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Ever wondered what Starfleet Command thought of all those away missions gone wrong in which regulations seemed to no longer matter? All those near-death experiences and miraculous last-minute rescues where the life of one man seemed to outweigh... everything? All those times when a certain James Kirk ignored the rules for his Commander, all those breaches in protocol that a certain Mr Spock somehow justified as logical? Is it really just luck that has saved them before? Is it really just a friendly esteem that makes them both so quick to ignore standard procedure?

Will the Federation risk it?

A young Captain cannot afford to become emotionally compromised by his First Officer. This is the story about the time when someone noticed.


"We need to leave now, Jim!"

"They have Spock."

"Look at you--"

"They. Have. Spock. Bones!"

His voice left absolutely no room for argument and, even though Jim knew he only had five minutes before the Enterprise was forced to warp out of orbit, he was determined not to waste another second of that precious time arguing with his CMO.

"Jim, as your doctor and your friend, I'm tellin' you--"

"I can't abandon him. I won't, not unless my time runs out."

He could already see the prison building looming ahead, illuminated by the faint starlight. He tried to run even faster.

"Your time has run out!"

"I have five minutes left!"

"You're mad! I know you have a... a deep affection for Spock--" the doctor was speaking in panting bursts of air, his tone furious, "-but you're going to kill yourself!"

"No I'm not, I'm going to save Spock!"

"No you're not! Because it's impossible! Jim, there's nothin' we can do--"

"Yes there is, and I'm doing it in the--" he checked his timer, "--four minutes and forty-five seconds I have left before we warp out of this hell-hole. With my first officer!"

The effort of keeping up was making McCoy stumble with exhaustion, but he didn't slow down and to Jim's secret relief managed to maintain their already insane pace.

"Enough! Jim!"

Jim checked his timer. Four minutes and thirty seconds. Spock. Nothing else mattered until his time ran out.

"You can't save him! It's too late, they got him and we've been ordered to leave-!"

"I can and I will!"

"Dammit, Jim! You're the Captain of the goddamn ship…! Stop!"

"I have four minutes left! After that--" But the world didn't exist after that. Not now, anyway. Not yet.

The terrain slanted slightly upwards but Jim felt like he was flying, he was sprinting so fast his feet barely touched the ground.

"And how do you expect to break him out of there in four minutes?" McCoy shouted. It sounded like he was finally starting to fall behind as his Captain pelted forward.

"Chekov has already locked onto his coordinates!" Jim called over his shoulder. "If I wreck the force-field around his cell we won't need to break him out! We'll beam him out!"

"You're going to… disable a particular force-field from… a particular prison-cell in a... particular building… in under four minutes?"

Jim actually managed a grim chuckle out of his chapped, dry lips.

"Oh, God… you're going to crash the entire building, aren't you?"

"Only for a few seconds."

McCoy's laugh sounded like something between a wheezy cough and a bark, and it was absolutely without humour.

"You... are... insane!"

To this Jim didn't answer. Instead he chose to put on an extra burst of speed; they were almost there.

It was a gigantic structure, and well-guarded, but then Jim had no intention of trying to get inside. Instead, he made a fast beeline for the power-grid. The darkness made for perfect cover, and the native species had poor eyesight when it came to detecting fast movements; the equivalent to the Human eye being unable to see a hummingbird's wings. It would take them a while to realise anyone was even there. Hopefully. If they were running fast enough.

"Kirk to Enterprise!" he called into his communicator. "Come in, Enterprise!"

"Captain! Scott here. In two minutes and thirty-four seconds we're gonna have all o' Starfleet's finest wondering why we're still orbiting a planet we've been ordered to leave, ye really need to-"

"Yes, yes I know. Begin standard departure procedures, and stand by to beam up Dr McCoy and Mr Spock. Kirk ou-"

"And you?"

"Right, and me. Kirk out."

He snapped the device shut and took out his phaser, blasting the door to the structure from a distance, still running.

"Let's hope they don't notice that for another two minutes."

He flew inside and eyed the enormous storage tanks at either side of him. His last resort was shooting them directly, but although the planet's inhabitants had instinctively reacted with violence against his crew, Jim had managed to ascertain the confrontation had been mostly a lashing-out in self-defense before anyone could communicate their peaceful intentions. He couldn't really afford to leave them with an entire cell-block of free prisoners running amok, it went against everything Starfleet stood for, not to mention the fact that the Prime Directive of non-interference would be shot to hell.

Unless all else failed.

Then he was getting Spock out of there, whatever it took.

"Bones, help me find the controls...!"

"There!"

He ran up to a screen the size of a table. This was going to be complicated.

The control panel was programmed entirely in the native symbols, of course, but Jim had studied some basics in preparation for the mission, and asked Uhrua to teach him the general structure of the language a few days before beaming down. He hoped his experience with mechanics could fill the rest of the gaps, or he was down to guesswork and instinct.

"Come on…" he breathed, feverishly trying to override the password-protection system.

He barely felt McCoy come to a stop beside him, panting heavily. This time, thankfully, the doctor knew to keep quiet, even if he could not agree with what Jim was doing. It was their only hope.

"Yes!"

Next came sifting through the navigation menu, and finding the right keys. Jim cursed his slippery hands and the red smears they left on the flat surface, shaking his head to fight his blurred vision, blinking furiously to try and organise the calculations running through his mind--he had to focus solely on the foreign words and not on the pain or on Spock sitting alone in a cell because he needed to hold it together for the last minute, come on, Kirk, think, think.

Fingers skimmed over the flat surface at dizzying speed, searching, searching…

"Come on, dammit…"

Searching... so close...

"Where are you?"

It had to be there… right in front of him...

"Come on..."

And finally-

"Yes! Every computer in every planet in every galaxy has a reboot!"

He pressed the last key triumphantly and stood back.

"Fifty seconds, Jim!"

Jim waited, unable to draw a breath. "Kirk to Enterprise," he said quietly into the comm. "Stand by to beam up Mr Spock, on my signal. I don't care if you think you have a lock on him, no one is to try and disintegrate my first officer's molecules until I say so. Their atmosphere has fooled our scans before."

"Standing by, Captain. On your mark," came Scotty's voice immediately.

"All right, Scotty, ready in three..."

The lights around them flickered and died.

"Two..."

There was a sound like a gigantic wheel grinding to a halt.

"One..."

Everything went dead quiet.

"Now!"

The explosion of noise from the building was deafening, even at this distance. Jim spared one second to not feel sorry for the guards at that prison, then put his communicator to his ear, straining to listen. His engineers had literally five seconds before he estimated the backup system kicked in and Spock's cell was impenetrable once more.

"Twenty seconds Jim!" McCoy said.

"Is he there?" Jim shouted, hearing lots of confusing noises he couldn't distinguish. "Enterprise! Is he safe? Did you get him out?" For the first time since he'd realised what he must do, Jim felt a creeping of fear along his spine. If this didn't work he would have to leave Spock. Alone. In a hostile planet. He couldn't do that. But he would have to... it would be his duty...

"Fifteen seconds..."

"Come in Enterprise! Dammit!"

"Ten, nine..."

"Enterprise!"

"He's here, aye he's safe!" Scotty's voice broke through the beginnings of Jim's panic. "He's fine, Captain, and we're locked onto your signal! Ready to beam up!"

Jim smiled weakly, feeling his balance sway. It was over. They would make it. Spock was safe.

He'd done it.

Yes.

"No!"

McCoy's shout came from far, far away. Wow, they weren't kidding about the adrenaline rush wearing off quickly. Suddenly the ground insisted on shifting sideways and Jim couldn't catch it with his feet.

He collapsed onto the floor, finally letting himself realize there was quite a lot of blood gushing out of his wound; his hands were slick with it and it was plastering his shirt to his skin. Even his hair was dripping red, huh, when had that happened, he'd been running for the past... oh, ages, and it actually really hurt all over... especially his stomach, ow, ow, the pain was blinding...

"Jim, stay with me you idiot! You're the stupidest, worst Captain in the history of reckless fuckers who risk their lives for the ones they love, dammit, don't give up now!"

Then he felt the cold metal floor of the transporter room against his side, and the horrified screams started soon after that, but what he remembered hearing with perfect clarity was a voice; a familiar, wonderful voice, calling his name. Just his name.

"Jim, Jim..."

He couldn't see, even though he was quite sure his eyes were open.

"Spock, I'll be fine."

He might have not have said it aloud. Either way, his last thought was that he hoped Spock heard him.

 

 


Chapter Text

"How do we even begin to explain it to him…?"

"I still say we let him read the report and find out for himself."

"This is terrible."

"It's unfair, that's what it is. I can't believe they're being such--"

"If this turns out to be because he's the youngest Captain--"

"Of course that's what it is! Isn't it obvious?"

"Look, this is done now. It's not like any of us can help. They'll just have to get through it together."

"But he's done so well… I was the first to doubt him, I'll admit, but that kid's made of excellent stuff."

"Yes, I agree."

"Surely it's just a warning, though? A sort of wake-up call, to give them a scare, remind Kirk who's really boss? I mean, it's not like they'd actually--"

"Do you think maybe you should tell him, Dr McCoy?"

"No. I think the best person to explain this is Spock. Where is he, by the way?"

"Um, he demanded updates on the Captain's status every five minutes, didn't he? I'm sure he'll call any second now."

"Well, someone should contact the bridge and request the Commander's presence in Sickbay, I think Jim's waking up…"

It was too bright. His eyes hurt, the light coming in through his closed eyelids was red and glaring. His head pounded and his stomach hurt worst of all.

"Ow."

"Rise and shine, sleeping beauty."

His throat felt dry, but he managed a rasping chuckle. "So it's 'beauty' now, is it? What happened to 'reckless fucker'?"

McCoy laughed, and that in itself told Jim just how scared his friend had been. He opened his eyes.

There were at least twenty people gathered around his bed in the Hospital bay. None of them was Spock. Jim felt surprised and touched at the obvious show of affection from his crew; some people, like Sulu, probably had shifts and hadn't been able to come, but Scotty was there, and Chekov, Karl Jeager, young Kevin Riley, Marlena Moreau… Uhura, too, in her much more comfortable off-duty clothes. Most of them were probably missing sleep to be here.

"Fascinating," he said, eyebrows raised. Everyone laughed, and he managed to crack an honest grin.

"I kept telling them to go away…" McCoy's tone hardened and he looked at the crowd with narrowed eyes, "…but they wouldn't listen. I had to threaten to hypospray two security officers, you know."

"Because they brought balloons," someone muttered.

Jim smiled even wider. "Well, not that this isn't all very touching, but… what's with the welcoming committee?"

Scotty, who until then had been standing quietly toward the back, said cheerfully: "Isn't it normal that we've missed our Captain for the past couple o' days?"

"Uh… no? I've been out for longer, haven't I? Remember that time with the thingy from the planet with the things that I tried to eat…?"

McCoy rolled his eyes. "And a wonderfully entertaining week that was. But there's actually something… that's happened. We'll talk about it later."

Jim sat up in his bed, feeling his head clear immediately. "If something's happened to my ship you tell me right now," he said firmly, scanning the faces around him for signs of... of anything.

"Nothing's wrong with the ship, Jim."

He paled. "Not one of the crew?"

"No, no, everyone's fine. Calm down."

"Then what?"

Uhura stepped forward. "I think Spock will want to brief you on the issue himself."

"Spock…?" Jim felt a frisson of worry. "He's okay, right? He's fine?"

"Yes, yes, he's…" she shifted uncomfortably. "Uh, well, I mean physically he's perfect, but… see, this problem sort of involves… him…"

"Okay, you guys are scaring me." Jim tried to stand up, but it only took McCoy taking out the hypospray to make him sit gingerly back down. "What happened with Spock?"

"Nothing. Specifically."

"The hell does that mean?"

"He'll tell you everything, Jim. Be patient."

Jim scowled, resigning himself to wait for his first officer to explain what was going on. "All right, I want a briefing in ten minutes on our situation with Tersal II. How long was I out?"

"Thirty-five hours. And a half."

"Wow, really? Okay then, that means we should be arriving at the rendezvous with the Fidelius in about… four hours? Five? I do want the reports on Tersal in my lap right now, and then someone should really get a wheelchair or something so we can… nope, no, there's no need to be growling now, Bones, it was a joke, of course we'll have the briefing here and I won't move an inch I swear please don't hurt me."

There were laughs all around the room, and nurse Chapel lightly swatted the doctor's arm.

"Uh…" But besides standing around looking at him, no one was moving to follow his orders. "Now, guys?"

"Listen Jim, about the rendezvous with the Fidelius… there's been a change of plans."

"What?"

"That's what Spock is going to brief you about," Uhura added.

Jim gritted his teeth in frustration. He was starting to get seriously annoyed.

"Can someone at least tell me where we're going, then? Please?"

"A course has been plotted for the nearest Starbase," Chekov piped up.

"What? Why?"

"That's-"

"Captain."

Jim's heart leapt, and he craned his neck to try and see the speaker. Because that was his first officer's voice. He'd know it anywhere.

"Spock?"

"Captain?"

It was Spock. Spock was here and everything would be better now; Spock would explain what had happened and then help Jim fix it, like always.

"Hey!"

He smiled so brightly he was almost laughing. Spock moved through the crowd with his usual ease and grace, not even needing to look away from Jim's eyes to see where he was stepping.

"I didn't think you'd want to come all the way down here. How are you?"

Right before she moved back to let Spock pass, Jim caught Nurse Chapel exchanging a look with Uhura.

"My own health is irrelevant at this time. What is your present condition? Are you healing at a satisfactory rate?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. But I asked first. Everything okay?" He sat up straighter, squinting at Spock's face and trying to catch signs of distress. To his surprise, he found them. Spock's mouth was set in a grim line, and his eyes were slightly bloodshot with little spidery-green veins.

"The ship is in good condition, we did not sustain any lasting damage from our encounter at Tersal II."

"Excellent. What about you?"

"I am in acceptable health. Thank you."

Resisting the urge to pull the man down into a friendly bear-hug, Jim clapped Spock's shoulder instead and grinned even wider. Curiously, this seemed to take some of the tension out of Spock's features, and a corner of his mouth twitched upward as if Spock had been about to reciprocate the gesture.

"That's great! So listen, I was thinking, you could bring the chess set down here when you get off--"

Suddenly the panel above his bed began emitting a loud, fast beeping.

"What's wrong?" Jim looked up, puzzled. He felt fantastic. "Bones, why's this thing gone crazy?"

McCoy immediately scanned him, then made the same facial expression Jim had seen Uhura and Chapel exchanging only moments before: it was a weird mix of pity and unease, with 'worry' thrown in for good measure. Nothing he liked to see directed at himself, especially from his own crew.

"It's fine, Jim. Just that your heart-rate is slightly irregular and abnormally fast." His friend really didn't do off-hand manner very well. Jim raised his eyebrows, but before he could speak Spock beat him to it.

"That could be an indicator of cardiac stress. Why are you not conducting more extensive testing, doctor?"

"I'm fine, Spock--"

"Not now, Jim. Dr McCoy, this is most irregular; the Captain's health could be at risk. I trust that you are not as careless with your other patients, because clearly--"

"Listen, Spock," McCoy began angrily. "The elevated heart-rate just means Jim is a bit over-excited, okay? Last time I checked, you weren't a medical professional--"

"And your professional medical opinion is that the Captain is simply 'over-excited'?" Jim would forever admire Spock's ability to broadcast utter contempt without adding any inflection to his tone. "As if he were a child?"

McCoy ground his teeth. "All right, you green-blooded little--"

"My height is superior to yours, doctor."

"I'm goin' to shove this hypo--"

"That's enough, Bones. You too, Spock."

"The hobgoblin thinks he's a doctor, Jim--"

"He is refusing to act with logic, Captain--"

"Shut up, the both of you; you're giving me a headache." He turned to his first officer. "Spock, you're overstepping, and much as we hate it the medical stuff will always be Doctor McCoy's call." Then he glared up at his CMO. "Bones, work on your temper and seriously, enough with the xenophobic comments."

The watching officers looked pretty upset at this point, except for Uhura who was clearly trying to smother a snicker. Jim decided to ease the tension.

"Besides, I know I'm pretty, but a catfight in the middle of Sickbay is just not right."

McCoy snorted. "In your dreams, Kirk."

Spock just looked confused. "Cat...?" the half-Vulcan began uncertainly, but Jim shook his head minutely to show him it was of no importance.

Although the stupid beeping started again at that.

"I think I'll just turn the audio off for now," McCoy muttered.

"You shall do no such thing," Spock said immediately. "I believe this is an adequate moment for me and the rest of the visitors--" here he looked at the expectant crowd pointedly, "--to leave the Hospital bay." No one moved. "That is an order."

With much shuffling feet the brightly-clad officers began to make their way out. "Miss you already!" Jim called, to general laughter. Scotty winked at him right before he was out of sight, and Chekov waved.

"All right, Jim, I want you to rest one more day and then you can..."

"You're kidding, right?" He did have a slight headache, and the temptation of being able to just lie back and sleep would prove hard to resist, but there was so much to do. He couldn't possibly allow himself to stop.

"No, I'm not. One day is all I'm asking. Twenty-four hours. Are you that much of a hypocrite that you'll ignore what you just said to Spock less than a damn minute ago?"

"But Spock's not Captain, I am," Jim pointed out helpfully. "And that means the only boss of me is me. Come on, Bones. I need to get back to my duties--"

"I will chain you to this bed. I'm not even joking."

"You'd better be. Unless that's some kind of kink--"

"You are in need of serious, prolongued psychological treatment."

Jim laughed, not caring that the action caused his stomach to cramp uncomfortably.

Spock had been looking at him and McCoy bantering with a micro-expression of annoyance, but when Jim began laughing that emotion cleared and was replaced by an intense, almost scientific scrutiny. He looked as though he was trying to solve twenty complex equations simultaneously--no, as though Jim was twenty complex equations simultaneously.

Once he realized this Jim stopped laughing abruptly, feeling oddly self-conscious.

"It was ironic, Spock," he said with a hesitant smile. Then he frowned. Spock probably knew that already, and didn't need Jim explaining every single thing to him.

"What's not ironic is your need for rest," McCoy interjected quickly. "I'm serious, Jim, you'll do yourself more harm than good by trying to work with a healing laceration like the one you have. Ideally I'd keep you here for a week, but that's... not possible. Anyway, twenty-four hours isn't even that long. Tell him he needs to rest, Spock."

Spock seemed surprised for a moment to be asked, but he coolly recovered and looked down at Jim.

"The doctor is correct. You are in no fit condition to wander around the ship or resume any of your usual tasks. Sleep and relaxation are optimal to your health, and I am more than capable of handling anything you give me." McCoy snorted at that, then covered it up by faking a coughing fit, and Jim shot him a glare.

"Thanks, Spock. That's very kind. For now all I want is an explanation."

"You refer to the conflict that has arisen since we last spoke, which I am sure the crew has already hinted at?"

Jim nodded, but McCoy shook his head.

"No, you can tell him that tomorrow."

Jim swore. "Oh, come on! I'm perfectly all right just lying here, I promise I won't get over-excited. It's just me and Spock, we'll behave, honest--"

And that was when the damn beeping started up again, and Jim groaned and fell back against his pillows, trying not to flinch as the action caused a sharp stab of pain in his abdomen.

"All right, fine, I'll be a good little boy." He looked over at his first officer. "We'll talk about this tomorrow, Spock."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Yes, Captain."

He remained standing there for a few moments, his eyes roving over Jim's body with a sort of detached care as if to make sure everything was where it should be, and then he turned around and left.

"I'll get you back for this one, Bones," he said the moment Spock was out of sight.

"Yes, I know it was terribly cruel of me to prescribe bed rest. What kind of doctor am I turning into?"

A chuckle came from the other end of the room, where nurse Chapel was coming toward them with a tray of food and a warm smile. "The grouchy kind," she said happily. "Here you go, Captain."

It all looked very healthy and green, for which Jim shot a distinctly unamused look at his best friend.

"Thanks, Christine."

He grimaced at the soup and vegetables, but picked up the spoon.

"You need to be careful, Jim," McCoy said abruptly, sounding dead serious. "I'm okay with having to run after you with my medkit and a bunch of hyposprays because that's my job, but I hope the stunt you pulled at Tersal doesn't happen ever again. I'll have nightmares for fuckin' ages."

Jim felt like a heel. "I really wish I could promise that, Bones," he rubbed his eyes wearily. "But I don't regret what I did. If we're lucky it won't come to stuff like this in the future but I just can't know, right now. I'm sorry about dragging you into it, though. I know you worry."

"You didn't drag me into anything, kid. It was my choice." The doctor's eyes became unfocused and dark. "But you have no idea how freakin' out of it you were. I thought you'd finally lost it."

Jim flinched.

"It was bad, Jim. You should have seen yourself... blood everywhere and you just running flat-out as though it was nothin' but a scratch. I've seen some pretty fucked up shit but I don't have a single clue as to what the hell it was that kept you going during those last minutes. And I've also had to make some pretty horrible decisions in my field… but letting you nearly drive yourself beyond that edge really took one outta me."

Jim reached out and clasped McCoy's arm, hating the uncomfortable churn of guilt settling in his gut.

"At least it all worked out in the end, right?" He said.

"I hope you understand how lucky you were. And I don't just mean--"

"I know, Bones. I know. And I do understand."

"Good," McCoy said gruffly. "Well, now that the gushy feeling shit is out of the way, what do you say we act like proper men?"

"Right, of course, because proper men have no feelings," Jim deadpanned. "Unless what you meant was that I should get to eat some decently cooked food? As in fried or something? No, wait, no one on this ship loves fried food more than Marlena... dammit, what does 'proper men' even mean?"

Even as he let himself word-vomit into a tangent, Jim knew his best friend's words were going to be hard to shake. I thought you'd finally lost it. Bones had never said anything like that to him before.

"Fine, fine, I take it back," McCoy said, hands raised in surrender. "We could call the bridge and tell Spock to ask Uhura what 'catfight' means."

"You're an idiot. They broke up last month."

"It was amicable!"

"I'm not so sure about that. She's been pretty tense around him."

