As you know, friendship is a foreign concept on Vulcan. Hence, my younger self could not comprehend how investing time in something that seemed illogical could yield a pleasing result.”
“But you’ve... since seen the light… right?”
Spock’s eyes bore into Jim’s. “I see the truth in the fox’s words now.”
“If you tame me…” Jim recites faintly, “then we shall need each other. To me... you will be unique in... all the world. To you... I shall be unique in... all the world.”
“If you tame me,” Spock continues, “it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you…”
Spock breaks off, pain rolling off of him in waves that lap at the shores of Jim’s mind. “You,” he whispers, “have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”
The tears rain down Jim’s face, unchecked. “What will remind you… of me?” he asks, vision beginning to take on a whitish blur. He is fading now, everything beginning to dim.
Spock's answer is immediate. “Everything.”
It is suddenly imperative for Jim to touch Spock. Shifting his right hand toward Spock with what little strength he has left, Jim reaches out with weak fingers in hopes of brushing even the fabric of Spock’s regulation uniform. Instead, Jim feels Spock’s hand close over his – all strength and warmth – and he is overcome with a stream of uncensored thoughts that spill freely from Spock.
no, no, no, no, no
do not leave me
could not bear your loss
would do anything for you
would die in your stead
do anything to keep you safe
my t’hy –
There are tears on both of their faces when Spock loosens his grip on Jim’s hand, not quite severing the connection, but weakening it considerably. Now, Jim only feels a gentle ebb and flow of emotion where before there was a hurricane. No words, only faint sensations.
Gasping in a breath that might have been a sob if he had more strength, Jim rasps out Spock’s name.
But Spock interrupts him, voice sharp with urgency. “Jim, I believe I heard –”
There is a crackle of static and then: “Enterprise to Commander Spock. Spock, come in. This is Lieutenant Uhura. Answer.”
And Spock is crouching at Jim’s side, communicator already in hand. “Spock here. The Captain is in dire need of medical attention. Beam us up immediately.”
“Chekhov’s already locking onto your location,” Uhura informs them crisply, “Dr. McCoy will be waiting in the transporter room.”
“Hurry,” Spock says simply, “Spock out.” With that, he pockets the communicator and lifts Jim from the ground, cradling him in his arms.
Before the wash of white light, Jim feels the gentle press of Spock’s lips against his forehead.
Jim knows he is on the Enterprise the second he hears the gentle hum of his ship around him. Although the chaos that erupts the second they finish rematerializing feels very distant – voices tinny and faces blurred – Jim can pick out the sound of Bones telling everyone to get out of the way.
“Damn you and your damn allergies, Jim,” he mutters, the sounds of a first, second, and third hypospray hissing through the air in quick succession.
Once done, Bones’s attention shifts to Spock. “Well, don’t just stand there!” he roars, “If you’re gonna carry him like a damn damsel, you might as well be a hero and get him to sickbay.” A fraction of a pause. “Well, what are you waiting for? Move your Vulcan ass. Go!”
The next thing Jim knows, he is lying on a biobed, the familiar bright lights of sickbay shining above him. He does not know how much or how little time has passed, but he hears the whir of the dermal regenerator at work over his wound.
“Bones?” he mumbles, desperately trying to blink away the haze hanging over his eyes.
“You,” Bones sighs, “should be asleep. Nurse Chapel? We need another sedative over here.”
That’s when a foggy yet familiar face appears in Jim’s field of vision.
“Spock,” Jim murmurs, relaxing, “Hey… I still had… more questions for you.”
“I shall answer them when you are healed,” Spock assures him, brushing a strand of hair from Jim’s eyes.
“But… what if I don’t –”
Jim sees a flash of blonde hair off to his left and anticipates the hypospray before he feels it enter his bloodstream. It begins to take effect immediately, but Jim fights against the lethargy trickling through his veins.
