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Unfamiliar Ache

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The farmhouse looked rather desolate. It had an almost abandoned look to it. Leonard had to remind himself that only a few weeks ago, no one had lived there, so he supposed the look of the place made some sort of sense. Still…he didn’t like it. Didn’t have to like it.

There wasn’t really a lot to like about the situation at large. But he was here for a reason. To pick up the pieces. Put things to right. Help in some way.

Hell, he didn’t know.

It was cold too. And windy. A blustery sort of wind that went right through the thin coat he’d worn. He stepped up to the front door and knocked. It was an old rickety door that made Leonard wonder if he knocked too hard would it fall off the hinges. But knock he did. Three times before it opened.

“Hey.” The smile was there. A ghost of the smile Jim Kirk once had, but a smile nonetheless. It made him ache for one of the real ones though. Leonard was quick to take in the obvious signs of fatigue and distress. Dark smudges under Jim’s eyes, his blue eyes not quite as clear, and quite a bit of shadowed growth over his jaw. Hints of gray here and there in the fur covering his chin. He wore ratty old jeans with holes in them and a faded blue T-shirt.

“You look like hell,” Leonard announced.

“Nice to see you too, Bones.” Jim hugged him and if it was just a little tighter than their usual hugs, Leonard didn’t comment on it and just hugged him back.

“It’s cold.”

Jim laughed. “Somebody’s grumpy. Come in. I have a fire going in the fireplace.”

It was weird seeing Jim here. Someplace that did not involve Starfleet.

He knew Jim had grown up here, mostly anyway, but still it didn’t seem right. It hadn’t been happy times for Jim. Leonard remembered a few drunken conversations between them in the academy and then later on the ship. He’d shared unspeakable abuse with Leonard that had made him want to dig up the body of Jim’s stepfather and kill him all over again. If there had been weeping, from him, from Jim, they blamed it on the booze.  

Anyway, it wasn’t where Jim belonged. They both knew it too.

“You want some coffee or something?”

“You got something stronger?”

“A little red wine.”

Leonard snorted. “I guess that’ll do.” He followed Jim into the kitchen. “The place is…nice.”

Jim laughed again. It was nice to hear, even if Leonard thought it was mostly for his benefit. “It is not nice. It needs a ton of work. Floorboards are weak in spots. Roof’s got a hole. You saw the door. Most of the windows need to be replaced. And the barn’s in worse shape, probably. But, you know, I guess I have that time now.”

He tried not to wince at the reminder of why he was here visiting Jim in the middle of Nowhere, Iowa. Yeah, yeah, Riverside. He should let it go, but he didn’t think he could. Or would. Ever.

Leonard braced himself. He knew this argument wouldn’t be easy. Jim was obstinate beyond reason when he wanted to be.

“Jim, I’m sure if you just talked to the brass they’d—”

“Bones.” Jim shook his head. “It’s over, okay? This is-is where I belong now.”

“Out here? By yourself?” The idea of Jim wallowing away in this dump made Leonard’s skin crawl and his stomach ache like it was full of crawling bugs.

Jim shrugged. “Why not? I’m the last of a dying breed.” He took two wine glasses out of a cabinet and filled them both up with red wine.

“But another ship—”

“There is no other ship. I love the Enterprise. She was mine, you know? In ways no other ship ever will be.”

Leonard sighed, took the glass from Jim. “Then why give it up? Why resign to come here? It’s not what anyone wanted. Least of all you.”

“It’s better this way.”

“Better for who?”

It wasn’t better for Leonard. Or Jim. And the rest could go royally fuck themselves.    

Jim’s gaze rose and met his. There was pain there. The kind that ripped your soul if you let it. “Bones, I love you, you’re my brother, but let it go, okay?”

He didn’t want to. Wasn’t sure he could. But he’d drop it for now.

“How long are you staying?” Jim asked into the silence.

“I thought over the weekend if it’s all right with you.”

“It’s very all right with me.” Jim smiled and squeezed Leonard’s shoulder. He paused, sipped his wine. “I think I’m gonna get horses.”