McCoy settled himself on the chair next to Jim's bed, his eyes alight with curiosity. "Really? I think she looks great."

"Uhura always looks great. But that doesn't mean she's not suffering. I mean, he's the one who broke up with her, it must have been pretty terrible. She probably still loves him."

"… Maybe."

And there was that look again.

"What?"

"Nothing. Hey, did you ever think Spock was popular among the crew? I mean in a, y'know... 'hunky' sorta way."

"What?" Jim chuckled. Hunky, honestly. "Spock? I don't know… never really considered it."

That wasn't entirely true. Just last week he'd had to politely ask two Ensigns to quit trying to flirt with his first officer while he was on duty on the bridge.

"It's weird, isn't it?"

Jim nodded absently. "Yeah… I mean… yeah, weird is the word here, clearly."

"Well don't tell her, but I think my head nurse has a pretty impressive crush on him."

"You're kidding! Chapel?"

The rest of the meal passed with them gossiping amicably (but in a totally manly way), and then McCoy threatened to make his Captain fall asleep permanently, to which Jim could only reply he'd rather it was temporary, and an agreement was reached.

It wasn't until he succumbed to his exhaustion that the nightmares began.

He dreamt of clocks counting down and timers running out; red blood spattered on ice and green blood trickling down hands wrapped around cell-bars; a familiar voice saying 'transferrence' and 'consequence' and loss so vast it was an entire world, loss like a precipice and a fall and a great big fiery crash, loss like sacrifice.

He woke gasping for air and nearly choking out his first officer's name.

 

Chapter Text

Later, Jim thought it was a good thing nurse Chapel happened to be the one with the night shift. She ran to his bedside with a terrified expression, but once he'd reassured her it was just a dream she let him be immediately; no questions asked. He was very grateful for that.

The only thing she said was, "I could call him down…"

"No."

And with a nod, she left.

x

The next day Jim woke feeling pretty damn terrible. His head was pounding and his muscles were still sore, plus the stupid wound kept throbbing every time his heart would beat, which was often and he kind of wished it would stop, just for a few moments.

"Captain?"

It was Nurse Chapel again. She looked exhausted.

"You look terrible," Jim blurted unthinkingly.

"Wonderful. How are you feeling?"

"Tons better, actually. And, um... I'm sorry..."

There was a delicate silence in the room; none of the other patients were awake yet, and Jim found himself reluctant to break it once he'd realised it existed. The nurse handed him a plate with breakfast and whispered "Eat," in such a commanding tone that he never contemplated disobedience. Also, he was quite starving.

After he'd eaten, but before McCoy came storming into an empty room shouting about responsibility (or his friend's lack thereof), Christine made him sit up, then try and walk around a little. Jim felt that he should maybe say something to change that unimpressed expression on her face.

"Hey, uh, sorry about that, before. You look great--"

She rolled her eyes. "Oh relax. I'm just tired, you silly boy."

"I'm a year older than you, you realise that right?" Jim grinned at her and resolved to shake off his dark dreams and the strange feelings they left behind.

"Whatever," the nurse replied, but a corner of her mouth had quirked in a little smile.

"So... am I allowed to leave the Sickbay?" He asked cautiously.

She sighed. "You had extensive surgery yesterday."

"I can't help but notice that's not a 'no'."

"It's not a 'no' because even if it was a 'no' you'd be doing it anyway, wouldn't you?"

"Probably?"

Chapel sighed again, this time defeated.

"If you promise to walk slowly, not exert yourself, and sit down as soon as you can, I don't think I could stop you. Even though this goes completely against my professional judgement, of course." She motioned to the door and arched an eyebrow, in a way that curiously reminded him of his first officer.

He walked up to her instead, thinking that here was someone who'd been born to do her job, and do it brilliantly. "Thanks, Christine," he said with feeling.

"Go now, or McCoy will murder us both." Her long-suffering tone was undermined by her wink.

"You're the best." He totally meant it. And before he fled he decided he was off-duty, and quickly gave her a grateful peck on the cheek.

x

At the doorway to the science lab Jim hesitated a moment before speaking and making his presence known, although clearly that was a sign of his distress, because he should have remembered about Spock's epic hearing and the fact that his footsteps would have totally given him away, like, five minutes ago.

No one was in there except for a certain half-Vulcan Commander who sat at one of the tables with what appeared to be an almost completely dismantled computer hard-drive and monitor. With precise, efficient movements Spock's sure hands gently finished extracting every minuscule piece of the equipment and pried apart the casing, even for the micro-circuits.

But what had stopped Jim from interrupting this strange yet fascinating ritual was the expression on Spock's face; a calm, relaxed look that went far beyond his usual imposed blankness of manner. It was a serenity that seemed to emanate from within, almost a certain contentment. It was mesmerising to watch, as were the movements of Spock's very pale and very long fingers.

"Captain."

Jim tried his best not to look like a child caught doing something wrong, and walked confidently toward his first officer.

"Hey, Spock."

Spock stood swiftly. "What is your status, Captain?" He motioned for Jim to sit in his chair but Jim ignored this.

"It's great. I'm all patched up now. All ready to be back on duty, Bones said."

"While that is positive yet unlikely knowledge, you may not resume your command yet."

"Hey, who almost died and put you in charge?" Jim said, rolling his eyes.

"I believe you did, Jim," Spock shot back, deadpan. Jim laughed, then flinched and with some effort managed not to put his hands over his stomach in pain.

"Right."

Spock pointedly looked at the chair again, and Jim pointedly didn't sit.

"Did Dr McCoy tell you that you suffered cardiac arrest twice during your operation, Captain?"

"Nope. He said a billion times, but that just sounds unlikely to me."

"Indeed. However, you should sit."

"Nah, I'm fine."

"Sit."

Jim smirked.

"You know, technically I'm still the Captain, so—"

"No, you are not. I am the Acting Captain until you have recovered from the extensive injuries you suffered at my expense."

"At your—?"

"There is no logic in pursuing the argument that I was not a factor in the cause of your wounds. You sustained them whilst attempting to protect me, and subsequently worsened them to a critical extreme by running to my rescue."

For a moment Jim couldn't think of anything to say. Then he sighed wearily, and walked over to Spock's side of the table. He carefully leaned against it so he was facing his first officer, the empty chair between them.

"Yeah, it was for you," he said. "I'm not going to deny that, Spock. It was so that I could save your life. And you know what? I'd do it a million times over, every step, the running and the danger and the blood because you're the best first officer I could ever hope for." Jim stared intently up at his friend. "And I don't regret a single thing I did that day," he added stubbornly.

Spock stared back at him for the longest time. Then, finally, his expression cleared and his eyes warmed.

"Are you suggesting you do not so much as regret the events which lead to your sampling a variety of the local cuisine?"

Jim laughed. "I maintain that the green thingy was still alive!"

"What gave you that impression?"

"I had to catch it with my fork before I could put it in my mouth. And it ate everything else on my plate!"

Spock's lips twitched, and Jim smiled broadly back.

Then he remembered why he'd been looking for Spock in the first place.

"So listen… Spock. I'm all better now. A full night of proper rest, and all that. Can you please tell me what's going on?"

The change was impressive. One second Spock was not-smiling in that particular way of his and glowing and happy, and the next his stance stiffened, he squared his shoulders and held his hands behind his back, wiping all traces of humour from his face.

"Affirmative. There is a matter of great importance to discuss."

"Great. So… meet me in briefing room in ten minutes? I'll get Scotty and Bones—"

"Captain. Perhaps it would be prudent to conduct this particular conversation here and now, just you and I. Furthermore, as you are aware, the crew has already been informed."

Jim frowned, but nodded, knowing Spock would have a reason for wanting that. "Okay then. But all this secrecy is really starting to freak me out here, Spock."

"I am sorry."

Jim shrugged. "Let's just get it over with. Tell me."

Spock didn't waste time taking a deep breath or hesitating. He simply looked into his Captain's eyes and spoke with his usual measured tone.

"We have been summoned to attend a Starfleet tribunal in twelve days."

"... What?"

That wasn't what he'd been expecting at all.

"And this is why everyone's been acting like a puppy died?" Well, it wasn't so bad. He'd have time to feel pissed at the Admiralty for taking away his next mission but for now all he felt was relief. "What's it regarding? Am I a witness or something?"

Spock didn't answer, and suddenly Jim's relief vanished and he was left with a gaping dread. "Oh wait..."

"Captain—"

"But why, Spock? Why am I under trial?"

"We are both subjects of the hearing."

This could not be happening. This was... Jim felt a fierce protectiveness ignite his anger. No one messed with his crew. No one, not even Starfleet.

"You've done nothing wrong, Spock. Don't worry, I'll talk to them and get you out of this. I mean, it has to be a mistake. Maybe Admiral Pike... if I have to, I'll contact him and he'll help us..." Much as he hated asking for favours, Jim knew he'd do this for Spock.

"And you, Captain? You have not yet heard what it is that Starfleet has accused us of."

"Right, the charges. Tell me."

Spock blinked, perfectly still, and didn't speak.

"Spock, what are the charges against us?"

"Captain, perhaps you would first like to know that the hearing takes place to decide whether I should be transferred to another Starship—"

"Hey, don't try and change the subj—WHAT?"

"—therefore designating another first officer to your command."

"No fucking way is that true."

"Jim. It is true."

Jim was stunned. He didn't understand a thing. Why would anyone want to take Spock away from him? And the Enterprise? He had become a vital part of the team from the very first second, they couldn't just assign him to another Captain! And who on earth would try (and fail) to take Spock's place?

"But... why, Spock? Why would they do this? I've never gotten an official reprimand or cautionary report, no warning at all..."

"The summons reads that the situation was deemed too critical by that time and demanded immediate disciplinary action. I believe our unsuccessful mission at Tersal accounts for the metaphorical... 'trigger'."

Jim gulped. "O-Okay." He looked at Spock intently and couldn't quite bring himself to ask, but in the end he didn't have to. Spock gave a stiff nod and spoke.

"The official accusation is that we are emotionally compromised—"

"Bullshit."

"—with one another."

Jim blinked.

"... Well that is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

Spock's face was a wall and behind it probably lurked the answer to the eternal question of the universe. Possibly the answer was forty-two.

Jim waited.

Spock waited, too.

"So that's it?" Jim burst out finally. Spock nodded again. "That's the reason...? And they want to take this to court! Have they gone mad? Are they insane? Emotionally...? How? Do they think we're, like, too friendly or something? What the hell is their problem? We haven't even commited a fucking crime! I mean, even if we were together, which is stupid, and we're not, because that would be weird, and, you know, we're not, it wouldn't be against regulations! Not if we disclosed it... but there's nothing to disclose! Who the fuck is responsible for this shit? This is going to be the shortest trial in Starfleet history! What an idiotic waste of resources! And since when is the Admiralty interested in my love-life? Not that we're... you know, but I just... I don't understand why it would be a problem if—!"

Spock took a PADD from the table and handed it to Jim, not meeting his eyes. "Perhaps this might better explain the basis of their argument. I will admit to a similar if less exuberant reaction of incredulity when I first heard of the trial taking place."

Jim eagerly snatched the datapad and began to read.

With every word the sick feeling in his stomach got worse, and with every line he felt like he was being made to swallow acid.

It was a list.

A very extensive, very carefully compiled list of the number of occasions when either he or Spock had saved the other's life, by narrowly avoiding either breaking or ignoring Starfleet protocol and regulations. And narrowly was... narrow. Some weren't all that bad, but he could already see that some... were.

"Holy shit," he breathed, skimming lower and lower and it seemed almost never-ending, goddamn had he really breached section 6.2 that day three months ago on Pirita II and beamed down to help the search party himself? And Spock's record was far from perfect, either, whether he was in charge of the ship because Jim was in Sickbay or on-planet.

"Spock, this is..."

Every entry was logged under a file name. Some were simply the name of the mission or the planet like "Search and Recovery at Haden IV", "Exploration of Pirita II" or "Fereni Moon", but others had special titles, such as "Captain Kirk risks his own safety so as not to send FO into danger" and even one called "Mr Spock contacts the Hospital Bay 79 times in twenty-four hours".

Under each of those headings was a long paragraph detailing the events which had lead to the transgression, sometimes complemented by excerpts from his very own Captain's Log entires. The level of scrutiny his every action and word were subjected to made Jim's stomach flip-flop erratically.

Furthermore, it was all peppered with comments in italics, probably made by the prosecutor himself. Things like: "During 2.8 minutes the ship has no designated commanding officer" or "The unscheduled stop for medical supplies ordered by Acting Captain Spock was to cure a simple allergy." The last of these was from two days ago at Tarsal, and read "Unnecessary risk of Kirk's personal health might have resulted in the deaths of Captain, First Officer and Chief Medical Officer during a crazed rescue attempt. Luck was on their side and Mr Spock was retrieved, however in another 1.16 seconds the Captain's actions would have been in direct violation of Starfleet orders. Would Kirk have stayed to save his friend? There should not be doubts about this issue. This is the last straw."

Jim was speechless.

Not only was this a potentially carreer-ending trial, but the implications from dragging Spock into it had hit him just now.

Spock, who was famous among his people for being an interesting scientific experiment at best, an inferior half-breed at worst, but had finally managed to gain some aknowledgement and respect by becoming a true hero... to be accused of something like this was the worst insult a Vulcan could hear. Jim forgot about the slander to his own name in the face of the enormity of his first officer's humiliation. To charge a son of Surak with 'emotional compromise' in a public trial made Starfleet either unbelievably stupid, or downright cruel. How dare they...?

"Captain?"

And suddenly he felt that he was to blame, for being Human, for being the Captain, for being promoted so young and warranting extra-scrutiny of his every move, for wanting his friend close to him when they beamed down onto a strange new world... somehow he must be completely responsible for shaming Spock like this. Anyone who'd met his first officer would immediately be able to tell there was no way Spock could ever become 'emotionally compromised' by Jim in that sense. The very notion was ridiculous.

It was his fault.

What must Spock think of him now? How would they get out of this? The evidence looked bad. Very bad.

"Captain."

He was gripping the datapad with so much force his knuckles were white. He couldn't breathe for the combination of emotions ravaging his insides; fear, desperation, confusion, and above all a blinding fury that made his ears ring and darkened his vision.

Wait. He really couldn't breathe. He was dizzy, he was gasping for air...

"Jim."

Spock put his hands on Jim's shoulders and steadied him, black eyes earnest. "You must regain control," Spock said firmly.

Jim searched for it in Spock's eyes and found it.

"Sorry."

He drew a few small, shuddering breaths and calmed down. Okay, so maybe Chapel had a point about exerting himself being kind of a bad idea.

"Where did you get this?" he whispered hoarsely.

Spock let go of him, leaving what felt like two hot handprints on his upper-arms. "I required an observation of the prosecution's take on the case in order to ascertain the gravity of our situation. As I told you before, at first I, like you, doubted their claim could ever be strong enough to justify successfully bringing it to court. As it happens, we were both mistaken."

"Okay... okay, then... how did you get this?"

Spock looked away from Jim's inquisitive gaze and down on the floor. It was almost... sheepish.

"What did you do, Spock?"

"It was logical to assess the threat. Had the prosecution wished to keep their notes private they would have had them more securely hidden in their computer's memory banks."

Jim was both stunned and impressed.

"You hacked their files?"

"File, singular. Obtaining this one file turned out to be sufficient for me to realize we are in serious danger of—"

"Yeah, let's focus on that," Jim snorted. "And not the fact that it was totally illegal. And you're Spock!"

But when Spock looked up he was cool and unruffled, dark eyes glinting, and Jim felt his admiration for the man grow like a warm thing in his chest.

"Jim, I believe you have always operated under the impression that I will abide by the rules no matter what the circumstances are. You would be correct in your judgement approximately ninety-six point four percent of the time, as very rarely does an occasion arise when disregarding those rules would be justified by logic. This is that occasion. It is not my desire to leave, and Starfleet are mistaken in their claim, as well as their judgement of our relationship."

That was when Jim lost his ability to breathe again, but this time because of the way Spock's voice had slowly, gently fallen into a more emotional tone he used very rarely.

"However, I will understand if you wish to discipline me."

And that was when Jim choked on his own saliva.

"Captain?" Spock said, alarmed. "Perhaps you should return to Sickbay. Your health is obviously not optimal yet."

"I—I'm fine," Jim croaked, although this little trip really had taken quite a bite out of him. "Listen, we need to speak to a lawyer or something. So, um, we should do that. And I want a proper briefing on this issue before tonight, we arrive at the Starbase tomorrow, right? I estimate about... nineteen hours?"

"Yes, Captain."

"We'll need to organise shore leave for the entire crew, since I'm guessing we'll by staying at the base for quite some time."

"Yes, Captain."

"Also, send... send the damn list to my computer, okay?"

"Yes, Captain."

"And when I said proper briefing, I didn't mean your explanation wasn't proper. It was. Great. But I need details, and I want to speak to the Commodore of Starbase Theta, and I also want to read the formal letter of summons, and—"

"Yes, Captain. You can do that in a bed, can you not?"

Jim flashed Spock a crooked grin. "Sure. Care to join me?"

Spock looked blankly back at him, his eyes betraying nothing of his thoughts.

"Not in the bed, Spock. I meant, dealing with all this stuff. You're still my first officer, and a damn excellent one at that, so I expect you to, you know, do your job, and stuff. We're sort of in this together now, aren't we? And you'll always... I mean, if you want to, you'll always be my first officer."

Spock said simply. "I do."

For a second Jim considered trying to apologise. He wasn't sure what for, exactly... he knew that if he claimed to take credit for this mess Spock would simply disregard him as illogical, so he settled for a grin and a friendly punch to the shoulder.

"Awesome. Let's go kick some lawyer ass."

"You suggest physical aggression against out prosecutors as a viable course of action?"

"You know exactly what I meant, you sneaky liar."

"Vulcans do not lie—"

"Liar."

"This is most illogical."

"This is going to be epic. A quest for the truth!"

"You are most illogical."

"And you love me for it."

"I do not love you."

"Oh come on, I was joking and you knew that too. Although your voice did get a bit weird there at the end, Spock... is there something you're not telling me?"

"There are many things which I do not tell you, Captain. However, a secret harbouring of romantic feelings towards you is not one of them."

"..."

"... Jim?"

"Sorry. It's just... you were smiling."

"I was not."

"You were! With your eyes, sort of thing! It's... kind of nice."

"My eyes do not smile. That would be—"

"They totally do!"

Chapter Text

 

Starbase Theta was a brand new facility built near the Class K planet Abscido II, and Jim had never been there before. He didn't know much about it beyond what was in the ship's archives, nor was he familiar with the Commodore who ran it (a certain decorated Commodore Emerett), but Spock had told him they had an incredibly advanced science program which his First Officer had sounded very interested in.

Jim, personally, was far from looking forward to their arrival. In fact, part of him was still waiting to wake up from the worst nightmare in history and realize that hey, no one was examining his relationship with his closest friend in uncomfortable, minute detail, and he could still live with the certainty that Spock was his and nothing could tear them apart. Because he felt as though some kind of cruel, practical joke had been played on them both and he was just waiting for the punchline. And it just never came.

"So how long will this whole process last?" McCoy asked him on the way to the transporter room.

"Well, it begins in ten days but I have no idea how long it will actually go on for," Jim replied, trying to ignore the flutter of nerves in his stomach; he dreaded what was waiting for him when they beamed down. Good thing there were no civvies or media on the Starbase; he'd had enough public attention back on Earth after getting his command. "Everyone has shore leave and free use of the facilities until further notice, except a couple of people from Maintenance and Engineering, of course."

"Engineering?" His CMO sounded surprised as they rounded a corner. "We haven't had any problems, have we? I'm sure Maintenance can handle her for now, I mean, she's docked and everything."

"Yes, that's what I figured too, but on second thought--"

"Scotty refused to leave."

"Yup."

"Fantastic. Well, I'm certainly looking forward to some rest, but..." and here McCoy actually stopped Jim by grabbing his arm. "I'm real sorry it's at the expense of you two... it's unfair, and stupid, and you've been working so hard and you don't deserve this."

"Look, don't worry about it. I'm sure everything will be fine." But he couldn't quite meet the doctor's eyes as they started walking again. "Spock and I are meeting our lawyer today, too."

"That's great."

The false cheer in his friend's voice made Jim smile quietly. "Thanks, Bones."

"For what?"

But he forgot about answering when they entered the transporter room, to find Spock already waiting for them inside. "Hey, you're here!"

"... Yes."

The Captain rubbed his hands happily and walked over to the panel. "Scotty, are we ready to beam down?"

"Aye, sir."

"Good. Are you coming with us, Bones?"

"I just told you I still have to finish packing. And Ensign Reeves needs a last-minute check-up before he's allowed to walk, let alone go around beaming places. Unlike some Starship Captains that seem to think they can just decide--"

"Okay, okay, we'll see you around, then," Jim said hastily, eyeing Spock who was following the exchange with interest. If his first officer was under the impression that Jim was medically cleared to do whatever he wanted, well then, that just meant he had interpreted Jim's (completely unintentionally misleading) comments regarding his discharge in a way that wasn't entirely... accurate.

McCoy ruined everything by adding: "Remember to take it slow. Rest. You should be in bed at this very moment."

Spock's eyes narrowed a fraction and Jim couldn't catch a fucking break.

"I'm fine."

"And give me a call once you've talked to the attorney. Tell me how it went," the doctor added, surprising an unexpected smile from Jim because yeah, it was still a little new to be reminded that he had people who genuinely cared what happened to him.

"Definitely."

"Oh, and goodbye to you too, Spock. Good luck."

"The concept of luck--" But the doctor was walking away.

Spock turned to Jim with a hint of exasperation in his eyes, and they both walked to the platform.

"'Doctor McCoy is a most illogical, flawed Human.'"

"Captain?"

"What? That's what you were going to say, wasn't it, Spock?"

Spock didn't answer but something about his manner managed to indicate that he was repressing the urge to sigh. Jim winked at him anyway.

"Scotty, are they ready for us?"

"Aye, Commodore Emerett is waiting to greet you personally."

"Really?" That wasn't exactly a good sign, and Jim was instantly suspicious. "Well, let's hope he hasn't brought an entourage with him. Energize."