“I also had… something to say…” he babbles, “Something… important… I need to tell you… Have always… wanted to tell you… been too stupid not to say… Don’t wanna die… without you knowing…”
“Jim. I –” A glance in Bones’s direction. “I know,” Spock replies, taking Jim’s hand, “I feel the same.”
Jim's fingers tighten around Spock’s. “I... never wished you any sort of harm…” he breathes, quoting The Little Prince again, “but you wanted me to tame you.”
“Yes, that it so,” Spock quotes right back.
“But now... you are going to cry.”
Spock nods. “Yes, that is so.”
“Then... it has done you... no good at all.”
Spock leans forward, mouth brushing Jim’s ear. “It has done me good,” he whispers, “because of the colour of the wheat fields."
Jim smiles. And then the world goes black.
The next time Jim comes to, everything is sharper, clearer, and more vibrant. He feels his heart pound with renewed vigour in his chest – bombastic and proud – and relishes in the quicksilver sparking of his brain at work again. Breathing in particular is a delight, the inhale and exhale of air fluid and natural once more.
Shifting tentatively, Jim is pleased to find that his muscles no longer feel as if they are filled with lead. The film over his eyes has lifted and he drinks in the details of sickbay, gaze drawn at last – inexorably – to his only visitor, sitting perfectly still in what has no doubt been a faultlessly faithful vigil at his bedside.
A grin splits across Jim’s face.
“Hey,” he says.
“Captain,” Spock replies.
Jim chuckles. “Back to 'Captain' now, are we?”
“We are once more on board the Enterprise and you are no longer in mortal peril.”
“But we are off-duty.” Jim shrugs. “Or, at least I am.”
“As am I.”
“Well, then.” Jim raises an expectant eyebrow.
A beat. The lines of Spock’s shoulders soften along with the set of his mouth. “Jim,” he says.
Jim’s smile widens and he nods. “Better.”
They simply look at one another, basking in the simplicity of the moment – a moment, mere hours ago, neither of them thought Jim would live to see. The quiet, uncomplicated happiness Jim feels as he gazes at Spock, taking in every well-known feature as if for the first time, is sugar sweet. In fact, he cannot remember the last time he felt like this.
“How are you feeling?” Spock asks finally, the words leaving him in a bit of rush. He has clearly been waiting to ask this.
“Alive. A definite improvement over the last time I was awake.”
Spock does not laugh at Jim’s joke. “Indeed,” he says, solemn. And although Spock shows no outward signs of hesitation, Jim can tell there’s something else he wants to say.
Spock opens his mouth again after a slight pause.
There it is, Jim thinks.
“How much of our sojourn in the cave do you recall?”
“Sojourn,” Jim repeats, amused, “You make it sound like a holiday.”
Spock tilts his head, the motion prim and hopelessly endearing. “I believe it is a called a euphemism.”
A full-fledged laugh escapes Jim. “I’ll say,” he replies before quieting. “And to answer your question: all of it.”
Spock face takes on a careful expression. “Including our conversation?”
“We’re starting a book club and I’m taking you to see da Vinci’s notebooks,” Jim lists off. “Am I missing anything?”
A definite pause. Jim can tell by the purse of Spock’s lips that he is internally deliberating with himself. Then: “I remember a great deal more.”
Something in the air shifts, precarious yet full of possibility. Just then, Jim becomes intensely aware of how alone they are and a flutter of nerves erupts in the pit of his stomach, a jittery kind of energy buzzing across his skin.
He swallows, wetting his suddenly dry lips. “Do you?” he asks.
“Indeed,” Spock confirms, gaze cutting to his hands clasped in his lap. “You said that you had something you wished to tell me.”
Jim remembers his last moments of consciousness, the comforting sight of Spock’s face, the words he managed to say before the sedative took effect. “You told me you already knew.”
Spock eyes still do not meet his. “Perhaps I was… hasty.”
“Hasty,” Jim repeats.
Spock looks up. “In presuming to know what it is you wished to tell me.”
Jim feels his throat knot and a sad sort of smile stumbles over his mouth. “Presume away,” he says, trying for airy but sounding slightly strangled instead.