“Horses?”

“Yeah, I’m not really into farming. Never have been. But I think I could get to like a barn full of horses. I sometimes rode as a kid.”

“I didn’t know that,” Leonard said, attempting to be supportive. “That sounds great, Jim.” It sounded like nonsense is what it sounded like.

“It will be. Let’s get you settled and then I’ll fix us something to eat.”

He followed Jim up the staircase which creaked as they walked up.

“Sorry,” Jim called sheepishly over his shoulder. “I think they’re stable. Mostly.”

“Swell,” Leonard muttered.

At the top of the stairs, Jim turned right and then stopped at the second room, passing the first one without a glance. He pushed open the second door. “Here you go. I fixed up Sam’s old room for you. Basically that means I dusted the place and put new sheets on the bed.”

Leonard nodded and put his bag on the bed. There were old posters of cars and pretty girls on the walls. “How long’s it been since anyone slept here?”

Jim leaned against the door-frame. “Hell if I know. Sam left when…thirteen, I was thirteen. He never came back. Far as I know, no one’s used it since.” He looked past Leonard toward the window and Leonard wondered what Jim was seeing in his memories. “And now Sam won’t ever come back.”  

It made Leonard a little sad and a little lonely thinking of this room abandoned for so long. He was a bit of a sentimental fool, he guessed.

“Who had that first room?”

“Frank and my mom. When she was here. When she wasn’t? Any number of women he passed through here.”

“Right here in your house,” Leonard said with a shake of his head.

“Yeah, he was a real prize,” Jim replied.

“And your room?”

“Down the end of the hall. You can see it if you want.”

Leonard followed Jim out of the room and over to the last one. Unlike the room that had been Sam’s there were no posters or pictures on the walls or anywhere else. But the ceiling was painted dark blue and above were stars, planets and constellations.   

“Wow,” Leonard breathed.

“Looks better at night. Mom let me do it. Frank never would have.”

Leonard swallowed hard and put his hand on Jim’s arm. “Jim, I’m sorry about your mom. You should have said something. Before. Maybe we could have—”

“Yeah. It’s okay, Bones. I’m all right.” He smiled. “How’s steak sound?”

Leonard wanted to argue, but Jim was walking past him and back out of the bedroom and down the hall so Leonard had no choice but to follow.        

****

The emptiness wouldn’t go away. No matter how many glasses of wine. No matter how many horses he talked about. No matter how many smiles he forced. It was there like a leaden ball in his stomach. Bones knew it, he knew it. He could do a pretty good acting job though. He had to give himself that much.

Jim poured himself a third glass of wine as he finished up the last bite of steak he had grilled. One good thing about being planetside was the food was much better. No replicated steak. “Do you think it’s over?” he asked, then wanted to kick himself for it. He didn’t intend to mention it.

He had to give Bones credit, he didn’t bother to pretend he didn’t know exactly what Jim meant.

“I suppose so,” Bones said. “It was supposed to be in the afternoon.”

Jim nodded. He was sort of numb now. Or he tried to convince himself he was. “So Spock and Uhura are married.”

“Yeah,” Bones said softly. “Jim—”

“Forget it.” He took a gulp of wine, ignoring how it turned sour even before it reached his stomach.

“I don’t want to forget it. Why the hell didn’t you ever say anything? Tell the hobgoblin how you felt? You never did, not once.”

“Why should I have?” Jim sighed. “They’ve been together since I met him. She loves him. That much is obvious. Why should I have interfered with that? And I’m just…well, I’m just me. Not exactly a good candidate for anyone to have  a relationship with. And it’s not like Spock ever indicated he felt even close to the same. I was lucky to get him to acknowledge we were friends.”

“But to give up command of the Enterprise—”

“I’m not strong enough to serve with Mr. and Mrs. Spock or whatever, Bones. Jesus, I just—I just can’t. And what am I supposed to do? Have them transferred because I’m a lovesick idiot?”