The transporter room disappeared in front of his eyes and then he knew of nothing else until another, unfamiliar room came into view.

He'd been right to expect a welcoming-committee. Possibly even a tad optimistic; the word 'committee' seemed to imply some sort of organized force.

Starbase Theta was one of the newest and largest in the galaxy, and therefore housed an incredible number of officers; a population nothing short of that of a small moon. It seemed to Jim in that moment as though they had all attempted to cram themselves in the one small room and not entirely succeeded, and so had spilled out into the corridor. And probably the entire floor. Maybe even the whole Deck.

Lovely.

Standing a few feet in front of everyone was a tall, gray-haired man with the self-assured air of one who is comfortable in his rank, and knows it's a high one.

"Young Captain Kirk, at last. Welcome to Starbase Theta."

The Commodore's deep voice held a touch of condescension Jim caught immediately. Nevertheless, Jim stepped off the pad and offered his hand, and Emerett shook it.

They had communicated before the Enterprise docked, but up-close the effect of the man's imposing figure was lessened by the slight strain of his belt and what had to be the beginnings of a second chin.

"Thank you, sir. This is Commander Spock, my first officer."

"Commander." Emerett nodded at Spock, then waved carelessly behind him. "This is my assistant, Neil Dervin." A man Jim hadn't even noticed carrying a large stack of PADDs waved awkwardly from Emerett's left. "I hope you will both feel at home here during your... stay."

Jim resisted the urge to snort in derision and plastered a diplomatic smile on his face. "Well, I can't honestly say I'm glad to be here, but it's an honour to meet you, Commodore."

An artificial-sounding laugh greeted these words, made all the more contrived by the very conspicuously silent crowd watching them.

"Yes I, too, wish the circumstances were different..." Assessing brown eyes moved from Jim to Spock again and back. "... but I've already informed Starfleet Command that I don't plan on having you followed around by security men all day."

"Huh. Seeing as how that's not really standard protocol when there is no murder charge, I don't see how you could have done any different. But thank you all the same, sir."

It was then that Jim decided he definitely didn't really like Emerett much. Clearly the feeling was mutual, by the grimace the Commodore gave him in return.

"So, I trust my crew has caused no problems? The base looks amazing but it must be hard to accommodate four-hundred extra people."

"I'm told everyone has settled in perfectly, Captain. Our facilities are more than capable of housing up to a thousand extra officers."

"Wow, that's great."

Oops. He should have probably said 'that's excellent' or 'that's marvellous', and not 'wow'. But the indignant expression on the Commodore's face made the little slip worth it.

"Very well then, Neil will have someone show you to your assigned quarters."

He couldn't resist; "Awesome."

Something about his cheeky tone must have irritated the man, because Emerett dropped his pretense of good-humour for a second to add: "I was informed that you asked for adjoining rooms."

Jim paled. The crowd began muttering and frowning.

"Good luck explaining that to the jury, Captain."

It wasn't true, of course, but he couldn't exactly call out the decorated Commodore in front of so many people, no matter how much he may want to. And yet... Jim's automatic repulsion for authority figures notwithstanding, the man had just ridiculed him in public by lying.

"That's weird, I don't remember making such a request. Are you sure you're not going senile?"

The whispers ended abruptly, giving way to shocked expressions and, to Jim's grim satisfaction, a couple of badly-concealed admiring looks.

Emerett snorted. He was a wonderful actor. "You fancy yourself a funny guy, Kirk? I look forward to seeing you use that sharp wit to defend yourself in court."

"I look forward to it too." Jim grinned brightly. "Defending myself, I mean, not seeing you again anytime soon."

And he swept out of the room, aware of the fact that he had just done something incredibly stupid and reckless but too angry to care.

"That was not a wise action, Captain," Spock said quietly as they made their way through the throng of officers.

"I know."

There was a pause.

"You did not actually request our rooms be adjoining, I assume?"

Jim was surprised. He had thought Spock knew him well enough by now not to have to question something like that.

"Of course not."

"I thought it a preposterous notion."

"... Then why did you even ask?"

x

In the end the lawyer was assigned by Starfleet, so they never got to choose who their defense would be. All Jim knew of the man was his name; Nathaniel Moss, and that in the quick search he'd done before they arrived he'd come across a very impressive record of successful cases, not to mention that when Admiral Pike had called to unofficially wish them good luck, he'd congratulated them on landing one of the best, which was definitely encouraging.

So far, they knew absolutely nothing of the prosecution.

After the short walk to their quarters (turned out they actually had been given adjoining rooms) Kirk and Spock contacted the Enterprise.

"Wanna bet I can give Scotty the perfect coordinates so my clothes appear inside the cupboard?" Jim asked playfully. They had ten minutes to kill before meeting Mr Moss, and he knew the Chief Engineer would be bored, since there were very few people left to beam down.

Spock raised a sceptical eyebrow and didn't answer, but Jim thought he detected a flash of amusement in his first officer's expression.

"Hey Scotty, hang on a sec before you beam down our luggage, okay?" he called into the communicator.

"Aye, so long as you're not planning on changing the coordinates last minute."

Ignoring his engineer's chagrined tone, Jim went to the room's computer and began typing in the improvised equation as quickly as he could.

"Factor in... what, two point one metres per floor, Spock?"

"Two point zero ninety-four."

"Perfect, and I think this is Deck 5..." his fingers danced over the keyboard in practiced ease, and he was so bent on the task he didn't notice the way Spock was looking at him.

And that was a good thing, too.

"Okay, I think I've got it."

Spock handed him the communicator and Jim recited the new coordinates he'd calculated. Scotty became immediately interested once he realized what they were going to do.

"The space is a tad too wee for what we've got here... but 'tis an interesting notion, perhaps if we factor in a compression module..."

"Yeah, but a small one, maybe make it a 29 over 30 ratio just in case? I don't want all my shirts to be able to fit inside my allergy medicine box."

There was a pause.

"It's tiny."

"'O course, Captain."

"Good... are you ready, Scotty?"

"Perhaps it would be prudent to move away, Captain."

A warm, strong hand closed over Jim's arm. For a second he forgot what he'd been about to say as he turned to look at Spock, to try and catch some emotion in those eyes... because Spock never touched him casually. Not ever. Not unless he was choking him to death, that one time, or yesterday when Jim had almost had a panic attack.

So this was unprecedented (he really didn't think he was about to get thrown onto the first available flat surface right now... and choked). And it was weird, and strange, and totally unlike his first officer at all.

"Uh... what?"

In his astonishment he'd completely lost track of what was going on.

"While I cannot find a single flaw in your calculations, caution dictates we step back in the event of any unforeseen complications," Spock said reasonably. Jim blinked a couple of times and tried to clear his fuzzy head. Huh, maybe Bones had been right about him needing bed rest?

Spock was still touching him, which was distracting.

"Yeah... yeah, good idea."

Finally the hand slid away and they both took a few steps backwards.

"Okay Scotty, energize!"

It worked... mostly.

His favourite wrap-around shirt was the only one that didn't make it, but Spock consoled him by pointing out that he could simply replicate it again, though he 'personally saw no sense in wearing it so often, if the garment is not even the appropriate command-gold' to which Jim shrugged and replied 'I have a thing for the colour green'.

x

"D7:13 and... D7:14. This is it."

"Mr Moss' office cannot be here," Spock said flatly.

"This is the place he asked to meet us, Spock. Deck 7 Room 14."

It was the cafeteria.

"Then what activities do you propose we engage in while we wait for Mr Moss to arrive?" Spock said with an inquisitive eyebrow.

Too easy, Jim thought with a grin, and said; "Let's eat breakfast. I'm starving."

He walked inside first, took a tray and walked over to the replicators, ignoring the stares they drew from every officer in the crowded mess hall.

"Aren't you gonna eat something, Spock?"

"I do not need sustenance at this time."

"Suit yourself."

Jim was delighted to note that the Starbase allowed for a wider selection of foods than his own ship, and asked for some pancakes, besides his usual coffee.

"You have spoken of this meal before, Captain," Spock said curiously over his shoulder. Jim was surprised he'd remembered, since it had been at least three or four months ago during a particularly long and boring shift that he'd started daydreaming about warm pancakes oozing sugary syrup and smothered in cream.

"Yeah. You wanna try one?"

He scanned the place for a free table, and found a small one right in the middle of the room. It would have to do, even though the whispered conversations not quite out of ear-shot weren't exactly welcoming.

"... Perhaps I shall."

They sat down and Jim sighed, the sense of companionship and warmth he usually felt around Spock betrayed by his ever-present instincts attuned to danger. He was already thinking ahead, as to why the attorney had asked to meet them like this, and trying to judge if they could really trust anyone working here as an ally or whether everyone was waiting to see the premature young Captain crash and burn in a scandalous trial.

"I must admit I find the smell... intriguing," Spock murmured absently, eyeing the plate with focused, meticulous intent, which was actually kind of hilarious, and found Jim wishing he could take a picture of the moment or something: 'Spock Versus the Pancake, A Love Story'.

"The taste is even better, I promise," Jim grinned, instantly cheered, and cut a piece of soft, steaming dough, then soaked it in the sweet liquid.

"Here, try it."

Suddenly there was a suspended moment when Jim, unthinkingly, proffered the fork toward Spock as though he intended to feed his First directly, and then paused, panic locking his limbs.

Spock's eyes flickered to the utensil and then back to Jim's face, but he didn't say anything, apparently settling to wait and see what his Captain would do.

But Jim was frozen. There was a loud thundering sound in his ears that might have been his pulse, and he felt weird, like his skin was burning, but with ice...

And then Spock leaned forward without meeting Jim's eyes and a completely inscrutable expression, and gently took the fork from his hand, careful not to touch their fingers.

Jim's throat went dry as he watched Spock's mouth close over the dripping, golden morsel and then pull back, leaving a moist trail on the silver prongs and calling his attention to the fact that Spock's tongue... well... existed...

"James Kirk?"

"Mr Moss!" Jim jumped up so abruptly his chair nearly toppled over, and he scrambled to catch it before it fell while at the same time extending a hand to the lawyer. Nathaniel Moss was a plump, dark-eyed gray-haired man, at least a head shorter than Jim, wearing a light brown coat instead of any of the regulation uniforms and carrying what looked like... a book.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Captain Kirk. I've heard--" here Moss glanced at Spock wearily, the half-Vulcan was still chewing with a perfectly blank face and hadn't even acknowledged him. "--so much about you."

"Spock just had pancakes with syrup for the first time. Give him a second," Jim said in a mock confidential whisper.

"I see." Moss smiled faintly back, seemingly in spite of himself.

Finally Spock stood up next to Jim, clasping his hands behind his back.

"Mr Moss," he said, inclining his head in a polite nod.

"It's a pleasure to meet you too, Commander Spock. We should really get going, my office is all the way on Deck 4..."

"Wait." Jim's expression hardened and he put a hand on the man's shoulder. So far the lawyer seemed deceptively friendly, but the Captain didn't trust him yet.

"Listen, I get that you can't always believe your clients or whatever bullshit it is that you were thinking when you asked us to meet you here. But I want to make something perfectly clear,pal." He took a step forward so he was towering over the shorter man. "You don't mess with us. You don't conduct little tests, or experiments, on us. You walk up to us and ask, directly. I don't like feeling manipulated, and that's exactly what you did just now."

"Captain Kirk, I think I'll do whatever I feel is necessary to ensure we'll win this case. And if that includes a little observation of your behaviour in a social setting, then that's what I'll get," Moss shot back immediately; his affable tone sharpened to something distinctly unimpressed.

Well. At least he wasn't intimidated easily, and the man's regret sounded sincere when he added: "However, I am sorry. I never wanted to alienate you; we're a team here, and we're facing this together."

Captain and First Officer exchanged a glance.

"Thank you." Spock said curtly, and started walking. Somehow, somewhere, there had been a threat in those two words. Jim smiled to himself, managing to forget what had happened before Mr Moss arrived, and strode after Spock, matching the half-Vulcan's fast pace so they could talk a while more without interference.

"Are you going to admit the pancake was good? I told you it was good," he said smugly. Spock pretended to consider it.

"While I maintain that taste is irrelevant in the face of nutritional value... the pancake was... acceptable."

Jim grinned triumphantly, managing to forget, too, the pair of beady eyes fixed on their elegant forms, cataloguing every gesture, every look.

And he didn't hear Moss mutter to himself: "This is worse than I thought."

But Spock did.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"I don't like this," Moss said, shaking his head.

"I'm sorry?"

They were finally standing in his office; a large, well-lit room with several wooden pieces of furniture (including the desk and chair). Ostentatious, and not really to Jim's taste--wood being, of course, an expensive luxury. The most eye-catching feature in the place, however, was the shoulder-high shelf with over ten paper books stacked neatly in alphabetical order.

"You two. I don't like how this looks." The man was frowning and looking from one to the other intently.

"What does it look like, Mr Moss?" Jim asked frostily. Beside him Spock was his usual, silent self.

Instead of replying, the lawyer took a step forward, put his hands in the small space where their shoulders were almost touching (but not quite) and pushed them apart, his unexpected strength making Jim stumble, so that there was at least a foot of air between the two.

"Lesson number one; friends don't stand next to each other like that."

"Like what?" Jim said indignantly, already missing the heat Spock's body radiated against his skin. It was comfortable.

"I want a minimal air-flow between the both of you," Moss said sarcastically. "Less than a foot of space is not enough. Your image from now on will be entirely professional. You will be colleagues that do what's right because that's your job, and you believe in your job."

"But we are colleagues--"

"But you're also very good friends. And you're close, am I right? Very close. Maybe there's even something here you're not telling me."

The man looked dispassionately at them and asked the question Jim had been expecting all day.

"Is there anything I need to know about that?"

"What, exactly, are you implying here?"

He'd tried to tell himself he shouldn't get angry, but the feeling was a powerful and volatile thing flaring in the pit of his stomach.

"Oh don't look so upset, Captain Kirk. It's a perfectly legitimate question."

"No, it's not," Jim said through gritted teeth. "Because I'm a bit tired of hearing it already, and this trial hasn't even begun."

"Okay, okay, calm down." Moss raised his hands in mock-surrender, and sneaked a glance at Spock. The half-Vulcan betrayed no hint of emotion, he was merely looking at his Captain, the perfect picture of composure. "So to make this absolutely clear, you both deny the existence of any sort of romantic attatchment?"

"Yes," Spock said curtly, not even bothering to look at the lawyer when he spoke.

"Really?"

"Yes!" Jim cried, exasperated.

"All right, all right. Say I believe you; can we at least agree that, if it's true that there's nothing between you, you don't need to be touching all the time?"

"We do not touch all the time," Jim shot back immediately, hoping he didn't sound like a petulant child. Granted, he knew he could be a bit handsy, but he always tried to be careful with Spock, not to make him uncomfortable. Unlike Mr You're-Too-Friendly McPersonal-Space-Blubble here, who had seen fit to shove them apart like that.

"Yes, you do." Before the Captain could protest again, Moss plunged on. "And don't deny it, I'm here to help you so you have to listen to me. It's the truth. And it has to stop. You're not being accused of being in a relationship; this trial is about whether that relationship interferes with the running of a constitution-class Starship."

"We know the charges—"

"The danger we face here is that the prosecution will try to turn it into an 'are they/aren't they' contest."

"But—"

"Lesson number two is this; if that happened, we would lose."

"But it won't," Jim said desperately. "Right? That's ridiculous! This whole thing is crazy!"

It felt so weird to be talking about this out loud, with Spock standing right there not saying anything.

"Of course it won't happen, because we won't let it. But I don't need the people of the jury to see you standing next to each other like that and think you make a cute couple. Also, it doesn't help that you're both so attractive."

Spock raised an eyebrow at that.

"I fail to see how our physical appearance is related to the jury's erroneous perception of our relationship."

Moss waved a hand in the air. "It just does, all right? And it could be a problem." He sighed wistfully. "I wish we could do something about that."

"What, you mean make ourselves less good-looking?" Jim smirked, vindictively pleased to note the lawyer's discomfort.

"No, I mean... oh, I don't know. Fine, forget I said it," the man huffed in annoyance and turned a critical eye to them once more. "But there's much more to this than looks, am I right?"

Neither Jim nor Spock could answer that.

"We will have to change something. There's a... hmm."

"What now?"

Jim rolled his eyes at Spock, whose mouth twitched, eyes glinting in silent complicity. Moss seemed to be deep in thought.

"I can't quite put my finger on it... but it's very much... there. Definitely something we're going to have to rectify... before it's too late."

All this vague prognostication of doom was starting to really get on Jim's nerves.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It means there's a reason this trial is being conducted, Captain Kirk," Moss snapped. "And this dynamic you two've got going isn't working for the angle I want, so I'm telling you right now that it will need to change, or it's going to end up hurting your case. Give me a day to assess what I'm working with and then I'll tell you exactly what I want, but for now I can safely say that what I don't want is for you two to keep acting like you have until today. Because that got you court martialed.

"I have in my possession a very interesting list of charges being brought against you. Now, while I don't actually know every single transgression you've committed by heart yet, I've seen enough to know it will take more than a flash of that pretty smile to win over a jury. There is evidence, some damning evidence, against you."

Jim was about to argue when, to his amazement, Spock stepped toward Mr Moss, his wide shoulders set and tense. Jim could practically feel the anger rolling off his first officer in menacing waves, even though another person would probably be fooled by Spock's contained expression.

"The evidence is incomplete," he said sharply.

"Oh, really? Because that list looks pretty complete to me--"

"You do not understand. If one were to analyse a soil-sample from one of Vulcan's deserts, he would find it to be insufficient to determine the entire planet's composition. Just as you cannot obtain perfect knowledge of the Human body by examining a single drop of blood. A synonymous mistake is being made here; out of context, data can be misleading. In fact, the entire construct which this trial is based upon appears a deliberate and obvious attempt to discredit James Kirk in his young Captaincy by planting false rumours and completely unfounded speculation that shall only serve to leave a mark in his otherwise excellent record, and not about finding the truth. So you are wrong. The evidence is not damning. The evidence, Mr Moss, is incomplete."

Jim was stunned.

"Very good, Mr Spock. You just surmised the entire basis of our defense in a concise and... expressive manner." Mr Moss was looking at Spock with narrowed eyes and something akin to suspicion, but if Spock regretted speaking as he had, he didn't show it.

Suddenly the lawyer clapped his hands, breaking the charged atmosphere.

"Defense strategy, which I intend to work on during the next ten days of preparation we've been given. I hate that we have such little time, but something as momentous as this was obviously going to be rushed through the appropriate channels."

"Yes. I surmised as much when I was informed that we would be expected here at the Starbase so quickly," Spock said.

"The Enterprise is one of the Federation's prime starships, I take it? Much in demand?" Moss asked.

Spock gave a nod, face blank. "Which makes these proceedings all the more... illogical."

"Yes, well." The calculating look in Moss's face never quite left after that. "Then I see no point in delaying the matter, let's get started!"

"What... now?" Jim said, surprised.

"Of course now." The lawyer walked around his desk and gestured to the two chairs in front of him. "Sit down, there's plenty to do... no, not like that, I said I want air to be able to pass between you!"

x

"So… was it bad?"

Jim tried to think of a negative enough word to describe the torture session he and Spock had had to endure; spending an entire day in Mr Moss' office with only the shortest lunch break in history.

He was almost pleased when he realised there were literally no words to describe the horror.

"Oh come on, it can't have been that bad?"

They were sitting at a table eating dinner with McCoy and Uhura, once again the object of every covert glance in the mess hall. Jim was doing his best not to let all the unwanted attention get to him by trying to convince himself that he was already used to being a focus of negative energy, even if it had been what felt like a long time ago.

"Jim?" the doctor said.

Spock put down the weird fork-thingy they'd been given to eat and looked at his Captain thoughtfully. "I believe Humans often mistakenly use the word… 'deadly.'"

Jim burst out laughing, a touch hysterically.

"While the meaning is obviously metaphoric in this instance—" Spock kept speaking, pitching his voice slightly louder over the sound of Jim's guffaws. "—I believe it does serve to illustrate a sentiment which the Captain vehemently expressed twelve seconds after we had exited Mr Moss' office."

"I see," McCoy said with a prominently raised eyebrow.

"The guy is insane, Bones," Jim said, remembering some of the things Moss had said to them along the day.

He knew he must keep the tone of this conversation light and not growl at the table, which would be strange and possibly give Bones an excuse to stick a hypo in his neck, but his smile became slightly harder to maintain whenever he recalled one of the lawyer's acidic comments.

"Do you always look at him like that?"

"…Captain Kirk, I'm over here."

"A little to the left, Captain Kirk, please. Remember Mr Spock is Vulcan and probably doesn't appreciate you violating his personal space."

"Image is everything in these cases, Captain Kirk."

"… and there's a lot of work to do so we'd best focus, right, Captain Kirk?"

"He appears to be very fixated on the… emotional aspects of the trial," Spock spoke looking down at his bowl of soup, face a lovely pale mask.

Uhura and McCoy exchanged a look. Jim felt a headache coming on.

"So," he sighed. "Moss mentioned we might know something of the prosecution soon, he's looking into it and will probably have a couple of names for us."

"That's great," Uhura said, obviously trying to sound encouraging.

"Yeah."

Suddenly his hunger seemed to have vanished. "Listen, I think I'm going to bed. Moss wants us in his office bright and early tomorrow." He stood to leave.

"You have not finished your meal," Spock commented, uncharacteristically attentive. Jim couldn't help feeling pleased.

"I'm not very hungry."

"Humans require nutrition. You have only eaten three leaves of celery and approximately one eighth of a carrot." His first officer raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him.

"He's right, Jim. You need to eat, you look like you just had a near death experience a couple of days ago. Oh wait."

Jim rolled his eyes.

"I'm serious, you're pale, thin… just looking at you makes me want to reach for the hypo."

"Please don't. Think of the whales."

"What?" Sometimes distracting Bones with nonsense worked. Not this time, sadly. "I will hypo you unless you eat properly, dammit. Don't make me file this as an official recommendation."