Spock shakes his head, features tight. “I cannot.”
“And why’s that?”
Spock’s mouth works once before answering. “I should be most distressed,” he admits, “to discover that my presumption is wrong.”
Jim feels a rogue surge of hope flood his heart and quells the mad urge to laugh. “It's probably not,” he assures Spock breathlessly.
Spock hesitates, but shakes his head again. “All the same, Vulcans do not guess.”
Jim mulls this over. “Ask me then,” he says, hoisting himself up onto his elbows so that his gaze is level with Spock’s, “Ask me and you won't have to guess.”
Spock stares at Jim for what feels like a long time, dark eyes unfathomable. Finally, he takes a deep breath. “Do you love me?”
Jim chokes out a watery laugh. “Yes,” he breathes as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
The soft, shocked breath that escapes Spock at Jim’s answer is perhaps the loveliest thing Jim has ever heard.
“Then I was correct,” Spock says, “in presuming that is what you wished to tell me?”
“Affirmative,” Jim teases and is rewarded by a rare blush from Spock. He tries to commit the visual to memory. “And if I’m to follow this logically,” Jim continues, “the fact that you’re right about my feelings means that… you really do feel the same? About me?”
“Yes,” Spock confirms, rising from the chair to bridge the distance between them. He clasps Jim’s closest hand in both of his and Jim immediately feels the fervour, the intricacy, the depth of Spock’s affection for him.
“You love me,” Jim murmurs, but it comes out as a question.
“Yes,” Spock repeats, kneeling so that they are nearly nose-to-nose. This close, Jim can see the faint dusting of evergreen freckles across Spock’s face and the subtle curve of his smile.
Overwhelmed, all Jim can think of to say is, “Wow.”
His eloquence is enough to elicit a distinctly laugh-like huff from Spock. “My sentiments exactly.”
Jim's next question tumbles from his lips before he can stop himself. “Can I kiss you?”
Spock's eyes soften. “Of course, Jim," he says.
At that, Spock leans forward while Jim extends his fingers. They freeze. Jim chuckles. Spock blushes.
“Oh,” they both say, eyes locking and then skittering away in pleased embarrassment.
“Isn’t this, uh. Isn’t this how Vulcans kiss?” Jim asks, glancing up at Spock from under his eyelashes. He holds up his fingers tentatively.
“It is,” Spock confirms and, if Jim didn't know any better, he'd say that Spock looks touched.
“Well.” Jim clears his throat. “Is that the way you’re more comfortable with?”
“I should be amenable to showing my regard for you,” Spock declares, bringing Jim's hand up to lay a gentle kiss in the centre of his palm, “in any and all ways.” His lips brush over Jim's skin as he speaks, brown eyes flickering up to meet blue.
Jim doesn't need much more invitation than that. “In that case,” he whispers, reaching over with his free hand to trail the backs of his fingers across Spock’s cheek, “I think we're on the same page, Mr. Spock.”
Wordlessly, they lean forward in perfect synchronicity this time, meeting somewhere in the middle for a kiss as gentle as gossamer that immediately sets about knitting all the secret, broken places inside of Jim back together. In a fit of whimsy, Jim’s mind conjures up the poetic image of his heart bursting into flower, tendrils of ivy curling around his ribs.
Jim can’t help it – he smiles against Spock’s lips at the visual – and feels a surge of something that feels suspiciously like joy emanate from Spock in response. Then, Spock’s warm hands are cradling Jim’s face and he is pressing feather-light kisses to Jim’s nose, forehead, eyelids.
Sighing, Jim’s eyes flutter open and he shudders at the sight of Spock with half-lidded eyes and irises blown wide with desire. Wanting nothing more than for Spock to continue looking at him like that, Jim takes one of Spock’s hands in his and, one-by-one, skims a lingering kiss over each fingertip. Impossibly, Spock’s gaze darkens and then Jim finds himself being kissed again, all hesitation forgotten.