“Yes, goddamn it,” Bones said angrily. Perhaps angrier than Jim had ever seen him. “You don’t give up everything because the guy you love doesn’t love you back. Jesus, Jim. I can’t believe you really did this. Go back to Admiral Archer and tell him you changed your fucking mind and you want back in Starfleet. I don’t care if you have to transfer those two or take command of another ship. This is not you, Jim.” He gestured to the house. “You’re not meant to be in this stale stagnant house that has nothing but shitty memories for you.”

“It’s me now,” Jim said softly. He winced at the disappointed look in his friend’s eyes.

Jim knew, really deep down, Bones was right. He had made a stupid, emotionally charged mistake. But he fucking hated admitting he was wrong. And about this? He couldn’t get past…them.

“I’ll even say you were emotionally compromised at the time and unable to make a rational decision,” Bones continued, his voice taking on a note of desperation. “Hell, anything to get you back where you belong, Jim. In space.”

“I know you’re right,” he said wearily. He rubbed his eyes, feeling defeated. “I swear to God this place is sucking the soul out of me. If I have one.”

“Then come back to Starfleet. Come back with me when the weekend is over, Jim.”

“I need time to think,” Jim said. He finished off his wine and put his glass in the sink. “I’m gonna get some firewood. Make coffee, would you?”

Bones looked like he had more to say, but he nodded. “Okay, Jim.”

Jim went outside, didn’t even bother with a jacket, and went back toward the wood pile near the barn.

He really was the last of a dying breed. Sam had died on Deneva. His mom had been killed during a planetary mission that was supposed to be routine. Jim had kept the news to himself, not wanting to burden his crew or his friends with any more of his problems. And of course his dad was gone. Hell, even his brother’s son, Peter, who had survived Deneva even though his parents hadn’t, was nowhere around Jim. Aurelan’s parents were raising the boy. Weren’t even using the Kirk last name, Jim had heard. Who the hell could blame them?

He really, really hated being the mess he was. Sometimes---he shook his head. He wouldn’t give into the melancholia. He crouched down by the woodpile.

A scrape of a boot behind him, had him turning, expecting to see Bones out here, ready to give him a lecture about not wearing a proper coat or something, so when he turned to find Spock standing only a few feet away, dressed in his science blues no less, Jim was pretty sure his mouth hung open.

“Captain.”

Jim stood, completely and thoroughly gobsmacked. “I’m not your captain anymore, Spock. I’m no one’s captain.”

“You will always be my captain.”

Jim swallowed the lump in his throat. It burned. “What are you doing here? Don’t tell me Iowa is on your honeymoon itinerary.”

“It is not.”

He exhaled. “Then what are you doing here?” he asked again. “Where’s your…wife?”

“Nyota and I did not complete the marriage ceremony.”

“Oh.” Jim nodded, certain his confusion showed. “So, what then? You bonded on New Vulcan or something?”

“Negative.”

“Look, Spock, I don’t know why you’re here, but I’m not a part of Starfleet anymore, so if there’s some emergency like the Earth needs saving again, you’re going to have to find someone else.”

Not entirely true. Jim would save it if he had to, because well, that’s what he did.

Spock took several steps closer until he was mere inches from Jim. Frowning, Jim backed up a step. “Jim, Nyota and I ended our relationship.”

Jim blinked. “You…wait what? You were getting married or bonded or whatever.”

Spock nodded. “We both believed that we would, however, three point four weeks ago, when you resigned from Starfleet, our circumstances changed.”

“Okay. Um. Okay. What-what does any of this have to do with me? Or my resigning?”

“It was then that I realized I could not bond with Nyota.”

Jim frowned. “Why?”

Spock took a step closer once more. “I became aware of my regard for you. It was unintentional and unexpected.”

His heart hammered hard in his chest. “Okay, what?” He had no hope. Refused to even entertain it.

“Jim, I am aware that we are merely friends, but when you left the Enterprise, the loss of you was unbearable. It caused an unfamiliar ache that would not go away. I spent days meditating on it until I could no longer deny the ache was because I had—I had come to…” Spock stopped, looked down at the ground by his feet. “I am seldom at a loss for words and yet now, I find that I am struggling.”