"It's called a recommendation for a reason, Bones. As in, I can ignore it if I want to." But he sat back down and gave Spock a small, tired smile.

"So do you have any plans for the leave, Leonard?" Uhura asked the doctor.

"Not really. Chekov seemed very excited about the science program, though. Do you know anything about it?"

"Well, besides what Spock's been telling me." She turned to the half-Vulcan.

While they spoke Jim tried (unsuccessfully) to stab a piece of his salad.

"… and the research and development department was installed recently occupying Decks 6 and 7, to study the effects of Gamma Rays upon the sporeous flora--"

"What the hell is this thing?" Jim burst out finally, frowning in frustration as the tiny prongs continued to fail at sticking anything.

"I do not know." Spock said, breaking off from his explanation and examining the funny round fork. "But it appears to serve as a spoon as well; perhaps an upgrade in the replicators meant to economise space."

"Well, it sucks."

Spock kept staring at him with his knowing eyes.

"What?"

"You are not applying force correctly."

"If you're about to talk physics to me at the table, Spock—"

"We often discuss physics whilst eating meals—"

"Yes, well, if you'd let me finish you'd have heard me say 'be sure to use terms Uhura and Bones can understand, because you know how we can get and remember that one time Sulu almost accidentally stabbed you with his bread knife?'"

"…I see."

"Well, not that I wouldn't love to hear you two talk about the physics of forking…" McCoy began sarcastically. "But I thought you said you had an early day tomorrow."

"Yes, mom," Jim said with an eye-roll.

"Just finish your food and go to bed, Jim," the doctor ordered.

"Wait." Uhura was looking over Jim's shoulder and frowned at something behind him. "Can we help you?" she asked coolly just as Jim felt a tentative tap on his back.

"Are you Kirk? Captain Kirk?"

He turned around and met with two unfamiliar officers; a young woman in science blues and a man (a pilot, judging by his insignia) in gold.

"Yes," Jim answered with a touch of reserve. "Is there a problem?"

The gold-clad man stepped forward. "My name is Lucas. Lucas Dalle."

"Uh… okay. Hey Lucas."

Jim exchanged a glance with McCoy and Lucas gave a self-conscious smile. He was slightly on the pudgy side, exactly the kind of person one would describe as 'affable'.

"Yeah, and this is Mara. She's my little sister. We were both very lucky to get stationed at the same Starbase."

"… Okay."

"So, our whole family lives on Earth. And I just wanted to say… this trial thing? It came out on the nets today, about your... uh, with your First Officer…" Fantastic. Jim groaned internally. "…and it sounds pretty stupid to me. I mean what is this, the early twenty-hundreds? Thanks to you, our whole planet survived. You practically saved Humanity."

Oh. Jim felt an uncomfortable flush threatening to redden his cheeks, and fought it furiously. He would never get used to this.

"You're a hero." Lucas turned to Spock. "Although… you must be Mr Spock, right? I'm very sorry about Vulcan."

"I accept that you feel emotionally obligated to convey your sorrow as a way of establishing mutual courtesy."

The pilot blinked. "Right. Anyway, you two… you're both heroes. And I say, well, keep doing what you do because you seem to be doing it great, and, um, my point, somewhere in there…"

"My brother's trying to say 'good luck'," the young female officer interjected. She had a pleasant, throaty voice and long black hair, with glinting eyes to match.

Also, she was gorgeous, Jim thought belatedly, sitting up a little bit straighter.

"And we're not the only ones here who think this is bullshit." Mara kept speaking. "At breakfast this morning, that was rude. I was there and I'm sorry no one offered a table. We're usually a nice bunch, but without knowing the charges… well, you see a guy on trial, you assume it's important, right? You realise he's a Starfleet Captain? Well then, lives are involved. At least, that was what we thought. Not some fucking bureaucratic crap."

Wow, she had a mouth on her, this one.

"So you have our support, was the point. Hang in there."

Jim grinned, something unpleasant and tight in his chest managing to unwind slightly. "Well, I really appreciate that. Thank you."

"You're welcome." Mara smiled brightly at him and Spock, then cocked her head to the side. "And I have to say, my lab partner was right; you're very cute, Mr Spock. For the strong, silent type."

"Whoa there, kid," Jim chuckled, more amused than threatened. "Spock's not int—"

"Kid?" She snorted. "I'm twenty-seven. You're… what, two, three years older than me?"

He could hear Uhura sniggering behind him and McCoy's badly concealed laughter. Spock was perfectly silent.

"Uh, well, I don't… um—"

"Time to go, Mara." Lucas smiled apologetically and nodded in acknowledgement to Spock, then tugged his sister's arm.

"See you round, I hope." Mara winked at him.

"Nice meeting you both. And thanks again."

They waved and exited the mess hall.

Jim ran a hand through his hair and exhaled in disbelief. "Well, that was—"

"You have fans!" Uhura exclaimed, unable to hide the glee from her voice. Jim was about to correct her, when he realised she was happily teasing Spock. Not only was this a great sign about the progress of their relationship, but it was something he could totally get behind.

"Yeah Spock… that girl sure seemed to think you were cute. For the strong, silent type."

Spock's eyebrows shot upwards, but he made no comment.

"She was adorable," Uhura continued.

"Seemed smart, too. A scientist. You can do crazy experiments together, eh Spock?" McCoy joined in, apparently unable to resist.

"Yeah! And talk about physics…" Jim pretended to sigh dreamily.

"Argue about logic versus instinct…"

"We may have sufficient time to continue our previous chess-match if you finish your meal within the next ten minutes, Captain," Spock interjected then. No doubt he had surmised a diversion would be needed to sidetrack the attention, and it worked: Jim's smirk was replaced by a smile of pure joy.

"Really? You want to?"

"I would not be adverse to—"

"You want to! Awesome, let's go!"

x

"Check."

He smiled lazily and leaned back against his chair to watch Spock's next move.

These chess games had begun merely two weeks after Jim took command of the Enterprise; he'd spotted Spock playing Chekov in the rec room one evening and immediately felt a spark of excitement at the thought of such a challenge. To the newly-appointed Captain in need of a distraction Spock's mind had seemed like a guaranteed good time; something different and razor-sharp and ruthlessly logical.

Spock had bested the Russian prodigy with obvious ease.

"Hey… can I step in?" Jam had asked.

Cool, assessing eyes and a single nod.

To Spock's utter shock, Jim had won. He remembered that Spock and Uhura were a couple at the time, and her look of grudging respect had been the best thing about the match, with the possible exception of his first officer's instant (and only slightly irritated) request for a repeat. By the end of the third game most of the room had gathered around them and Spock had beaten Jim twice; and so began a strange ritual through which Captain and First Officer measured their strengths and weaknesses and got to know each other better than anyone else.

While the first games were both aggressive and competitive, playing one against the other, they had eventually morphed into something else, something new for both of them, something equally absorbing: playing with each other.

And not in the totally weird way his brain had immediately thought of, good God (although in Jim's brain's defense, it had been pretty long since he'd last... played... something other than solitaire).

But yeah, there was something pretty amazing about needing to use the full force of his intellect just to match his opponent, which Jim had never had to resort to before.

"Checkmate, Captain."

"What?"

He'd seen the possibility, but not calculated such a fast move. "Wow. You're good."

"That adjective is ambiguous. However I suppose you, as a Human, would know how to use it correctly."

"… And modesty failed."

Spock's eyes were smirking at him, and Jim knew he couldn't call him out on it, and that was annoying in a wonderful way.

"You have lost."

"Yes I know, Spock, thank you so much for pointing it out. Again."

"I shall retire to my room now. You require rest." The half-Vulcan stood gracefully (the man did everything with perfect grace, damn gravity differentials) and Jim looked up, just for a moment, and found himself thinking that Spock was horribly, unbearably exhausted. Which was stupid and had no basis in reality because Spock looked just fine.

"Hey, are you…?"

There was an expectant pause.

"Uh, nothing. Forget it." Jim shook his head and forced a smile. "Night."

The half-Vulcan nodded and left through the adjoining door, which hissed shut behind him, leaving Jim all alone.

The moment his First Officer was out of sight Jim felt his earlier troubles returning. Spock's presence lulled him into a false sense of security and made him forget the fear, the suspicions, the dread at what was to come. The truth was, of course, that even with friendly support Jim was terrified that they could lose. Not something he'd soon admit aloud, but the worst thing about spending the day at Moss' office had been the way it had cemented the reality of their situation. The need for a defense.

He sighed and wished Spock would come back. And possibly never leave again.

Chapter Text

Jim had gone down to the cafeteria in Deck 7 with every intention of eating breakfast.

The problem was that the moment he'd stepped inside he'd been greeted by a stunned silence that would have been comical, maybe, in an alternate reality where he enjoyed his infamy as much as he pretended to. The other officers no longer looked at him with hostility (at least, most of them didn't), but the curious, almost pitying gazes weren't a huge improvement. He didn't want to be subject to their scrutiny. He wanted them to at least try and pretend like he could be part of the crowd… not to stand out.

Maybe in a different situation he wouldn't have cared as much. After all, James Kirk was used to being the focus of attention in a room for one reason or another. But not now. Not like this, when with every hour that passed he felt more confused and less in control.

Neither Mara nor Lucas were there--they must be stationed somewhere closer to another mess hall. Finally Jim sighed and walked over to the replicators with what he knew to be a sub-par attempt at his usual cocky and self-confident smile.

Spock was still in his quarters explaining the complicated situation to his father, and had refused Jim's terrified offer of moral support by citing the many reasons why it was extremely illogical, all of which could be summed up with the sentence: 'I am Vulcan'. Jim had fled like the coward he was (maybe it had to do with Sarek being there that one time when he'd had to emotionally compromise his son… and Spock had choked him against a console).

Not looking forward to the day's activities one bit, the Captain found himself forgoing a proper meal in favour of sitting alone, smiling charmingly at anyone who looked at him while brooding internally, and nursing a cup of hot coffee.

"Morning."

Jim looked up, startled, to find Sulu carrying a tray with juice and pancakes.

"Hey." He kicked the chair opposite him. "Wanna sit?"

"Yeah." Sulu did, then raised an eyebrow at Jim's empty tray. "No breakfast?" he noted.

"Not particularly hungry." Jim sipped his scalding hot drink.

"I see. So… how's it going with that lawyer guy? Is he any good?"

"I haven't decided yet." He grimaced. "Hey, you mind talking about anything that isn't the stupid trial?"

Sulu flinched visibly. "Of course. Sorry, man."

"Don't worry—"

"No I mean it, must be horrible. I can't imagine… anyway, how about we do something else?"

"We could try small-talk. You know, about life, or the weather."

Sulu laughed. "Yeah, no. How's about we play a game?"

Jim felt his sombre mood lift slightly at the thought of Sulu making this effort just to make him feel better.

"A game?" he asked, intrigued in spite of himself.

"Yeah. Whoever can get the replicator to make him the weirdest most disgusting dish wins."

"Wins what?"

"Why, getting to see his opponent eat it, of course." Sulu grinned, and Jim grinned right back, not fooled for one second; he knew either his helmsman had noticed or McCoy had mentioned how he needed to eat more.

"Okay then, does three tries sound fair? We don't know what the full range of this replicator is."

Sulu stood up to get another tray.

"Sounds great."

He came back two minutes later with a plate of something that looked mostly like yellow-greenish soup, but with floaty bits. Jim hated the floaty bits in soup. Also it smelled like fish, and replicated fish was just all the more terrible.

"This, my friend, is Kal'ya," Sulu said proudly. "And it is disgusting. Believe me, Chekov tried to make it once for all the piloting crew and I really hope the way it tasted meant he failed."

"Oh, please, it's gonna be a piece of cake to top that," Jim teased. "It's an Earth food. I can get something worse by picking the first Orion dish that comes to mind."

"Ah, but only if it's programmed into the replicators. Three tries, Kirk."

"Yeah yeah." He winked at Sulu and tried to remember if Spock had ever mentioned a particularly weird Vulcan dish on his way to the queue. Maybe he could try the Sash-savas, it was supposed to be an acid fruit Sulu would hate-

He was at the end of the line when he felt a strong hand clap his shoulder and spun around, startled.

"… Ben?"

It was the absolute last person he'd expected to find here.

"Is that a question, Kirk?"

Ben Finney was a tall, dark-haired science officer Jim had met back at San Francisco, and remained one of the only two men he'd fooled around with at the Academy, the other being Gary Mitchell. They'd sort of got along for a while there before the other Cadet's resentment and jealousy ate away at the friendship, but Jim's last memory of Finney wasn't exactly a pleasant one, so it was with some cool reserve that he said: "It's been a while. How are you doing?"

"Obviously not as good as you, Captain Kirk," Ben replied with raised eyebrows and an appreciative once-over. But there was no honest congratulation in his tone, and Jim knew why; when his fast promotion had been announced Ben had been one of the first to protest, being the aspirer to a captaincy himself, and a year older than Jim.

"You think?" Jim snorted. "I'm not exactly here for some R&R, and you know that. Feels like half the Galaxy knows that," he added with a grumble.

"Yeah, well, rumours spread fast on the nets, and you've been main-page material for a while now, if only 'cause that pretty face sells feed-subscriptions. Although I never would have guessed… the hobgoblin professor? Really? I thought you hated him."

"It's not true," Jim snapped. Finney's tone might pass for friendly banter but there was a taunting undercurrent in it that was starting to really piss him off. "And all I did at the most was break a couple of sub-sections in landing party protocol. Spock is a friend, that's all."

Mr Moss had advised against using the word 'friend', but 'co-worker' fell so short.

"You sure about that, poster-boy? I mean, I get that your inexperience probably means they're watching you extra-closely, and you can't expect to get away with the little things proper Captains pull off every day… but it's not like the Admiralty to call a full-blown Court Martial just for 'landing party protocol,' is it?" Finney actually did the air quotes around 'landing party protocol'.

"Wow, someone's really bitter about being shipped off to the furthest Starbase."

Jim's tone made Finney bristle visibly, but it was worth it. The guy didn't need to know that he'd just voiced Jim's biggest insecurities to the world.

"At least I can keep my hands to myself," Ben spat. "You'd think landing the dumbest promotion in Starfleet history would knock a lick of sense into you, Jimmy… or at least provide for some self-control."

"You have no idea what you're talking about."

"Really? That's the comeback you're going with?" Suddenly Ben's eyes travelled his form again, this time more deliberately. "Don't forget I knew you back in the day, Jimmy, you can't have changed that much. I remember everything… that alien of yours is definitely in it for the sex, I'll give you that."

By this point Sulu had started to stand from the table, frowning, but Jim shook his head minutely and tried to concentrate on keeping his temper, which was becoming increasingly difficult.

"Listen Ben, I get that you're still in love with me—"

"That ego of yours just keeps growing, doesn't it? You're good in bed, Kirk, big deal. Half the Academy can vouch for that first hand, can't they?"

"Jealous, Finney?"

"Of half the Academy? You've got to be—"

"I meant of me." Jim almost laughed.

"That's ridiculous." The slightly taller man took a step closer, probably trying to be intimidating, but Jim didn't even blink. Dealing with idiots who were looking to start a fight was his specialty, probably because he'd been one himself for a long time. The only problem now was not giving in to his own urge to punch Finney into a pulp. "Look Jimmy, it amuses me no end that you managed to take the biggest opportunity of your life and screw it up in less than two years by falling for your first officer, but you'd better not think that makes you even more—"

"Excuse me."

A young woman with short blonde hair pushed past them and threw Finney an annoyed glance.

"You're blocking the line," she told him primly, and sashayed away to join a group of red-clad officers at the largest, noisiest table.

"Bitch," Finney muttered.

Jim was momentarily diverted from his murderous thoughts and stared after her, not just because she was gorgeous (although she really was), but because her face looked oddly familiar.

"Look Jim, when you lose, and you will, I'm after your command, your ship and your title. I want you to know that so that when the day comes—"

"Please stop talking," Jim said absently, still looking at the girl. "It physically pains me to hear what a sad old man you've become."

But the science officer didn't reply, and when Jim followed his gaze he realized why.

"Well, well, lookie there; if it isn't your better half."

Sure enough, Spock had just walked into the cafeteria.

"You leave him alone," he whispered furiously, hoping Spock wouldn't hear over the general hubbub.

Finney chuckled and waved the Commander over. "You're adorable, you are, Jimmy."

"I'm serious you little piece of shit--Spock! Hey!"

"Hello Captain."

But Spock wasn't looking at Jim when he spoke; he was looking at the other blue-shirt coolly.

"I do not believe I have met your companion—"

"You must be the infamous Mr Spock," Finney interrupted, but it gave Jim a deep satisfaction to note that his self-assurance visibly flickered when he addressed the clearly unimpressed Vulcan. Because Ben could try to look taller or more confident than he really was, but Spock oozed intimidation without batting an eyelash.

"Spock, this is Ben Finney, an old Academy… acquaintance." There was no way he was using the word 'friend' now.

"Acquaintance?" Ben raised a suggestive eyebrow. "Really, Jim?"

"Shut up."

"What, you don't want your boyfriend to know we—?"

"I said shut up. Come on, Spock, Moss expects us there in ten minutes." Jim turned to leave but was surprised to find his First Officer stayed conspicuously put, still looking intently at Ben.

"Mr Finney appears to be operating under several misapprehensions," Spock said finally, and his voice was definitely beginning to sharpen with a hint hostility now.

"Yeah, he's stupid that way. We'll be late, Spock. C'mon."

"A moment, Captain."

"Oh, this is brilliant. Are you gonna ask me to stay away from Jimmy here?" Finney announced with false bravado.

The room was starting to quiet down and Sulu was mouthing 'oh shit' and shaking his head at them.

"Because that would be fucking precious, really—"

"That is not my intention, officer." Spock spoke in his usual polite tone, but it didn't quite go with the pitch-black colour his eyes had adopted. "However, have no desire to experience such an obvious and distasteful example of Human jealousy in further detail—"

"I am not jealous of Jim—" Finney began heatedly, but once again Spock cut across with his smooth, even voice.

"I believe that you are, as you have every reason to be; Captain Kirk obtained his current rank at a previously unheard of young age by performing a remarkable achievement in bravery as well as a praise-worthy display of command that you did not demonstrate, which is why he was chosen to command the Enterprise in your stead. Not to mention the fact that his intelligence far surpasses your own."

Jim felt an irrational yet momentous glee flood his veins in a rush, and had to fight a huge (and probably idiotic-looking) grin.

"In conclusion, you would benefit from not finding yourself near me in future instances, as I harbour no desire to be subjected to your presence. I do not speak for Jim."

"And you think I'll just do whatever you tell me?" Ben snorted, and Spock blinked in what, for him, might pass for surprise. "Used to having your orders followed, aren't you, you Vulcan hybrid?"

At this Spock stayed silent for a suspiciously long time, and Jim, in a sudden flash of clear insight, realised what was happening; there was an internal struggle being fought right in front of him, and anger had always been a difficult emotion for Spock to control, hadn't it…?

"We're leaving. Now," Jim said firmly, and deliberately grabbed Spock's arm by the elbow, digging his nails in to make himself clear.

Spock jerked his head to the side and Jim almost took a step back when he saw what those eyes contained.

Finney laughed and shook his head.

"You're gonna lose this trial," he said.

"Come on, Spock," Jim said again, releasing his grip and turning to leave without looking back to check whether he was being followed outside.

"This isn't over, Kirk," Ben shouted.

Jim shook his head and called over his shoulder. "Nothing ever started, Ben."

The shocked faces of onlookers gave way to the buzz of conversation which started even before the door had closed behind them.

"Captain—"

"I feel like I might die if I don't punch that idiot in the face within the next five seconds," Jim said matter-of-factly, his fury so violent that he bit the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood.

"That situation is improbable… therefore you are being metaphorical, again."

Spock's measured deduction made him smile, a little.

"I'm sorry you had to be involved in that, Spock, Ben's a mean one when he's mad, and he's definitely mad at me now."

"I must admit to some curiosity as to how he managed to pass the psych evaluations at the Academy."

"Oh, he's not crazy, he's just an asshole. Pity they can't check you for that, right? Although that probably means I wouldn't have passed the first time either…"

When Spock didn't answer Jim glanced at him surreptitiously and caught a glimpse of emotion in the usually inscrutable face: Spock looked like he was having trouble containing his consternation, and a delicate little frown had appeared between his eyebrows.

"Jim, you…"

The door opened again and Sulu nearly walked into them. "Oops. Sorry guys." They took a couple of steps away from the corridor and he rounded on Jim. "Hey, what the hell was that about?"

"This guy I knew back in San Francisco. The idiot says he's after my job when it's over." Jim rolled his eyes tiredly and tried to avoid reflecting on what Ben had actually said. Your inexperience probably means they're watching you extra-closely. He tried to ignore the voices whispering that no self-respecting Captain would have ever been stupid enough to depend that much on his First Officer. It's not like the Admiralty to call a full-blown Court Martial just for 'landing party protocol'.

"Jerk," Sulu growled angrily.

"Whatever. Let's just forget it, okay? Finney's not worth it."

With some reluctance his pilot nodded, but Spock was pointedly looking away and not acknowledging him, which made Jim suspect his first officer wouldn't be forgetting anything anytime soon.

"Uh, so, listen, I'm meeting Chekov and Scotty later. See you guys for lunch or something?" Sulu asked.

"If Moss lets us stop long enough to eat, yeah."

They had to take different routes; Jim and Spock heading for Deck 4 and Sulu back to the section of Deck 5 where most of the crew's quarters were located, along with one of the rec rooms. The fact that Theta's prime functions were clearly for research and development hadn't stopped anyone from including several decent rec rooms, a sports center, a swimming pool and even a couple of bars. The absence of a civilian population on the base was, at any rate, possibly because Theta was still quite new and probably because its location was far from any populated colonies and not very well communicated.

"Well, good luck."

"Thanks."

Sulu patted him on the shoulder and nodded at Spock, then left. They started walking in the opposite direction.

"Um… so, I thought we were gonna meet in Moss' office," Jim said after an uncomfortable silence (at least on his part). "Miss me?" He added with a cheeky grin.

Spock seemed genuinely offended at the notion. "No, Captain."