This kiss is firmer and full of swallowed gasps, fingers tighter and mouths hungrier. And yet, they keep the same unhurried pace as before in an effort to tease out every last second of this moment the pair of them have anticipated for so long.
Eventually, they break apart, foreheads touching as they breathe each other’s air. They stay like that for a minute or two, hearts beating out a duet of finallyfinallyfinally.
Spock is the first to speak. “I believe,” he says slowly, “I recall you mentioning having more questions you wanted to ask me.”
Jim glances up, one side of his mouth quirking up in a crooked grin. “Like, a lifetime’s worth.”
Spock meets Jim’s gaze. “It is fortuitous that I plan on spending the remainder of my days at your side.”
“Well, that’s a coincidence.”
Jim nods. “I was planning on doing the very same thing.”
“I am gratified to hear it, t’hy’la.”
The Vulcan word makes something bright and warm flare in Jim’s brain and he shivers. “What’s that you called me?”
Spock allows himself a tiny smile. “Is your lifetime’s worth of questions beginning so soon?”
“No time like the present.”
Spock stares at Jim, expression serious yet soft around the edges. “I called you t’hy’la,” he says, voice taking on a hushed, almost reverent tone that elicits a thrill in Jim’s blood.
“And what does it mean?”
“It means you,” Spock murmurs before slanting his mouth over Jim’s once more.
True to his word, Jim takes Spock to see da Vinci’s notebooks on Ardana two weeks after he is released from sickbay. Naturally, the trip devolves into complete chaos and Jim finds himself trapped in a zenite mine with the planet’s High Advisor by mid-afternoon.
Thanks to a well-timed rescue by the Enterprise crew, however, Jim ends the day safe and sound in Spock’s bed.
“It was all pretty romantic up until the whole getting trapped in a mine thing, right?” Jim asks over his shoulder.
Spock tightens his arms around Jim, pulling him even closer against his chest. “Affirmative,” Spock mutters into the nape of Jim’s neck.
About a month later, they start their two-person book club. As discussed, Pride and Prejudice is their inaugural pick and – to the intense mortification of the entire crew – Jim and Spock take to quoting their favourite passages at one another at random.
“My beauty you had early withstood,” Jim begins one day on the bridge, “and as for my manners – my behaviour to you was at least always bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not.” He stands as he delivers his monologue, making his way over to Spock at his station. “Now, be sincere,” Jim says, leaning against the rail nearest his First Officer, a playful look in his eyes, “did you admire me for my impertinence?”
For a moment, the bridge crew can do nothing but stare. Both Sulu and Chekhov look like they have no idea what's going on while Uhura is desperately trying to stifle a giggle. Then, to almost everyone's surprise, Spock spins around in his chair.
“For the liveliness of your mind, I did,” he replies, arching a brow.
The radiance of Jim’s answering smile is enough to make their audience heave a dreamy sigh, one yeoman clutching a bit wistfully at his heart.
“How could you begin?” Jim asks that night in their quarters, mouthing at the hollow at the base of Spock’s throat, “I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?”
Spock's response rumbles under Jim's lips. “I cannot fix on the hour,” he recites, “or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”
Jim kisses his way up to Spock's ear. “I love that line,” he whispers, “Is that really how it was for you, too?”
“Indeed,” Spock murmurs, “The act of falling in love with you was so gradual a process that I truly am at a loss as to an exact date and time at which my feelings began to undergo said change.”
“Spoken like a true Mr. Darcy,” Jim grins, pulling back slightly to drink in the sight of a disheveled Spock, all rumpled clothes and tousled hair.
“Perhaps,” Spock says softly, bringing gentle fingers to rest against Jim’s mouth, “it is time we stopped speaking altogether.”
Jim chuckles. “I am amenable to that suggestion,” he teases, lowering his voice in a poor imitation of Spock’s.
But before Spock can protest Jim’s subpar attempt at mimicry, the sensation of Jim’s tongue swiping across the pads of his fingers makes the thought of sharing this critique…