Jim said nothing, waiting. For he had no idea, really, why Spock was here.  Couldn’t fathom it.  

Spock’s gaze rose and Jim had never seen him looking more uncertain, more vulnerable than at that time.

“I have fallen in love with you and you were gone.” The words were soft, pained.

“Spock.” But that was all he could say. He tried to get his mouth to form more words, but they were stuck in his throat.

“Under those circumstances a bond with Nyota would be impossible and unfair to her.” Spock looked down at the ground again briefly. “It is Nyota who convinced me to come here today. I had not intended to burden you with my regard, but Nyota advised that if it were so strong, there might be the possibility it was reciprocated.”

Jim just stared at Spock, still trying to get words to come out of his too dry mouth. He was not good at talking about feelings. Never would be, really. Hadn’t he proved that enough?

“I see I have surprised you,” Spock said eventually when Jim didn’t respond. His expression turned passive once more, shielding the uncertainty that had been briefly there, but there was a hint of sadness in his dark eyes, if Jim hadn’t memorized every look, he would have missed it. “It would appear that my romantic feelings for you are unwelcome after all. I apologize.”

Spock turned away and was starting to leave Jim just standing there like an idiot. His chest ached and he was aware he was feeling vaguely lightheaded.  

“No!” he finally got out. Spock stopped, stiffly, but he did not turn back around. “I am surprised. Fuck, am I surprised. But your romantic feelings are not unwelcome, Spock.” Jim exhaled, feeling his lungs working overtime.

“No?”

Jim had never taken such a chance before. This was important. “That-that unfamiliar ache you spoke of? I feel it too. I have-I’ve been feeling it for a long time. Longer than I can really say. I wasn’t ever going to tell you. But, Spock, I share them.”

Spock did turn around then, staring at Jim intently. “Do you?”

Jim knew it was his turn to take those important steps to Spock, so he did until he was only a foot away. He held out his two fingers, having seen it enough times from Vulcans to know. “Yeah, I do. More than I have words to tell you.”

Spock’s eyes widened ever so slightly and he met Jim’s fingers with his own and warmth shot from Spock to him and Jim could no longer feel the cold from the Iowa breeze. Jim took another step until their mouths were almost touching.

“Can I kiss you?” he asked in a near whisper.

“You are kissing me.”

Jim smiled. “Yeah, I am.” And he covered Spock’s mouth with his own, tracing the outline with his tongue, then slipping it inside Spock’s mouth. When they came up for air, Spock leaned his forehead against Jim’s. “Do you have to go back?”

“Not without you. Will you return with me?”

He would. They both knew he would. It was Kirk and Spock side by side. As it was meant to be. “Can you stay the weekend? Bones is here.”

Spock nodded. “I saw him. He sent me out here to find you.  He used very colorful language.”

Jim laughed. It felt good to laugh. “Did he?”

“It did not quite make sense. But I am used to that from the doctor.”

Jim kissed Spock again. “Damn, I love Bones.” Spock’s eyebrow shot up. “But yeah, I love you more. Way more.” He laughed and kissed Spock once more. He was feeling positively giddy. “Come inside with me?”

He wrapped his fingers around Spock’s wrist and tugged him toward the farmhouse. They had reached the door when Jim stopped and turned to Spock. “Does this—do you…?” Ah hell. Jim licked his lips.

“What, Jim?”

“Have you ever been with a guy?” Jim blurted out in a rush.

“Ah.” Spock shook his head. “I have not.”

Jim tried not to bug his eyes out at that. “Do you-did you want to with me?”

“I am fully aware that our time together will include coitus.”

“Yeah.” Jim squeaked. Turned red. “Maybe. I mean. If you want it to. Or whatever.”

“Jim.”

“Yeah?”

“It is cold out here.”

“Oh. Right.” Jim sighed. “Sorry. It’s…I’m a little nervous.”

“There is no need.”

“No?” Jim licked his lips.

“I want it.”