And Jim couldn't help but be a little offended at that. "Wow, okay. I was kidding."

"…I see. A Human prank."

"Yeah. Clearly, this is exactly like pulling a girl's pigtails except you won't admit you missed my presence--" he started, but then; "Wait!"

Suddenly he spun around and grabbed Spock's sleeve to stop him. Something in the back of his mind, it had sparked a memory… pigtails? The girl.

He'd forgotten about the girl what with Spock suddenly rushing to his rescue (not that he needed to be rescued or anything, not that Spock was like a handsome knight and he was a princess… wait, what?), but he definitely knew her and there was something else, too, a—

"You're blocking the line."

The insignia on her shirt, he'd caught it out of the corner of his eye, and the short blonde hair, that was what had confused him because last time, the last time he'd seen her she'd been wearing pigtails--

"Spock… I think I know her!"

Spock stayed silent for three seconds, then said: "The blonde Human woman in the mess hall?"

Jim stared at him. "Yeah. You do too, right? She looks so familiar…"

"I believe I have seen her before as well."

"Right, she's… whatsername… Beth!"

"Ruth. And no, she is not Ruth, Ruth was the young woman you met at the Deltan establishment in your youth."

"Oh. Yeah." Jim's cheeks flushed in embarrassment. Not the proudest night of his life, although it had been pre-Starfleet. "Wait, how do you know about…?"

"You recounted the story for me. In comprehensive detail, I might add." Spock's eyes were smiling, which made Jim hesitantly smile back.

"Ah. Was I drunk at the time?"

"I believe so. It was our first week of shore leave after successfully completing the Porthos mission."

He'd lost five security officers. The first and only time he'd let the death of his crewmen steal his sobriety. "I see. So, how do we know this woman?"

"You rejected her advances during our second week of shore leave after the Porthos mission."

"Oh… yeah, okay, I remember now." Jim grimaced. "She kept asking whether I was into you. As if that could be the only reason I wouldn't want to buy her a drink, right?"

"… Correct."

"So... what's her name?"

For one, strange moment Jim thought he'd imagined Spock's jaw clenching inexplicably. Then it passed and he realised that was highly improbable.

"Areel Shaw."

Yes. Areel. Not Ariel.

"Areel. Not Ariel."

"Okay."

Jim glanced at Spock and they exchanged a silent look of disbelief (well, Jim looked at Spock with disbelief and interpreted Spock's raised brow as the appropriate response). She was wearing a pretty green dress and her hair in pigtails; it made her look about twelve, even though Jim suspected she was around his age.

"Care to dance, Captain Kirk?"

"Uh... sorry, no."

He'd have normally said 'yes'. At least, before, when that was normal, or maybe this was normal and before had just been a little too... much. But standing there with Spock and his calm, soothing voice, simply talking, felt great for now.

She pouted. Wow, she was really pretty. But no. Not worth losing time with Spock. It was rare to get to see his First Officer forced into such a casual setting, and Jim was, quite unexpectedly, having fun.

Also, someone had to help the half-Vulcan avoid skin-contact, and make sure no one tried to ask him out. Uhura was still on the ship, and she probably wouldn't appreciate her boyfriend being propositioned by a myriad of Humans. Really, he was doing this for her.

"You sure? I love this song."

"I'm sure. Sorry."

"Captain? Has the fact that you did not consume sufficient nutrients this morning negatively affected your mental capabilities?"

"How could you possibly know I missed breakfast?"

Spock started walking again and Jim followed him easily, although it didn't escape him that people moved out of their way in the busy corridor.

"You were awaiting your turn at the replicators but had not yet acquired your desired food-item."

"Oh. Right." It wasn't exactly rocket-science, was it? "Listen, Spock, that girl... Areel. You think she remembers me?"

"Relevance, Captain?" Spock asked curtly. Jim started to get the feeling that something was off about this exchange.

"Plenty! If she didn't know it was me then fine, she must have forgotten I exist and not checked the net in the past couple of days. Unlikely, though. Maybe she doesn't associate me now with me in the club a year ago. That's possible, too, but also unlikely; she knew who I was back then already, she called me 'Captain Kirk.'" He wondered about cracking a joke about him being 'memorable', but something about Spock's tone, or maybe it was his posture as he walked, decided him against it. "But if she did remember, from that club and from the nets, I mean, and she knew who I am, then she pretended she didn't when she saw me now. Why would she do that?"

"I do not know, Captain. Human behaviour often escapes me."

"It's just... weird. I don't know. It's weird, right?" Jim frowned. He knew he was missing something but he didn't know what it was. Something obvious. Staring him right in the face, and he knew he was being incredibly dense or maybe stupid or maybe it was just one of those things that were so blatantly there that you missed them because they were hiding in plain sight.

Lately he felt quite out of his depth, actually. The trial was the main reason, of course, but even now, talking to Spock, something was... off. He didn't know what. Just like he didn't know why there were alarm bells ringing off in his head about this girl, Areel, and something to do with him rejecting her while being in his First Officer's company.

He hoped, for the first time, that his gut-feeling was wrong, and that he was being paranoid. He hoped it would actually turn out okay in the end, that this would all, somehow, work out.

Of course, Jim Kirk knew that hoping, in this universe, was never enough. But if he had Spock by his side he thought that he could face whatever life threw at him next.

 

Chapter Text

"Tell me about this 'allergy incident.' Mr Spock seems to have completely disregarded direct orders here, and I need to know exactly what happened."

"Yes!" Jim jumped up excitedly in his chair and accidentally brushed the back of Spock's hand where it lay against the armrest, he was so agitated. "Yes, that was total bullshit! It says here…" He re-read the entry on what he'd come to think of as The List of Doom and bristled with annoyance. "... The unscheduled stop for medical supplies ordered by Acting Captain Spock was to cure a simple allergy. First of all, sure it was unscheduled, but we still made the rendezvous in time, and protocol on non Starfleet-approved stops is unclear at best, especially if we consider that technically the health of a crewman was at risk. Second, that 'simple allergy' wouldn't let me breathe properly, therefore one could argue it impeded my command."

"The Captain was near anaphylactic shock," Spock added.

"Really?" Moss scribbled furiously. He took notes with a pen. On paper. Jim turned to share a look with Spock but found no dark eyes ready to meet his in silent complicity. Instead, the half-Vulcan was looking intently at the notepad the lawyer was using. "But one could argue you weren't in command, since Mr Spock was forced to take over and he was the one who ordered the ship's detour."

"But… that's my point. Of course I wasn't in command, I just said I was unable to… I was in Sickbay because of that 'simple allergy.'"

Moss smiled and Jim had already guessed this was another little test.

"Of course you were. But lawyers will twist your own words against you. So, instead of 'one could argue it impeded my command' you say 'I was forced to relieve myself from command because of this serious medical condition.'" Spock still hadn't glanced his way. Moss kept talking. "This is all very useful stuff. I'll need your CMO's log entries filed as evidence, of course."

"Sure." Jim kept staring at his FO deliberately now that it seemed apparent that the guy was actively avoiding meeting his eyes. What the hell?

"Kirk?"

Was Spock angry for some reason? Maybe he hadn't been as cool about the thing with Ben Finney as Jim had thought?

"Kirk."

"What? What?"

There was a second's pause, and then Moss heaved a heavy sigh.

"Okay. All right, I've had it. What we said yesterday? Forget about it. All of it. This isn't going to work."

"What?"

Jim slumped back down on his chair, feeling like the air had been knocked out of him. "What do you mean 'this isn't going to work?'"

"Yes, please clarify," Spock said, positioning himself slightly forward in his seat and clasping his hands together on his lap. No doubt this was an unconscious move, since his Vulcan ears could pick up every word perfectly, and where was the logic in tightly holding his fingers?

"I can't pass you two off as co-workers. It's just not going to happen. I will also be unable to make anyone ignore the obvious bond that exists between you. And before either of you thinks to interrupt me with a brave speech about friendship, just save your breath and don't. Listen to me."

For once, they both did. In Jim's case it was pure fear, as he was flooded by the kind of panic that locked his limbs, not the kind that gave him clear thought and an extra burst of adrenaline during a crisis. He wasn't a 'genius-level repeat-offender' when it came to this type of underhanded emotional crap; he just sucked.

"Friendship or no, love-affair or no, I am removing this issue from the equation. Forget about distancing yourselves. Well, okay don't forget about it, do remember to act normally… as in, like normal friends do. But from now on, we are above all that laughable speculation. If the prosecution wants to bring it up, we say 'You're being ridiculous.' If they claim you're in a relationship we say 'That's not relevant to this court.' But I'm not risking this thing backfiring on us. There's just no point in fighting the inevitable; I'm sure Areel will want to use it to hurt you somehow and if she's smart she'll find a way to make sure it looks like—"

"Wait." A stab of dread clenched Jim's stomach muscles so fast he actually got a cramp. "Wait. Areel?"

"Oh, right, I wanted to tell you. Starfleet put this young prosecutor on the case… and to be honest I'm not sure what they're playing at because she looks about half my age and can't have had her degree for more than a couple of years, maybe three—"

"Areel Shaw," Jim interrupted, his voice flat.

"Yes. Is something wrong?"

"Jim was previously acquainted with her," Spock volunteered. "She appeared to harbour romantic feelings toward him."

"What?" Moss looked like he was about to have a stroke.

"No! What? No. It's not… it wasn't like that at all," Jim interjected quickly. He shot Spock and incredulous glance and still Spock refused to meet his eye. "We met at this club about a year ago, but it's not… there was never anything… nothing happened."

"My apologies," Spock said quietly. His head gently drooped down and he seemed very Human in that moment; looking at his lap in what could almost be described as embarrassment. At the very least, confusion. "I was… mistaken."

But… Spock? Embarrassed or confused? Never. Never outwardly, at least.

Dammit, what was wrong with him?

"That's… I mean, she only asked to dance." Jim lowered his voice and edged closer to his friend worriedly. "I said 'no,' remember? We were just talking about this, what…?" What had changed? Since an hour ago when he and Spock had fought a common enemy and won, sort of, what the hell had happened to make the Vulcan suddenly uncomfortable to be in his presence?

Would it be too weird if Jim put a hand on Spock's shoulder?

Moss took a deep, steadying breath and rapped his table impatiently with his knuckles.

"Excuse me. Mr Spock, please be kind enough to leave the room; I'd like to speak to Captain Kirk."

"It's okay. I don't mind, let him stay."

He said this without thinking, of course, because Spock leaving was usually something bad, but after he'd spoken he realised that maybe it wouldn't be a terrible idea to hear whatever the lawyer had to say to him alone.

He was spared this little crisis when Moss shook his head firmly.

"I'm sorry, Mr Spock, but this is necessary."

A flicker of distress momentarily ghosted over Spock's features, and then he stood up from his chair in a single smooth gesture.

"Do you wish for me to remain outside?"

"Yes please, Commander." Moss nodded. "I'd like to speak to you alone later as well."

"Very well."

As Spock turned to leave Jim wished he'd touched the Vulcan's shoulder after all, even if all it would have done was make Spock slightly uncomfortable… because Jim knew that Spock knew that the gesture was meant to be comforting, and therefore would be interpreted as such.

"See you in a few—"

The door hissed shut behind him and Jim realised, not without some irritation, that he'd turned to stare forlornly after Spock's retreating back, like he was some sort of lovestruck puppy or something equally pathetic. What if what was really troubling Spock was his clingy attitude? What if Spock had finally realised it was entirely Jim's fault that all of this was happening in the first place?

The trial was messing with their heads.

Get a grip, Kirk. He needed to snap out of it; he had already realised he was relying on his First Officer too heavily; he needed to back off, remember who he was and that the metaphorical sun didn't rise and fall with Commander bloody Spock.

"Kirk."

"Yes?"

Moss steepled his fingers and sighed.

"I think we can beat these charges."

"Uh… okay?"

"I think it will be difficult and it will take time, but we can win. Of course we can win. People admire you and respect you, you're appreciated among the fleet by now—"

"Well I wouldn't say that exactly."

"Really?" Moss's eyebrows shot for his hairline. "I'd heard you're one of the most well-liked Captains out there."

"That may well be the impression the nets wanna give… but it's not true. I'm not… I'm still learning. Obviously. And many veterans know that. Most of them are… shall we say 'weary' of it… and some don't like it."

"Hmmm."

He wasn't going to fall for it. He wasn't going to ask— "What?"

Dammit.

"Nothing. It just seems to me like… you may be more popular than you think."

To this Jim could only snort and shake his head.

"So what's all this about you two being seen kissing, then?"

Oh… God.

"What?"

"You heard me."

Jim groaned. "This is a joke. This is definitely a joke, yes?"

"I really wish it was, Captain Kirk. Sadly, it's not. Rumours are positively flying around here… and this is not a good thing. The media should be getting to Theta in about a week—"

"Media? But I thought--"

"--before the trial actually begins, and I do not want any more love-story articles floating around the nets."

"Your sense of humour sucks."

"Kirk, please."

He couldn't help it; his palm slammed against the table and he stood up, chair falling backwards in a crash. "Of course we haven't--fuck. Fuck, I hate this. I hate all of it. It's so… you people and your stupid assumptions, I swear to… It's got me wallowing! Fucking wallowing! And I want to do something but every time I try it just seems to make stuff worse for us, and Spock…" And then it hit him. "Oh shit, oh please don't tell Spock."

Moss met his gaze with cool reserve. "You know he's either hearing us through that door or he'll find out eventually."

"Yes. But please… for now, just keep it quiet. Spock doesn't need any more emotional complications than the ones he already has. I don't wanna add yet another burden--this whole mess is the stuff of Vulcan nightmares."

"I'm sure it is."

Jim didn't like the way the lawyer spoke, like he knew things that Jim didn't, but this time he was determined not to rise to the bait.

"Look, Kirk. I wanted to talk to you alone because I feel it would be good if we clarified one of the most important points in the accusation once and for all."

'Here it comes', Jim thought. 'Are you secretly harbouring a passionate and burning repressed love for your First Officer…?'

"What is it about landing party protocol that you feel the need to ignore every single time?"

Oh. What?

That was unexpected.

"That's your final question?"

"Yes."

He shrugged. "Look, I like going on away missions. There's nothing on regulations about a Captain being forbidden to take lead in them, and nothing above a recommendation that h—the First Officer remain on board while I'm on-planet. I'll admit I often take Spock with me, but that's because he's the best Science Officer on the ship. And even then, we don't always go together."

"Oh, I know that. I'm not talking about that. I mean the occasions when there's a potential danger, or section 6.2 is involved…? You will admit that it looks bad."

Section 6.2.a had to do with the unavailability of a starship's First Officer to beam down to a surface due to a medical health issue, and more or less prohibited the Captain from going as well if that was the case, to prevent both senior officers from being out of commission and/or involved in a perilous situation. 6.2.b further expanded upon this by citing that if said FO was down on planet and unable to come back up, the Captain was not allowed to be a part of the search party that went to retrieve him, for the same reason.

Technically Jim had broken this one several times, he knew.

"But that rule is idiotic," he found himself saying. "Basically, if Spock is in danger when I'm already on planet it's okay to try and rescue him myself… but if I was up on the ship when it happened, I can't?"

"I'm not saying 6.2 makes sense, Kirk. I'm saying you broke it on multiple occasions knowing full well what that entailed."

"Ugh."

"And Mr Spock did, too."

"Really?"

He tried to remember… and yeah, there had been a couple of times when Spock had beamed down with the rescue. Jim allowed himself a brief smile. He remembered Spock in that lab telling him about how he got the list and 'I believe you have always operated under the impression that I will abide by the rules no matter what the circumstances are...'

"We can argue against it, though," Moss said with a reassuringly confident voice. "Don't worry, I've been researching other Captain's records—"

"Wait, you're allowed to do that?"

"—and found a rather interesting pattern regarding most cases that will shed a positive light on your mistakes. I really don't think any of this justifies removing Mr Spock from his post at the Enterprise and reassigning him to another vessel."

"Oh. Good. Thanks."

Moss flashed a smile that only held a twinge of condescension. "It's my job."

Jim rolled his eyes, but for the first time felt that he might just trust this man.

"So… is that really what you wanted to talk to me about?"

"Yes, that's mostly it. I'll see you back here after lunch."

"Okay."

Jim strode to the door, eager to talk to Spock and discuss what bothered him (in an infuriating round-about way, no doubt, seeing as how Spock would take some time to admit he could even feel 'bother'), but then…

"Kirk? One moment."

"What?"

"These… accusations. They seem a bit innocent to bring to a court-martial. More fitting of a cautionary report, don't you think?"

Jim's fingers hovered over the panel next to the door, but he didn't turn around. Of course he'd considered it. Of course he'd thought of this the moment Spock had explained the charges (or, well, maybe after he'd finished panicking and whatnot). He'd just never figured the military lawyer would actually confront him with it.

"Yeah. I figured."

"I'll speak plainly, James. Do you know anyone in the Admiralty with a grudge against you? Because something like this would be very easy to arrange, of course, and technically you have broken regulations… just pointing it out ensures a trial must be conducted. But you're not the first Captain to do so and you won't be the last, so I'm not entirely sure what the purpose was. To hope you lost against all odds and were separated from Mr Spock, both of you with a mark on your previously glowing and pristine records? To deliberately sabotage Stafleet by ruining their poster-boy's fame with scandal?"

"Please don't call me that—"

"To see you face that which you most fear and force you to accept how fragile your status is? To help you?"

Jim clenched his hand into a fist and felt that anger again, that irrational anger that was directed at… at the world, at the unfairness of it all because he didn't have anything else to channel it to.

"They shouldn't have brought Spock into it, then," he gritted finally. "If that's what this is, some sort of… of warning or something. Some sort of convoluted attempt to mould me, to try to make me better, colder, more detached, I don't know. They made a big mistake involving Spock. If they put so much as a little smear of official controversy on my First Officer's reputation and then try to take him away from my ship, from… if they do this to him…"

"… Oh? Will you make them suffer?"

Jim punched in the exit code and the door swished open.

"No. But I'll make them angry. And I'm damn good at that."

x

Spock was waiting outside, his back against the far wall without touching it, one hand clasping the other by the wrist, standing ramrod straight and showing no signs of fatigue. His eyes flickered to Jim when he walked over, then stared forward again.

"Hey."

"Captain."

A curt nod and he was walking past Jim, his pace only slightly faster than normal, which nevertheless told Jim with horrible, glaring quality that Spock was trying to get away from him as quickly as he could.

"Wait."

His arm shot out without his consent and clutched Spock's wrist when he drew level; forcing the Vulcan to either wrench it free or keep moving and have Jim stumble after him.

Spock stopped so they stood side by side but facing in opposite directions, except that Jim's head was turned to watch Spock's face while the latter just stared straight ahead.

"Look at me," Jim blurted. He was nervous and on-edge and he needed Spock; he couldn't do this alone.

"Hardly a logical demand, Captain," Spock replied calmly. But he turned, eyes guarded and face carefully blank, concealing some unknown emotion, no doubt.

"Tell me what's wrong." Apparently asking nicely had been bypassed some time ago and all he could do now was issue orders. Oh well, he was blaming this on the stress of the past couple of days, and also on the way Spock's jaw was clenched in what had to be anger; a strangely distracting sight.

"Release me first. There is no need to resort to physical aggression."

Jim let go of Spock's wrist instantly, but he also stepped sideways so they stood even closer. Good thing the brightly-lit corridor was empty and they didn't have the added job of acting, because at least now he could glare at Spock without giving him the luxury of personal space.

"Explain."

"Please step away."

"I'm worried about you, Spock. Can't you see that?"

"Please step away, Jim."

With a barely suppressed groan of frustration, Jim took two steps back and raked a hand through his hair.

"Fine, and I'm sorry I touched you. But… but what just happened? I mean… we were fine and suddenly you're back to your distant… Is it--have I done something to upset you? You can tell me, Spock, it's okay, I know sometimes we don't understand each other but I need to know when I've offended you in some way, okay? Just… tell me how to fix it and I will, but please. Please let me fix it."

Spock stayed silent for what felt like an endless time, his dark eyes fixed Jim's in a way that almost made him want to take back his earlier words and ask Spock to look away, please, because it was a bit too much, the way Jim was unable to move; limbs locked into place and breathing was almost too much of an intrusion, too much of a fuss, so maybe it wasn't necessary anymore…?

He was terrified that this was it, this is the moment, he'll say 'I desire a significant reduction in the frequency and duration of out interactions,' and he wouldn't be able to handle that, Spock pushing him away for real? No way, no, it couldn't happen…

Then there was a warm hand on his upper arm, clutching him in a firm grip again; and then Spock's deep voice, soft and filled with… regret?

"I am sorry. You are not to blame for my personal issues at present… I did not wish to convey an erroneous impression."

A powerful wave of relief washed over him. "Well, that's the problem, see? When you don't want to show anything it's very easy for me to tell that there's something you're hiding."

Surprise flitted by so fast he almost didn't catch it.

"Most perceptive of you, Jim," Spock said.

"And he does compliments, too. Well, you sure know how to make a Captain feel special."

As he'd known it would, a cute little suspicious frown followed these words. But then Spock lifted a brow and Jim was so happy to see he was back he nearly gave in and hugged him, which would have been dumb indeed.

"Care to share?"

"You wish to discuss that which is giving me cause to further distance emotion?"

"Hey, I can distance emotion with the best of them. Just you try me!"

They shared a grin (Jim grinned, Spock did his thing) and it was better because it was left unsaid, a private joke, an intimate moment that only they understood and Jim had missed this, for the past few minutes, which when you thought about it made his overraction pretty silly--but then again Spock.

"I believe Mr Moss is awaiting my presence."

"Oh… right. I forgot."

He totally had. Oops?

"So… I can wait for you. If you want."

"That will not be necessary, you have not yet had the chance to visit the facilities."

In truth Jim was itching to do some exploring, yes, but he'd much rather do it with Spock to tease by his side.

"Neither have you," he pointed out.

"That will not be necessary," Spock repeated. "I shall, however, find you here after the eating intermission."

It wasn't a question.

"Eating intermission? Seriously? It would kill you to say 'lunch', wouldn't it?"

"Death by colloquialism is highly unlikely, Jim."

And a joke. Jim smirked and clapped Spock's bicep. "Fine, fine, I'll see you later."

In the end he realised Spock had expertly avoided answering the question of what was wrong with him, but that was okay. A guy was entitled to his own private life.

Obviously Jim would figure it out eventually, because if something had upset Spock then Jim was going to find what it was and then punch it in the face, but he could wait.

He was nothing if not stubborn.

Chapter Text

He had about an hour before meeting Sulu and Bones for lunch.

Wandering along the corridor brought him to a turbolift, and Jim decided it was time to check out that famous science department everyone seemed so excited about--even though it had mostly sounded to him like the technical jargon could be translated to 'watching plants grow' (from the longer version 'observing how the plants grow and then writing it down').

He directed the lift to Deck 6, leaning against the circular interior with a sigh that would never have happened in public. He missed his ship. He missed being in command and he missed having his crew with him. He missed the missions already. He wanted things to go back to being way less complicated. Not that anything before had been simple, exactly, but his relationship with Spock had finally been going smoother, they had become friends… he had been so happy the first time Spock had said: "It is illogical for you to ask me to speak to you 'as a friend.' I am… always your friend, and therefore I cannot speak to you as anything else." Yeah… that had been a good day.

He wanted to go back to not being a whiny annoying person who leaned against walls and sighed mournfully.

And suddenly for no reason he remembered that he'd wanted to ask Spock about his father's reaction to this ordeal after their comm-call but forgotten because of stupid Ben Finney. Well, crap. Way to be a good friend, Kirk. He didn't know if the Vulcan High Council would try to interject in Spock's behalf… but a voice told him that was unlikely. They were much too busy to concern themselves with this, and anyway they couldn't deny that Spock had emotions because he had had to remove himself from command for reasons of 'emotional compromise' once before.

Jim had been involved that time, too…

"Captain Kirk?"

Oh. The doors had already opened and he hadn't even noticed. Great. This bode well for him.

"Sorry." Jim moved to push past the guy but suddenly realised he knew him. "Uh…"

"It's me… Lucas?"

Of course, the pilot who'd come to talk to him only yesterday. One of his 'fans', according to Uhura. "Right! Hey."

Unfortunately Mara, the hot sister, seemed to be nowhere near, but Lucas was with three other guys; two more pilots in yellow just like Jim (who didn't have any civilian clothes with him anyway, and saw no need to replicate some) and a science officer in blue.

"It's great to see you, sir."

"Oh please, there's no need for that," Jim said, horrified.

Lucas smiled. "Sorry. Are you going to visit the science department?"

"Uh, yeah, I figured I'd check out what all the fuss was about…" he surreptitiously tried to look over Lucas' shoulder at the corridor beyond, where he could clearly hear the bustle of work going on. Unfortunately, although Jim wasn't exactly short, Lucas was very tall, and all he caught was a glimpse of artificial solar light through a glass door-panel to the left and the impression that it opened to a huge room.

"We've actually got a break right now," one guy said with a tentative smile. He was the science boy. "You could come with us, if you want. We're going up to Rec-room F."

"Yeah," Lucas chimed in. "Yeah, definitely join us! You can always come here later, right?"

"Oh. Um…" With four eager faces staring at him, Jim didn't have the heart to refuse. And to be honest, he was game for Rec-room activites rather than visiting the science department alone; he could do that with Spock some other time. Plus a small part of him wanted to prove to these guys that he was not to be pitied or catered to, that he could hold his own. "Okay, sure. Thanks."

"Great!" Science Boy clapped.

A swift ride later, Lucas was leading him down more neon-bright corridors and into a very large Rec-room indeed. Compared to the Enterprise ones this place was enormous, with screens on every wall and a flurry of activity around the tables; they had every game Jim knew and plenty he didn't. When it became apparent that no one was paying him any attention Jim felt his spirits lift even more he whistled, ready to admit he was suitably impressed. "Wow."

"It's great, isn't it? You wanna check out the virtual interactive games? Alex here plays a mean Fizz B'in!"

"Never heard of it, but I'm willing to give it a try."

Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, after all. Jim let himself relax a little and grinned with genuine interest. Alex--Science Boy, grinned back at him and started heading for one of the closest tables…

And that was when all hell broke loose.

It started with a jarring vibration that shook the very soles of Jim's boots, followed by a high-pitched whine that made him flinch; and then every screen in the room exploded. Screams echoed off the walls as people fell or were burned, and Jim found himself on the floor scrambling to sit upright, coughing at the smoke and reeling from the pain in his abdomen, where his not-entirely-healed wound throbbed angrily.

"What the--"

It was chaos; the bright white fluorescents were out and only the dull red emergency lights worked, so that the flashes still coming from the monitors cast confusing shadows. People yelled for their friends and the injured cried in pain.

Jim looked around and tried to assess the extent of the damage. Plenty of victims, but the groans and cries seemed to indicate they were all alive.

First things first; getting the Sickbay alerted, and finding out whether this had happened anywhere else. A sharp spike of panic was brutally shut out when it occurred to him that other Decks might be affected… and he made himself rationalise. Simplify. Detach. It was a skill he was still perfecting, but unfortunately as Captain he'd had plenty of chances to practice.

He spotted two officers, a man and a woman, trying to manually override the door controls and open them, but having no success. That figured; security of the entire base took priority in the event of a system faliure, which meant it was possible that this was an isolated incident. Environmental controls might be next to go but at least the gravity settings seemed to remain intact for now.

The dramatic bursting screens already told him it had been an overload of the circuits, but he needed to know if this room was part of the Main Line or not, to assess whether they were in danger of depending solely on back-up power.

He struggled to stand, the agony in his stomach clouding his vision for a moment before he could see clearly again.

"Hey, are you guys all right?"

The four men he'd come in with were all lying on the floor and blue-shirt Alex was clutching his head where he'd hit it against the side of the table; Jim saw a trickle of blood down his jaw.

"We'll live," one of the other yellow-clad officers groaned.

"Does anyone know if this room is part of the Main power line?"

"It's not," Lucas said, also standing with a wince. "Main runs through Decks 9 and 10, this is 14."

"Good." It was, in fact, amazing. It meant this could have been the only place where the power surge had happened, and Jim's thundering heart-beat steadied infinitesimally. "We need a communicator, the emergency system should kick in but I want to alert Hospital Bay to potential injuries anyway."

"Wait, what about the comm system?"

Jim nodded in the direction of the charred, smoking device on the wall next to the door. It was useless.

"Crap."

He glanced around the room again and saw that people had begun to cluster around those who were wounded in groups, those who knew first-aid instructing their companions.

"Does anyone have a communicator?"

At his shout everyone suddenly went quiet and turned to stare. Confused looks turned to wide-eyed recognition and Jim took advantage of the attention to spring onto a table to address the crowd. "We should contact the Sickbay and get help."

"I've already called." A competent-looking officer several years Jim's senior said tensely, but without a trace of reproach.

"Excellent. Well done. Still, if anyone could lend me theirs, my CMO and his crew may be able to help—"

"Here."

A woman with singed blonde hair quickly handed him hers, then returned to her fallen friend, whose dark brown locks were full of glass and sticky with crimson.

"Thank you."

Jim forced himself to look away, speaking loudly and clearly to the room at large. "Okay, listen up. We won't be able to open the doors until security arrives, but once they do they'll be able to get inside, no problem. Just in case it takes a phaser shot, however, we should try and move away from the immediate vicinity."

To his intense relief his words were obeyed instantly as the uninjured rushed to help concussed or unconscious others move, and the pair who'd been trying to open the doors slowly edged away as well.

"Good. All we have to do now is sit tight for a minute and we'll be fine, I promise you." He tried for his most assured Captain's tone with this one and hoped his voice wasn't as scratchy from the dust as it sounded to him.

Finally he decided there was no more immediate action that required someone with his particular set of skills (Bones might have interjected here to point out that it was more like someone with no sense of self-preservation, but technicalities) and he flipped open the borrowed communicator.

It was at this moment, unfortunately, as a tiny bit of the adrenaline rush wore off, that Jim's knees decided they could no longer support him and buckled. He gracelessly slumped down onto the table and sat cross-legged, fighting the urge to double over in pain as the tear on his side objected to the sudden move, knowing he needed to present the calm image of the person in command.

Despite the fact that his whole body was protesting the strain loudly, Jim knew without any doubt or false sense of over-confidence that these people would occasionally glance at him and need to see him keeping his cool; it was just a fact, an unconscious act of self-reassurance for their part, and he also knew that he must hold on for a little longer, just a little longer until he could call…

"Kirk to McCoy," he rasped. He had to hold on.

"McCoy here!"

He'd never been happier to hear his friend's voice.

"Bones! We have an emergency at Rec-room F, there's been some sort of circuit malfunction that cause a massive power surge and we have several injured personnel. Environmental systems still seem to be working but I don't know for how long if Main power has been affected. I see a few second-degree burns, maybe even third, can't be sure. No casualties yet."

"We got the alert, Chief Richardson already left to help coordinate the rescue party." McCoy sounded stressed and gruff, a tone Jim was all too familiar with. "Main's fine, we've only got another call from some private quarters in the same Deck where you are and I think no one else has been hurt. Don't worry, a team is on their way."

"Thanks. Good." Breathing was beginning to hurt a little. "Kirk out."

"Jim, wait! You okay?"

"Splendiferous."

"Are you lying?"

He covered the tiny mic with his hand when he coughed. "M' fine, Bones! Get back to saving lives and shit!"

"Sure thing. See you later for an exam, I'm sure."

"Right."

"McCoy out."

The device snapped shut and Jim realised he'd have to violate his usual 'It Won't Hurt As Much If I Don't Look At It' policy and check his wound. He gingerly pulled up his shirt but, to his intense relief, found that it wasn't bleeding, although it still hurt like hell.

That done meant he could now call--

"Aw fuck, what happened to you?"

A red-clad woman (one of the two who'd been at the door controls, he thought) bent over to examine his wound and Jim was treated to the sight of her well-endowed chest in that snug dress.

"Long story. No luck with the doors, I see?"

"Nah, system's fried, and we have no safety-gloves or any tools to do a proper rigging."

Once she straightened up the man who was with her tried to put an arm on her waist, which she shrugged off immediately.

"I was pre-Med and that skin-graph look strained." She gave a little moue of distaste and frowned at Jim. "Tissue-regeneration requires bed rest, you know that, right? You'd best behave over the next week, at least, or it will scar."

Did every person working in medicine develop the 'I Am Your Mother' complex? Jesus.

"Sure thing. Since you did pre-Med, though, you should check him out." He pointed down at Alex. "He hit his head, I think."

Dr Mum immediately dropped to her knees to examine the Science Officer, who had been propped against the table leg by his two friends, and finding himself being thoroughly ignored, her partner left to assist the blonde girl who'd lent Jim the communicator.

"Hey Lucas, what secondary system…?" He trailed off, realising he was speaking into thin air. Lucas had left, and in the dim smoky light Jim couldn't spot him among the many outlined figures. Maybe he was trying to find a communicator to call his sister.

Well then, this was it. He finally had a moment to breathe... and instead of breathing what he did was use the communicator to call Moss' office.

"Kirk to Legal Department. Nathaniel Moss."

For a long, terrible moment no one answered.

"Hello?"

"Kirk? It's Moss! Are you anywhere near Deck 14?"

"Where's Spock?"

But he already knew. Something in his gut told him the answer to the question before Moss spoke.

"He just left. Someone called… there's been some sort of accident and he said he was going up to assist—"

"No! It's dangerous up here! Tell him to go—"

"Wait, you're there too? What happened? Are you all right?"

"Dammit, you shouldn't have let him do that! He has zero self-preservation instincts, the noble idiot…!"

Jim hit his palm against the table he sat on and imagined it was Spock's stupid conscience (an impressive feat of abstract realism achieved by the combination of his adrenalin rush and a vivid imagination).

"He's gone, James! I only stayed in my office in case someone called, I don't know where—"

At this he hung up and slid off the table, standing precariously. The floor lurched once and he stumbled, for a second thinking the gravity settings had finally broken down, but then he realised it was just his shit balance.

"Oy! James!"

Jim turned wearily at the sound. It was Lucas, running toward him again and skidding to a halt at his side.

"Are you sure you're okay? You looked like you were about to pass out!"

"I'll be fine. Hey, is Mara okay?"

The pilot opened his mouth to reply—

"Attention all officers."

A voice boomed inside the room and Jim had to cover his ears; it felt jarring and unnecessarily loud. The speakers must have been busted as well.

"This is Security Chief Hayes, please stay clear of the doors."

A decent space had already been emptied for them to operate, both entrances to the rec room being at opposite sides and far enough from the center of the room, where most people had come to congregate.

"Ten, nine, eight…"

As everyone acknowledged they would finally get help, a general sense of relief seemed to permeate the atmosphere, and a couple of officers even cheered weakly. Jim noted that one of them had a clearly dislocated shoulder, the bad-ass motherfucker.

"Seven, six, five, four—"

Abruptly the mechanised voice cut off.

The silence it left behind was eerie and tense.

"What's happening?" A particularly young Ensign whispered. He had a shard of Plexiglass lodged in his forearm.

"Someone's found a way to open the doors without using an exploding device," Jim declared confidently, even though he knew that it might actually mean they would be unable to open the doors after all, if a new threat to security had been detected. "Give the poor guys a sec to get their shit together."

The silence became louder and more pointed as seconds ticked by, punctuated only by the occasional fizzle of a wire or spitting spark.

And then…

A distinctly metallic grinding started from the back, through the entrance Jim hadn't come in through. Every head craned to stare.

He was not prepared to process what he saw.

"Holy shit…" Lucas whispered.

A backlit figure was opening the double doors by pulling them bodily apart using inhuman strength, like some sort of superhero of the kind Jim had loved to read about when he was a kid.

"Is that…?"

"Oh my God…"

"It's Commander Spock."

"The Vulcan. The one who's on trial."

"How is he doing that?"

Spock's arms were slowly but surely extending, wrenching the doors wide enough for the glaring corridor light to stream into the dim room. Jim was completely frozen in place and some part of him registered that the same thing seemed to have happened to the others, too; amazed, stunned expressions decorated every face as the thought that Spock might actually need help didn't seem to occur to anyone. Because it was so obvious that he did this every day without any effort, that this was the sort of thing he did in his sleep and that his lithe Vulcan limbs felt no strain.

When the space was sufficient, two red-clad men inserted a tensile device between the door-panels to avoid them shutting again and Spock stepped inside. Behind him rushed four security officers and the medical team, all of whom were quick to spread out and assist those who needed it.

"Those who are mobile and unhindered must exit the room immediately. This will allow for better care to those who are not."

The Commander spoke calmly and composedly; his deep, emotionless voice projecting assurance and authority without a hint of tiredness. It was a tone that demanded immediate and thoughtless obedience, as though Spock knew without a doubt that his request would be carried out.

There was one brief, insane moment when Jim wondered what it would be like to refuse to do something Spock had asked in that same tone. Then he shook his head, deciding the explosion had messed up his brain, and he started moving to help out others.

Seconds later, however, there was a crash and Jim's head snapped up, trying to locate its source. To his utter shock it turned out to be Spock who was frozen in place this time, his arms halted mid-motion where they had been holding the remains of a monitor which had promptly fallen to the floor, presumably when he had seen Jim.

Their gazes locked.

The moment went on and on as Jim wasn't sure what expression he was supposed to convey and Spock just looked at him, obviously stunned even though all his face showed was a slightly slack jaw… until finally the Vulcan's brain seemed to re-start itself and Spock opened his mouth to say something across the space between them, but Jim immediately shook his head and mouthed: "I'm good."

A tiny frown appeared between Spock's eyebrows and he took a step forward, foot crushing the fallen monitor to a pulp without him even noticing, apparently. Jim shook his head again, wondering what was wrong with his friend; surely Spock knew it would be a very bad idea for them to draw attention to themselves now, and normally his First Officer was almost physically allergic to those.

"Please, Captain Kirk could you...?"

Communicator Woman waved at Jim and the spell broke, forcing him to look away from Spock and back to gritty reality. She was kneeling beside her friend and the nurse needed someone to help prop her up.

"Of course." He firmly ignored the fresh stab of pain when he dropped to his knees and flexed his muscled arms experimentally, then reached for the unconscious girl's torso as gently as he could.

"Will she be all right?" A streak of tears had cut through the dust on the other woman's face. "She was standing right in front of me, really close to the screen."

The nurse was bent on her scanner. "I'm sorry, I don't know yet."

Jim's biceps started to ache a little from the weight but he wasn't about to complain. He pointedly avoided looking around to see what Spock was doing, deciding it was better to just concentrate on the task at hand, and that they could talk later.

Gradually the chaos did subside into more moderate tones, when the only sounds above the shuffle of feet were soft reassurances. Security officers came and went; mostly to clear a path through the debris so that patients could be wheeled out safely, and then to help the nurses and doctors do so.

In the bright light the Rec-room looked awful; everything was covered in soot and the smoke rising from broken equipment had clouded the air and kept making Jim's eyes water, not to mention the glowing sparks that had left scorch-marks on the previously gleaming polished floor.

It took them a good hour of careful manoeuvring during which Jim refused to leave but to be allowed to work as well, and finally only himself, Spock, the techs and several people from maintenance remained. There was a low murmur coming from the corridor outside, however, which suggested an accumulation of witnesses.

"Jim."

He turned around to face Spock's pale countenance. For once his immaculate First Officer had acquired a dust coating; neat hair made grey by the ash and smears of grime on his face. Overall the effect was oddly endearing, Jim thought absently.

Huh, maybe those motherly doctor instincts were rubbing off on him.

"You are not hurt."

This was said in a tone which seemed to suggest that if Jim was hurt there would be hell to pay.

"No, I'm okay," he clarified, although Spock hadn't technically asked the question.

"That is fortunate. The potential for injury in this space was approximately seventy-eight point nine percent."

Jim wondered how on Earth Spock had calculated those odds, but decided not to comment, since his First Officer was looking distinctly tense and unforgiving.

"You must nevertheless visit the Hospital Bay," Spock continued. His eyes had gone very black, which usually meant he was angry. Jim secretly hoped that this time he wouldn't be the focus of the emotion, although in the past Spock had made his irritation very clear whenever Jim (needlessly, in Spock's view, but incredibly heroically, in Jim's) ended up needing to spend time in said Hospital Bay.

"They'll be flooded right now, Spock. I can wait."

"You require—"

"Let's not do this, c'mon." His words earned him a clenched jaw and a narrowing of the eyebrows; Spock's equivalent of a Death Glare. Jim, ever the rebel, just glared right back.

"Captain, this is not a matter of subjective—"

"Think logically."

"It is not logical to refuse medical treatment when you might need it." The words themselves were not spoken sharply, but Spock managed to convey his complete disgust with his Captain quite well, as if it was Jim's own stupidity and recklessness that had nearly got him blown up, instead of just bad timing.

Sometimes that guy could still find ways of being extremely irritating.

"I already know that I don't—"

"You are not a trained proffesional, your opinion is not valid in this instance—"

"Oh, and in your all-knowing divinity your opinion is obviously the best—"

"Oy! Are you two done?" One of the techs started walking toward them, obviously annoyed. "Because we've got work to do in here."

Jim looked around him and realised that every person in the room was staring at them in disbelief. Was he just being ridiculously stubborn? Possibly. Why did Spock sometimes bring out the silly old tough-guy persona he was trying to be better than? Who the hell was he trying to impress here?

"Sorry. We're leaving."

With a dark muttering of 'goddamn pretty space-boys' and 'bubbles' (…what?) the man stalked away.

Jim approached the door with badly concealed curiosity and tried to examine the grooves Spock's fingers had carved in the metal without Spock actually noticing--but gave up the moment their eyes met and he realised he was just being stupid.

"Okay, so sometimes you act like a patronising know-it-all but I have to admit that that was pretty cool, when you pulled them apart like that," he said with a tentative grin. Spock held his gaze for a moment and then looked down at the contraption that kept the doors from closing again.

If Jim didn't know better he'd think Spock was slightly bashful. But of course the very notion would be… most illogical.

"You appear to have a tendency to find yourself in situations that invariably cause your health to deteriorate," he said finally.

"Hey, it's not like I do it on purpose," Jim protested, but there was no heat behind his words anymore. Spock was obviously upset about what had happened, and Jim was willing to bet that working to suppress feeling empathy and worry for others must be no fun. Spock valued life--all Vulcans did, of course, they were peace-loving by nature, but Spock's regard for living beings went a little beyond that, Jim thought. It was one of his best traits. It made him… good.

"The pattern seems excessively consistent for mere coincidence to be in play," Spock insisted.

Jim rolled his eyes. "Well I'm so sorry that I'm unlucky," he said. "Come on, let's get out of here."

But before he could take another step, someone slammed right into him. Thankfully Spock's hand shout out and prevented him from falling on his ass, but that didn't stop the mysterious person from holding Jim tight enough to crush his windpipe.

"Can't... breathe--" he choked.

"Sorry!"

The abundance of long dark hair identified her an instant later and Jim was very, very surprised once they drew apart and he saw who it was.

"Did you just…? Did this just happen?" He turned to Spock quizzically, trying to make light of the situation. "Did Uhura just hug me, Spock?"

Not for the first time, his attempt at humour ended in epic fail as Spock merely replied, rigid and monosyllabic; "Yes."

"And don't you dare tell anyone," Uhura snapped, but soft dark eyes told another story.

She turned to Spock after that, but didn't try to throw her arms around him, thank goodness. "Are you okay?"

Her tone was slightly accusing when she said this, for some reason.

"I was not in the vicinity when the power-surged occurred."

"Yeah, I know."

Spock didn't offer an answer, however, and to avoid a potentially awkward moment between the two exes Jim pointed out that they should move out of the way.

"Sulu said he'd be waiting to see Jim near the Sickbay and that you'd both better get down there." She shot him a meaningful glance as they walked down the corridor. "So I'm here to kidnap you, really."

"Right. The hug was just your way of luring me into a false sense of security, was it?" Jim said smugly. He knew he could get out of being examined once they actually arrived, and so for now de decided he'd go along with her.

"Of course. To get you all vulnerable and sensitive."

"Sure it was."

Uhura glared at him, but with a hint of humor. "You're never going to let me forget this, are you?"

In this case neither of them would admit to their real feelings, of course, but Jim silently reflected that he was rather touched that she'd cared about him being hurt, mostly because he just really wouldn't have expected Uhura, of all people, to rush up to him and give him a hug. It made his affection for the Lieutenant grow in an unfamiliar way; unfamiliar because there was nothing sexual behind it (he'd long ago stopped wondering how to get her into bed), but it was more… valuable. Better. Besides Bones, Jim hadn't exactly had a plethora of friends before.

It was kind of awesome.

x

"Oh this is just great. There's some tearing of the healing tissue and minor muscle rupture."

"But that actually sounds not so ba—"

"You'll need constant check-ups and an entire day of bed rest."

"That's not happening."

Jim had, somehow, and completely against his will, been convinced by the combined pressure of some of his bridge crew that he had to enter the Hospital Bay and get McCoy to scan him. Multiple times. Which was annoying, because he wasn't even quite sure how it had happened; one second he was like 'I wanna go to the Mess hall and eat lunch,' and the next Spock was like 'No.' What the hell?

"Goddammit, listen to me," the doctor growled. "You could cause yourself severe muscle damage, okay?"

"Okay, okay, I'll take it easy." Jim's tone immediately became apologetic as he realised he was just being an insensitive idiot. McCoy was seriously stressed and the Hospital Bay was packed; the large space growing claustrophobic because of the beeps from monitors, a low ceiling and inevitably raised voices. In fact, it was so crowded that they hadn't even let any of his friends come in with him.

"Good. Lift your arm, I'll try and knit this a bit tighter to hold it together."

As Jim did so his thoughts wondered to the woman who'd been bleeding so badly. From what he'd been able to gather so far there were only three officers in critical condition including her, four more with severe burns and then the rest were minor injuries. No fatalities yet, and with hope and some luck there wouldn't be any.

Commodore Barnett had issued a quick statement explaining the situation to everyone all over the Base via general comm, and assured them that people were working on finding out what had happened. To Jim's surprise, he had then come down to the Hospital Bay and stayed for a while talking to the patients (but avoided Jim himself, which made him regret his actions during their first meeting once again), before going back up to supervise the investigation.

"Where's Spock?" McCoy asked absently as he sprayed something that felt ice-cold against Jim's side.

"Outside. Why?"

"Oh, no reason. I figured the goblin would be close by, you being hurt and all."

For some reason this really irritated Jim.

"What's that supposed to mean? Uhura's there too, you know. She hugged me. And Chekov, and Sulu, and they said Scotty was coming over later to check on me. He was gonna bring Keenser."

"Okay, okay, relax, I'm sorry. I was jus' sayin.'"

His anger left as quickly as it had come. "Nah, I'm sorry, Bones. You go do your job and I promise to behave."

"Really? Because last time you said that you went and got yourself locked inside a room that exploded," McCoy said sarcastically.

"Oh for crying out loud, I didn't know that was gonna happen."

His friend actually grinned tiredly, for which Jim was secretly glad, and then waved over a nurse who Jim didn't recognise (and who must therefore be from the Base, not the Enterprise).

"Yes, doctor?"

"Take this guy outside and you'll find a bunch of people waiting to see him. One of them is a Vulcan; you tell him from me, Dr Leonard McCoy, that he'd better make sure Jim goes straight to his bed and stays there."

"Sometimes I love you so much it's like I kind of hate you, Bones."

"Denial is only the first step, Jim."

The nurse gave them both a slightly disbelieving look, but nevertheless she escorted Jim out and located Spock among the crowd, as promised. Uhura, Chekov, Sulu and Scotty were all there standing around him in a half-circle, and Jim wondered for how long this had been happening; it used to be that Spock always remained the quiet shadow, relegating himself to the sidelines.

"Hi. Dr McCoy says I'm to tell you something…? I'm assuming you're Commander Spock."

Spock nodded curtly in expectation.

"You have to take this guy to bed and keep him there, okay?"

And on that unforgettable note she pushed Jim in Spock's direction like he was some sort of abandoned kitten and left.

There was a fantastically stunned silence as Spock blinked once and then became only slightly less expressive than a statue, the only thing giving him away as a living being: the twin spots of flushed green colour on his high cheekbones. He stood perfectly immobile and without meeting his Captain's eye (not that said Captain was trying to meet his eye; he was too busy being fascinated by the floor and how pretty his shoes were) for a wonderfully uncomfortable long time, during which Jim contemplated making a joke of this like he normally would have, but for some reason the words lodged in his throat and refused to cooperate.

Poor Spock was probably embarrassed enough not to be able to pretend he hadn't understood the double meaning, Jim thought rationally (also wrongly, but he didn't know that). Jim was certainly wishing he could forget the past minute, because a part of him was beginning to suspect that Trouble waited down that dangerous path and yes, even in his mind that was a capital 'T'.

Thankfully, it was Uhura who saved the day by guffawing like a foghorn. She was followed by the others and after a little while Jim decided he might as well join in, since the world had obviously decided to go batshit crazy today.

Spock remained perfectly still throughout this very Human display, expression betraying nothing, as usual. It was only later, once the group started walking to the Deck where their quarters were located, that he attempted to stabilise his pounding heartbeat and calm his roused senses.

No one knew that a shiver of apprehension (even in his mind, the word 'fear' was rarely aknowledged) crept down his spine. No one heard the careful sigh he allowed himself as Jim grinned brightly at Sulu and threw a mock-punch in his direction.

No one saw the longing in those fathomless dark eyes because Spock would never let it show.

Chapter Text

Jim's Starbase quarters looked quite crowded, despite their generous size, after the others had all piled inside.

When he'd been given the captaincy he'd had his doubts about being able to become friends with his crew. It had been one of his primary sources of angst for weeks, and the isolation his position of authority put him in had just seemed to confirm his fears. But it had turned out he was wrong, and bed-rest didn't mean being alone anymore, for which Jim's heartstrings got a considerable tug every time.

"... and so I guess the Prime Directive was, by that point, mostly shot to hell, and they had a hard enough time trying to control the situation without the Klingons interfering," Uhura was saying thoughtfully. She had draped herself around the largest and most comfortable couch; something none of the guys had seen fit to try and argue about.

"I have to confess I haven't been very up-to-date with the news, lately," Jim cut in then, to grateful looks from Sulu and Scotty, who hadn't heard about this particular incident either.

It wasn't because of the trial that he was avoiding the media. Ever since Nero surfing the nets had become a sometimes disturbing, often embarrassing experience; he was featured in them so often. "Was this related to the Midas' sabotaged warp-capabilities last month?"

"Oh no, this 'appened some time before that," Chekov explained with a frown. "Same ship, different dilemma. Although I was wery sorry to hear such a waluable wessel was destroyed."

"Aye, she was a lovely thing. Old but solid, ye know? Well-built. Resistant."

There was a collective eye-roll at Scotty's comment, which of course related solely to the ship despite the fact that many people could have been hurt (even though they weren't, thanks to the emergency services and a well-timed rescue).

"A significant loss for Starfleet, certainly, and not one which portrayed them well in the public eye, I believe," Spock contributed. It was at this point that a contemplative silence stole over the room, but it was soon broken.

"So hey... does anyone here know how to replicate ice-cream?" Jim asked innocently. 'Subtle' would never be his middle name and he was just fine with that.

"Aye, I can help," Scotty said with a wink. "Strawberry?"

"Isn't there some sort of rule about men not being able to eat things that are pink?"

"Oh yes, God forbid," Uhura snorted.

"I love strawberry ice cream," Sulu deadpanned. "How dare you."

"Chocolate then, Captain?"

"Excellent choice, Scotty!"

Uhura craned her neck up to Spock, who was sitting on the chair next to her with a straight back and perfectly positioned limbs.

"He's like a fierce little baby-sehlat sometimes, isn't he?"

Jim was about to complain loudly when he realised she'd spoken in Vulcan, obviously not intending for anyone else to understand her words. He wasn't exactly fluent or anything, but he'd been trying to learn (and getting pretty good at it lately, if he said so himself). For instance, he knew that a sehlat was an almost-extinct creature that had lived on Old Vulcan, and that it looked mostly like an enormous teddy-bear with six-inch fangs. Except that baby sehlats didn't have those yet, and so basically Uhura had just called him a cute stuffed animal.

The nerve of some people.

Spock calmly glanced her way and then forward again. "That is what he wishes you to believe. He wishes to be underestimated—"

"Oh I know that. Doesn't mean he's not adorable while he does it though, even if the kan-bu knows he is."

Kan-bu meant 'baby'. The extent of Jim's seething humiliation was now infinite.

Spock switched back to Standard to say: "I have no comment on the matter."

The other occupants were staring at the pair with confused or puzzled expressions, and there was an expectant pause during which Jim had to resist the urge to yell at Uhura that he completely resented the fact that she'd called him so many fluffy names to his first officer, of all people.

"Hey, we should do something fun. Anyone up for a halo-game?"

This wasn't said by Jim, although he could totally get behind the sentiment of Sulu's words.

"May I remind you that the Captain cannot be moved from the bed where he lies."

Uhura rolled her eyes and stretched. "Come on, Spock. Sulu knows that."

Sulu nodded vigorously. "Of course I do! Jim can stay in bed and play manual."

"And I'd still beat your asses," Jim said. "But you shouldn't feel the need to stay here and hold my hand or anything. I'm a big boy, I think I can handle lying on a bed and doing nothing," he added the last part with a grin that was only slightly forced.

"Really? I'd think that was the exact opposite of the sort of thing you're capable of handling, Captain," Sulu smirked, so obviously Jim threw his pillow at him.

Unfortunately, the gesture pulled at his muscles and he couldn't hide a tiny wince of pain, which extracted loud groans from the entire room and had Spock on his feet instantly, irradiating disapproval in a way that he had perfected over time (which consisted of an indirectly relative proportion between the amount of expression on his face and the amount of you-are-so-stupid-it-amazes-me-sometimes that got across).

"Sorry?" Jim tried with a sheepish smile and his best blue-eyed look, which at least seemed to mollify everyone except Spock, who sat back down with slightly narrowed eyes. Eyes that remained glued to Jim for the remainder of the evening, cataloguing his every inappropriate move; an exhausting experience, as it would turn out.

And Sulu kept the pillow. Bastard.

"We can hang out here," Uhura declared, so that it sounded like a suggestion but really, when they weren't on the ship Jim was man enough to know that being the Captain didn't necessarily count.

And in the end that was exactly what they did. Talking quietly, teasing Spock about his fans again and how the Superman stunt he'd pulled would only increase said popularity... it was nice. Jim may have had a couple more painful reminders of his injury whenever he gesticulated to express himself, but it was... very nice. They should do this more often, he thought wistfully.

Minus the blowing up and consequently almost dying, of course.

x

"Pass the sealing gun?" Jim muttered to an Ensign without looking away from the mess of wires he was working with.

"The wha--uh, what does it look like exactly, sir?"

"It's long and green, and about as thick as your wrist." There was maybe a moment during which he almost thought something very strange indeed, but then it passed and obviously he hadn't thought about it at all because life couldn't possibly be that cruel or twisted.

Right?

Jim shook his head like a dog and cleared it, then went back to the task at hand.

It turned out that there had been a minor surge in the Main Control room that had caused some equipment damage, which had in turn caused the power lines from the circuit that ran to Deck 14 to overload. Scotty and his team had asked to be a part of the investigation and thankfully Commodore Emerett had been smart enough to let them.

The reason Jim was also perched above a staircase squinting up at the tubes from an auxiliary panel was that he really, really sucked at being stuck in his room with nothing to do. True to his word he had remained in bed for that entire day and night (which was yesterday), but the prospect of yet another morning without any work had proved a bit much for him. Moss was meeting them after lunch, which was all good and well, but he was bored out of his mind by eight thirty, so without telling Spock he'd happily informed Scotty that he was going to be helping them out.

"Yup, that's the one. Now set it for a low charge… say, two point five—"

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Oh no.

It wasn't Dr McCoy, but…

"Please calm down Nurse Chapel, it's not like… um…"

"Not like what? Not like you're dangling from the ceiling without a harness? Not like you're working even though you're a Starship Captain and not an engineer? Oh I'm sorry, and I forgot: not like you're supposed to be resting?"

Jim began climbing down the steps to the corridor below, where passing officers were shooting Nurse Chapel strange looks. She could be a very scary lady.

"But you won't tell Bones?"

She glared at him. "I don't want him to die, no."

"Thanks. Because I'm feeling great, actually." This was totally true; he'd tried stretching a little and everything felt fine.

Chapel threw her hands up in exasperation (seriously, people in the medical profession had a serious problem; drama queens the lot of them).

"What is so important that you can't just watch a holo-vid or something?" she asked.

"Just saving lives, the usual." Jim gave her his patented grin and pointed to the ceiling. "See there? The circuit is totally fucked unless they add more heat-disperser materials between wires. I was talking to Scotty earlier and he says it's not a great design, and I agree, because they tried to bypass the relay overlap… uh, basically it means they wanted to boost the power but didn't compensate for it accordingly, which definitely seems to have affected the cooling mechanisms. Thing is, if the system had--what are you doing?"

She had taken out a medical tricorder and was scanning him.

"Lift your shirt, please."

Jim complied patiently and gestured at the Ensign who'd been helping him. He was almost sure the guy's name was…

"Mr Gray?"

"Yeah?" The huge grin he got in response told him he'd gotten it right. "I mean, yes sir?"

"Why don't you go ask Mr Scott what else you can do to help? He'll be in Main with Chief Engineer Roberts, I'm almost done here."

"Yes sir!"

He left hurriedly and Jim looked down at Chapel, who was squinting at his abs and frowning. When he offered her another conciliatory smile she rolled her eyes at him.

"Why do people like you so much when you insist on being irresponsible whenever your own health is concerned?"

Jim pretended to shrug non-chalantly.

"I am deceptively charming."

"I am deceived," Chapel deadpanned. This made him laugh out loud, and her eyes crinkled prettily at the corners as she lifted his shirt even further up, then ran the scanner over him again. "Anyway, it's not like—"

"Captain."

Jim whirled around so fast that he accidentally knocked the tricorder right out of the nurse's hand. It clattered on the floor.

"Oops! Sorry Christine…"

"It's fine, I've got it."

"No, it's my bad…"

"Good morning," Spock said behind him. Jim felt his cheeks heat and turned more slowly, trying to school his features into his most innocent expression. The Vulcan was eyeing his shirt which, Jim realised belatedly, he was still holding up to his armpits, thus giving everyone in the vicinity a pretty show that went from his pecs all the way down to the underwear peeking over his hip-hugging black trousers.

Inadvertently coming on to his first officer before breakfast, check.

"Morning there, Spock." He promptly let the black fabric slide down his exposed skin and attempted to straighten it whilst retaining any remaining vestiges of his long-lost dignity. "Uh… what's up?"

Spock ignored this question. "Were you performing physical activities, Jim?"

"I…"

"Yes," Chapel cut in, and Jim felt utterly betrayed and shot her a look of profound hurt.

"I was sitting," he clarified to Spock.

"On a stair. Near the ceiling," Chapel added sweetly.

"Please stop talking."

"He was helping the engineers."

Jim groaned. "Okay, now you're just being mean."

Spock's stare could have solidified nitrogen. "Jim, I suggest you refrain from attempting to… I believe the correct term is 'cushion' the situation?"

"That's quite right, Mr Sp—"

The look she got from her Captain finally made Chapel do the 'zip' motion over her mouth and she started to walk away.

"I'm going to the Hospital Bay and I'd better see you there today before dinner."

"Yeah yeah, Bones already made me promise."

Before rounding the corner she waved at him and shouted: "You're healing fine, by the way, no thanks to yourself!"

"Go away!"

Jim's eyes flicked back to Spock.

"Pleas spare me the—"

"I believe your exact words yesterday were 'I think I can handle lying on a bed and doing nothing.' Clearly you overestimate your own abilities, Captain."

Jim waited a few seconds before answering, but his tone was affectionately teasing. "Okay, now you've got that out of your system. Feel better? Wanna walk me back to my quarters and make sure I stay put?"

Spock's eyes slid away from his and to the floor. "That would be acceptable."

Jim laughed, having not expected this outcome at all. "Cool. Because I have a couple of questions for you."

"I see."

They started walking in sync in the opposite direction to the nearest turbolift.

"Yup. First off, and I'm sorry it took so long but I've been meaning to ask… did it go okay with your dad the other day?"

Spock blinked twice before answering, which told Jim plenty before the man had even actually spoken.

"He expressed his opinion as… disappointed."

Jim opened his mouth to express his own (loud and indignant) opinion but Spock anticipated him. "With Starfleet. He declared his disappointment with the administration and the admiralty in particular. He was, in fact, rather… sympathetic of our cause."

"Really?" Spock had just used the word 'sympathetic'? When referring to his father? "That's awesome. I mean, that he can help."

"You are mistaken; his position as Earth ambassador does not offer any legal grounds for assistance in my defence…" Jim was shaking his head. "Your meaning was figurative."

"Sort of. Yeah. I already figured the council might not be able to position themselves as, you know, 'officially' with you, or whatever, but your dad… that's great. I'm happy for you."

They arrived at a turbolift and stopped to wait with two other officers who kept shooting them nervous glances. Jim, who found he was actually kind of learning to be okay with this in spite of himself, gave Spock a sideways grin.

To his surprise, when he looked at Spock in this light, he realised that there was a slight hint of shadow on his jaw. Did Spock shave? Why did that mental image refuse to come to his mind? Good God, what would Spock with a beard look like?

"May I inquire as to the source of your amusement, Jim?" Spock asked curiously. There was a cheerful 'ping' and the doors opened, expelling everyone onto the Deck before the pair could go inside a now-empty lift, and all the while Jim was unable to stop an unattractive snorting chuckle.

"It's... you... facial hair... the universe...!" He choked.

Spock arched an eyebrow and turned his head slightly to the side, which Jim interpreted as his 'I'm amused, under all this apparent exasperation, with your general person.'

"When you laugh you produce 'dimples.'"

They both froze at the exact same time and Jim realized only now that the other two people waiting for the lift had totally chickened out and not gone in with them.

"..." said Jim, staring straight ahead at the gleaming white curve of the wall-panel. He then tried to decide whether he should just go ahead and pretend he hadn't heard what he thought he'd heard, which was a silly thought because it had been a perfectly legitimate point, of course, the observation Spock had made.

"They are a Human characteristic," Spock added after the silence had threatened to morph into this awful, horrible presence in the lift with them.

"... Yes," Jim agreed.

Neither was looking at the other, instead both faced straight ahead, and when Spock didn't elaborate and the doors opened, the subject was blissfully dropped and mostly forgotten. Mostly.

"You stated there were two inquiries I was to answer," Spock reminded him, and nothing in his expression suggested anything rather unnerving had happened at all just seconds ago.

"Oh. Right. Yeah!" Jim decided to go along with this plan and led the way down the busy corridor to their quarters. "Now that we know Areel is the prosecutor... care to tell me how you managed to get that handy list from her computer without even knowing her name?" He dropped his voice to a low mutter which he knew Spock could hear.

"I did not obtain such information directly from her computer, Captain, as I did not know she was the one who had elaborated it." It was necessary for Spock to move in a bit closer to whisper this in Jim's ear, of course, because Jim did not have super hearing. "The file was located in the prosecution's memory banks."

"Areel is the prosecutor."

"She does not work alone, Jim. I traced the original list as a message from Starfleet Command to her department; that is the version Mr Moss possesses as well, as do the judges and jury involved in the trial. Remember, the list is part of the charges against us, and—"

"Filed as evidence, yes, I know. They all have access to it."

Spock leaned in even closer and dropped his voice even lower.

"I then made a copy of the document as modified by the prosecutor to ascertain the... gravity of our situation."

The Vulcan's breath felt hot like steam rolling down Jim's back, and it gave him goosebumps.

"I believe you are familiar with the conclusive events," Spock murmured.

Phew. It was really hot in here, now that he thought about it. Jim's stomach did a weird lurch/jolt thing and he wondered whether he was about to be sick, but discarded that notion moments later as they finally reached their respective doors.

To put some distance between them, Jim leaned against the wall and waggled a finger playfully at Spock. "Bad Vulcan."

Spock's eyes didn't roll, precisely, but it was a near thing.

"Please enter your quarters Jim, I believe you required rest."

He decided that resting might not, in fact, be the worst idea. He felt a bit... feverish.

"Wanna come with?" he offered.

"I cannot. I have a previous engagement."

"Oh?"

"Mara Dalle has agreed to assist me in the demonstration of an experiment."

"Oh."

Punching in the code to his room with a bit more vigor than was necessary, Jim forced a smile. "Well then, you two have fun."

Of course, only yesterday Jim had decided to be totally cool around Spock. He would remember to distance himself and learn to need him less. So Spock was going to the science department without him? Awesome. Jim was so cool with that that he was, like, cold. And hey, obviously Spock wouldn't go alone even though he was the damn Chief Science Officer of the goddamn ship and allegedly smart enough to figure everything out for himself, right? Because it was necessary for all science officers to be pale and dark-haired and ridiculously attractive, right?

"Thank you, Captain. I theorize that it shall be a most interesting experience."

"Totally."

Stupid Spock and his stupid fellow scientist and their stupid experiments in their stupid lab.

"I shall see you at Mr Moss' office this evening."

"You definitely shall!"

Spock didn't come with an in-built sarcasm-detector, but that didn't mean he could see straight through Jim's bullshit approximately 98.84937598 percent of the time (what? Those were perfectly accurate odds, probably).

Still, this time he didn't comment of his Captain's strange behaviour.

"Shortly before the power surge occurred he informed me that today we would be testing your answers with the Veritas device."

At this Jim's murderous train of thought was derailed and his head snapped around in surprise. "Really?"

"Yes. It is standard procedure in a court of law."

He knew that. "I knew that." The 'Veritas device' was really a very fancy way of saying 'lie-detector.' "Well, thanks for the warning. I'll see you later then."

"Goodbye, Captain."

Spock started walking back to the turbolift, his long legs eating up the space, and Jim fantasised about the past when doors could be slammed. It must have been so satisfying.

He strode over to his bed and crashed on it, luxuriating in the feel of his muscles stretching without any pain.

Because the lie-detector only worked on certain species (Vulcans, for example, were immune) there had been several attempts to ban it from court since it's discovery, and subsequent proven effectivity, fifty years ago. Jim found himself wishing someone had succeeded, because... because...

Because...?

He sat up in the bed suddenly, chest heaving in shallow breaths.

Wait. He wasn't planning on lying. Was he?

What?

He and Spock were just friends. There was nothing to fear, he was defending himself by telling the truth.

Right?

It wasn't like he'd recently been avoiding thinking about the fact that he might just be attracted to Spock, so then why had he...?

Oh.

Oh no.

Chapter Text

... Spock was attractive.

All right. This was understandable, and it wasn't like the notion had never ever occurred to him before... was it? Nah, he must have thought that at some point; the evidence was impossible to miss.

But this panicky feeling had to be about something more than the sudden revelation that Spock could look pretty amazing in certain slanting lights... which he could, but that was nothing to get all freaked out over.

Jim let himself fall back against the mattress and nearly groaned aloud. Okay, boringly standard-beige ceiling; time for some serious thinking.

He had established that A, Spock was attractive. In retrospect, this point was extremely obvious.

(Insultingly so. How on Earth had he not thought this sooner?)

Anyway, it was time for points B and C.

Point B. Did the fact that Spock was suddenly sexually appealing in his eyes change anything?

Not necessarily. Was Jim truly incapable of being friends with someone good-looking and not try to talk them into bed? Nope, the name Nyota Uhura disproved that completely. In fact, it was since they'd become friends that he'd stopped thinking of her that way. So why couldn't he just keep acting as before?

Yes, Jim knew the difference between admitting that Sulu, for example, was totally bangable and actually actively wanting to sleep with him. The question point C raised was, which category did Spock fall into?

His instinctive answer was that God, no, he couldn't want to sleep with Spock. That would be probably the worst idea ever, wouldn't it? Not to mention the fact that Jim very rarely went for guys, although it wasn't completely unheard of and, um, Spock's delicate features certainly made him about as pretty as a man could get without being feminine.

But... he didn't want Spock like that.

That was the logical conclusion to draw from all this.

Right?

It certainly seemed that way.

Things could go on the way they always had. Did it even matter that he'd admitted to himself that he found Spock kind of hot? Not to Jim, it didn't. After more than a year as Captain Jim had learned (the very, very hard way) to control his libido, and (sadly) to go without sex for awfully long periods of time. He was practically a sex-camel. This was undoubtedly some of that misplaced energy coming back and biting him on the ass, but nothing he couldn't handle.

Spock was his closest friend. Closer than Uhura, actually, so Jim would simply think of him in the same way as he thought of her. Problem solved.

The future started to seem a little brighter as Jim realised he had found his way out of a potentially terrifying prospect. Not bad for an emotionally constipated allegedly immature playboy, wasn't it?

Uh... was it?

As though it had been waiting for him to finish that thought, his computer beeped and Jim was jolted out of his musings by an incoming comm-call. Subject: Personal.

"Comp—" he started, voice raspy from having his mouth hanging slightly open, then cleared his throat. "Computer, display caller ID."

"Spock, of New Vulcan."

At the mention of the name Jim leaped up and stumbled over to the console.

Of course, it wasn't actually his first officer... it was the other Spock, the elder man who'd crashed into Jim's world from another universe. And there was no one else in the entire galaxy Jim would rather talk to at this moment, even though he now realised that he was sporting a slight headache; as if someone had tried to whack him on the head with a bat and only just missed.

He typed the appropriate code onto the touch-screen with deceptively calm fingers and sat down just as the clear image of Spock's lined yet familiar face came into view.

"Hey Spock! It's great to hear from you!"

"Greetings, Jim."

They'd spoken a few more times over comm-calls since Jim last saw him the day he'd gotten his command, but usually the topics were to do with administrative stuff (except for the first day, perhaps, when Jim had called him to ask why on earth young Spock knew about old Spock's existence and the universe remained unimploded). Spock was always wonderfully kind and friendly in his own way, but today, while that warm light still shone in his eyes, he looked almost... a bit worried.

"Is everything okay over there?" Jim asked immediately, shoving aside his own preoccupation. He'd gotten amazingly good at picking up subtle moods over time spent with his First Officer.

"There are several developing projects that I am in charge of overseeing, but so far our progress has been smooth, if somewhat slower than anticipated."

"Oh." He wondered whether pointing out that Spock looked concerned would be taken as an insult. "Um, well..."

"Jim, I wish to apologise for being unable to contact you sooner. I had not been told of this trial occurring until two days ago."

"Huh?"

Spock elaborated patiently. "I am not calling because there have been problems in the colony, Jim. I am calling because I wish to express my..." here he paused carefully and in those dark eyes there was the knowledge of a life that had spanned more than a century. Jim kept quiet, waiting. "I wish to make it clear to you that I am 'by your side,' as Humans say."

One of the glaring differences between this Spock and his young counterpart was the... openness the elder man always displayed with Jim. It was a strange sensation, to be regarded with so much affection and trusted with so much confidence when he knew he hadn't done anything to justify either. Which of course lead to thoughts of the other Jim Kirk this Spock had known, the one who these emotions were actually for...

Talking to the older Spock was always quite an experience; it messed with his head.

"Thanks." He decided not to correct the Vulcan and explain that the expression was 'on your side' instead of 'by your side'. He kind of preferred this version anyway.

"In my timeline there was never such a trial, despite the fact that similar circumstances had occurred."

"Really?"

Jim sat up a little straighter in his chair and leaned forward, trying to picture it. Another Jim and another Spock who risked their lives for each other... had the other Kirk woken up one day to this strange realisation, like he had? Or had he always known and been forced to ignore the fact?

"Yes. There were multiple instances, however the events most similar to these happened when I was believed to be lost, and Jim had to commandeer the Enterprise and organise a rescue mission by disobeying direct Starfleet orders..."

"Wait, wait a second. Your Jim stole the Enterprise on a small chance that he'd save you?" That was a hell of a lot more than what they had done.

"Yes. He was also forced to program the self-destruct sequence later on, and the ship was, unfortunately, permanently damaged."

"... And then he blew it up?" Jim choked out, then started to laugh hysterically because really otherwise he might cry. "How did you get away with that without being imprisoned? At the very least for a partial sentence?"

"Jim was demoted from his rank of Admiral back to Captain. There were mitigating circumstances, of course, however, I believe he considered himself rather satisfied with the result."

Jim shook his head in amazement. "You guys had it pretty good, huh?"

But here Spock's expression clouded, and he didn't incline his head in agreement. "There were difficult developments for us as well."

"Oh. Sorry, I didn't mean... I'm really sorry."

"Do not apologise, it is not necessary," Spock informed him serenely, and Jim found breathing a little easier; he'd hate to think he'd somehow caused the old man pain no matter how inadvertently. "However, it does seem as though your timeline tends toward the less fortunate course of events, Jim."

And Jim could hear the sympathy in his tone, and it was like a balm.

"Yeah, well, you did tell me once that the other Jim had gotten a commendation for programming that sub-routine on the Kobayashi Maru, right? I got a disciplinary hearing."

Spock's eyes shone with mirth and Jim grinned back, guiltily letting himself bask in the easy acceptance and admiration he felt radiating from the other man. They kept talking easily for quite some time before Spock was forced to sever the connection, claiming work, and Jim realised it was almost lunch time and he'd been hoping to track down Bones and force the man to stop working and eat something.

"Thanks so much for calling. I... it means a lot."

Spock nodded. "There is always a pleasurable reaction associated with your presence, Jim."

Jim felt his heart constrict. "Uh... same here." Then he cleared his throat and had to look away from the screen for a second; elder Spock's genuine, simple sincerity was nothing short of pure and it was in moments like these that Jim remembered he was undeserving of it.

"You're sure you don't want me to get Spock... younger you to come up? He's doing some stupid experiment or something but I could totally go there and interrupt and take him with me..." and basically rescue the guy. "It would actually do him a world of good, so—"

"That will not be necessary, although I note your consideration."

Spock raised his hand in the Vulcan salute, but to Jim's surprise he didn't say 'Live long and prosper'.

"Good luck, Jim."

Jim knew he would need it, but it made him smile fondly to think of the elder man doing something as illogical as wishing him 'luck'. "Goodbye, Spock."

x

Lunch with Bones was actually pretty great. The toughest part had been convincing his friend to actually stop working and eat (they had plenty of things in common, after all), but after Jim had dragged the doctor to the nearest mess hall the conversation was light and teasing; a little breath of fresh air in amidst the emotional shitstorm Jim's life seemed to have become lately.

Three more people came up to them to express their support about the trial and Jim answered their hesitant questions within the best of his ability, but he was glad that none of them expected much or stayed for long.

After considering a passing remark on Spock's physical attributes and discarding it instantly, they parted ways; McCoy heading back to Sickbay and Jim to Moss's office.

"Do try not to succeed in accidentally killing yourself before your checkup later?"

A naturally trusting and cheerful person Leonard McCoy was not.

x

"Good evening, Captain Kirk. I trust you're feeling better?"

Jim shrugged as the door to Moss's office swished shut behind him. "I was barely hurt, actually." He couldn't help a little nervous thrill when he sat down and eyed the empty chair next to his. "Spock not here yet?"

Moss leaned forward on his desk and eyed Jim with narrowed eyes, as though he wanted to catalogue every micro-expression the younger man revealed when he spoke next.

"He was held up at the science department, which is actually very fortunate because I wanted to work with you alone first."

"Ah."

So Spock was so interested in those experiments that he was late? Either that or Mara must really be a fascinating creature. Hm. Well, he would not wish them happiness; an affair like this one simply couldn't end well and Spock was a total idiot if he couldn't see that Mara was just after his pointy ears or, uh, something that made a bit more sense than that—

But then he realised what he was thinking. No, Spock was chronically incapable of being late to anything.

"Did you tell him to wait before coming over?"

Moss didn't even flinch. "Actually, I told him not to come at all. It's just going to be you and me today."

Jim scowled. "Is this because of the Veritas test? I'm gonna have to answer those questions in front of a judge, the military jury, you, dear Miss Shaw, my friends and Spock."

"Yes, but I want to try some questions that you might not be comfortable with first, and according to the results we get here today I'll know what to do with you in the stand. Because I'm going to have to call you to the stand, of course. Not only will it look suspicious if I don't, but the jury needs to hear certain things from your own mouth."

Jim nodded. "Yeah, but I still think..." then an image came to his mind, of Spock's contemplative gaze raking over him as Jim's confused brain tried to give answers that were evaluated as true or false with perfect accuracy. "Okay. Fine, let's do this."

Moss opened a drawer in his desk and took out a rectangular device approximately the size of a datapad, with gleaming black casing and no screen.

"Nathaniel Moss, code four-eight-fifteen-sixteen," the lawyer enunciated clearly. There was a soft whirring and then;

"Confirmed," a voice answered. It was impossible to tell whether it was male or female. "Proceed."

"Excellent. Well, Jim, whenever this machine's sensor detects a question, it will automatically scan the answer for truth. 'Yes' or 'no' answers are preferable, of course, but not mandatory—"

"I know. I've used this thing before; every Starship has one for investigative missions."

"Oh yes, of course, I forgot. You'll know then that there's a catch...? Veritas doesn't know whether a fact is real or not; it is, for all intents and purposes, a lie-detector with an incredibly powerful scanning mechanism. So a lie is the only thing it will detect, do I make myself clear?"

Jim nodded again. It was one of the main problems with using equipment like this. "When a killer really believes he's innocent, even if he's not, the machine won't realise there's anything wrong with his answer."

"Exactly."

Moss pushed the innocent-looking device closer to Jim and looked at him expectantly.

"Is your name James Tiberius Kirk?"

"Yup."

"Correct," came the instant answer.

"What Starship do you captain?"

"The USS Enterprise."

"Correct."

"Are you in love with Commander Spock, James?"

"Oh come on."

"What questions were you expecting when I said 'you might not be comfortable'?"

Jim rubbed his temples and decided to at least act mature; he wouldn't be helping either Spock or himself by throwing a stupid tantrum here.

"Fine. I'm sorry. Please try again."

"Are you in love with Commander Spock?"

"No," he replied confidently. This, at least, he was pretty clear on, even though he was perceptive enough to note that Moss certainly wasn't.

"Correct," the mechanised voice said after the shortest pause.

Feeling rather smug, Jim raised his eyebrows at the lawyer's expression of mild surprise. "Happy?"

"Somewhat. Let's continue. Are you emotionally compromised by Commander Spock?"

"No," Jim said, even more forcefully.

"Correct."

"Are you aware of the fact that Starfleet Command's investigation of this case began without you being notified?"

Well, that was an unexpected turn.

"Obviously. But it's not against the rules or anything."

"Correct."

"Are you aware of the fact that the level of surveillance that your mission operations were submitted to exceeds the normal rate that other Captains have endured?"

"I suspected as much, yeah."

Technically, Jim realised it made sense, of course. There was nothing illegal or even inherently wrong with keeping a close eye on him. He was young, untrained, more often than not characterized with words like 'brash' and 'impulsive', and with a reputation for attitude and rule-breaking. Not to mention a record of mutiny and the accusation of cheating for a test.

Okay, so when you looked at it like that it sounded kind of bad.

"Correct."

But seriously, it had been more than a year. Yes, the feeling of wanting to stick-it-to-the-man wasn't gone, and Jim didn't think it would ever really leave him; even though he could technically be considered part of 'the man' now. Old habits died hard, and if his life had taught him anything it was that there was always, always something to prove.

He'd thought he'd lived up to—no, he'd exceeded all expectations, hadn't he? There hadn't been many, which had definitely made this easier for him, but he'd been under the impression that he'd taken their preconceived notions about him and shoved them up... eh, that is, set them aside.

"Are you aware of the fact that you have broken regulations on multiple occasions?"

Jim hesitated. "What am I supposed to answer to that? I'm perfectly aware of that."

"Correct."

Moss rolled his eyes. "Well first of all, please don't answer 'I'm perfectly aware of that'."

"What, then?"

The corner of the lawyer's mouth twitched and he proceeded to explain what the 'proper' kind of answer would be. Jim did his best.

The hours passed relatively fast until it was time for dinner, and Jim learned how to sound like someone who had issues with the Standard language and spoke in some really impressively convoluted half-truths that the lie detector had to pass as 'correct.' It was an exhausting but very useful skill that he turned out to be unexpectedly good at, so by the end of the session a self-satisfied grin was in order.

"Not bad, was I?"

"Not at all."

Jim stood from his chair, grin still firmly in place. He felt almost relieved, which was weird. "You sound surprised."

"I am," Moss replied, perfectly serious. Jim laughed. "I have to admit I'm pleased with the answers we got, Kirk. Let's hope they don't change, eh?"

He chose to ignore this last comment. "Okay, okay, see you tomorrow, then? It's Sunday but I'm assuming that's not an issue here either?"

"You assume right. We have little time to prepare as it is."

They parted more amicably than any other day and Jim actually allowed himself to feel a teensy, tiny bit of optimism as he made his way to the Hospital Bay where McCoy was waiting for him and his checkup. He felt great, his terrifying epiphany this morning seemed much less dramatic now and if they won the trial quickly he could be back on his ship in a little over week.

In retrospect, he should have known that things were never easy and, if your name was James T. Kirk, 'optimism' was a terrible omen, or at least a sign of--

Oh God it was Spock standing there near the turbolift talking to two men what if he turned around what if he saw Jim what if he read his mind wait wasn't he supposed to be in the labs...?

Jim slowed his steps and tried not to panic. A second look revealed that this man was slightly shorter than Spock, although he was obviously also Vulcan. Well well. No one had told him there was a Vulcan working at the base.

The corridor was empty besides their little group because most officers must be eating dinner at this time. As Jim drew closer he couldn't help noting that this man was particularly handsome; with the same sweeping eyebrows and black eyes that characterised his people, but there were a few differences between him and Jim's First Officer. The stranger looked elegant and poised but his stance was much more rigid than Spock's, and therefore less graceful. He also had a sharper nose and more angular features, or maybe it was just the man's complete and utter lack of expression, also more pronounced than Spock's. Instead of glinting prettily in the light, this man's eyes were cold and blank.

"... a week remains, therefore I will have sufficient time to procure an interview—"

The Vulcan's gaze flicked toward Jim and stayed there. He stopped mid sentence and turned to face him, expression so utterly devoid of any sort of indicator of his mood that it might have made someone else uncomfortable.

Jim smiled at him and raised his hand in greeting.

"Can I help you?"

"You are James Kirk."

Jim nodded. "Yeah, and you were discussing the date of my trial, unless I misunderstood?" He kept his tone jovial but he found it difficult to believe in coincidences.

"Yes," the Vulcan replied. Jim had seen more emotion on other members of his species and not just Spock, he was sure of it. This guy was particularly hard to read.

"And you wanted to talk to me about something? You don't need to ask my lawyer for permission or anything, you know," he added. 'Procuring an interview' sounded so formal. Then again, Vulcans.

"You would not object to an interview?"

Jim frowned, then stared at the two rather surly-looking Human men standing slightly behind. One held a camcorder, and the other a pack of datapads, but they didn't have the Starbase insignia, and when he looked back at the Vulcan he realised that he wasn't wearing a uniform.

"You're a journalist?" he asked incredulously.

"The correct term is broadcast researcher. You believed I was a Starfleet officer working at this base." That last part wasn't a question, more like the man was simply stating how moronic Jim was.

Wow. For some reason he'd never imagined that a Vulcan would even consider such a profession. But of course they must; the news-feeds were a practical way of keeping oneself informed, and someone had to write the articles, right?

"What's your name?" Jim asked, trying to be friendly. He didn't want to give any interviews; he'd already had plenty of mics shoved in his face back on Earth and he wasn't planning on repeating the experience, even if it was one-on-one. Just in case, however, he decided he'd avoid answering the question in favour of asking Moss about it first. Who knew, maybe it was a good idea to get the public on their side by playing up the 'misunderstood heroes' angle.

"I am called Stavok."

Jim wondered whether Stavok blamed him for the loss of his planet; obviously the man knew who he was. Then he wondered whether he had been among those Vulcans who, like Spock, had been unable to suppress an emotional outburst. Had Stavok had a wife? A husband? Children? Brothers or sisters...? A family, surely. Were his parents safe in the colony? Maybe he hadn't even been on the planet when Vulcan had ended, maybe he and his family had been away and that was why he'd survived.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Stavok," Jim said sincerely. For some reason he found that he cared what this man thought about him; that it was to people like him that he wanted to show that this trial was a farce and Jim really was a good Captain. He tried to push back the irrational thought but it remained.

"I have heard much of your accomplishments, Captain Kirk," Stavok said by way of reciprocation, and in its own logic the statement was a compliment, of course, so Jim was pleased. He also couldn't help a little grin because Spock sometimes slipped up and said things like 'it is a pleasure' but clearly this dude took Surakian discipline very seriously; and the thought of Spock not putting his complete mental capacity and effort into doing something was quite hilarious.

"I guess I'll be seeing you around, then." Jim nodded at the other two Humans who gave half-hearted nods in return. Being stuck with a mannequin-like boss all day must be exhausting, Jim reflected with a mental shrug, and decided to cut them some slack.

"That is correct," Stavok agreed.

Jim stepped into the turbolift with a wave behind him and the doors hissed shut.

"Hospital Bay," he said confidently. Through the small transparent window, floors whooshed past at incredible speed and Jim stared up at the ceiling of the pod with a faint smile still on his face.

x

In the end, it happened so fast.

Slam.

Jim got out of the lift without looking and walked right into a solid wall of muscle.

It happened too fast.

He started to fall backwards but an arm caught him around the waist. And suddenly it didn't matter if the world was tilting when his spine was arched under a taller, lean body--a body that had instinctually curved over his in an almost protective gesture. Sky-black eyes hovered right above his face and for an instant Jim could have sworn there were stars to be seen winking in their fathomless depths. It was a good thing that his balance was entirely reliant on the arm holding him up, because he might have stumbled otherwise.

But when he was jerked upright it was with excessive force; an abrupt gesture that brought him in full contact with his rescuer's body once more. There was no warning.

Just a sudden closeness that lit him on fire.

The pressure of the splayed hand against his back meant they were perfectly aligned, and he could hear the air rushing between parted lips, could feel the pressure of the other's chest when it expanded for air... and with the taste of their mingled breaths in his mouth, Jim's stupefied brain promptly short-circuited and died.

And then it was all gone.

Spock stepped away and everything was so surreal; one moment there had been startlingly warm skin pressed against him and the next he was cold. So cold.

Jim didn't even have a chance to react before he was given a stiff nod and Spock entered the turbolift, followed by Mara Dalle with a very curious expression on her face.

They didn't even speak. Not a word, not an overly formal 'excuse me, Captain' which Jim knew was Spock's way of saying 'hi,' not even... no. He was gone. And Jim was left standing alone exactly where Spock had left him, startled and winded as if someone had punched him in the stomach with gusto; he almost had the physical urge to double over in pain.

He stared at the floor for a long time, hands clenched at either side of his body, unable to ignore the effect of all that shocking warmth pressing into him. And it was insane, was what it was--it was crazy, he shouldn't feel like this, he knew he couldn't... he absolutely could not afford to feel like this.

No way.

No.

He had decided, he had already decided...

He couldn't...

But he did. Fucking hell he most definitely did, and it was impossible and ridiculous and dangerous, much too dangerous but it was there, in the tongue of heat trailing down his spine and in the knot of want tightening his stomach.

Jim started walking without realising it. He was lucky the corridor was empty and he didn't accidentally trample anyone.

Of course he wanted Spock. Of course he did. How long had this been going on? Was he blind? Who had he been trying to fool, anyway? Of course that was why he'd panicked this morning. He hadn't realised the fact that Spock was handsome, that was just A Fact.

He'd realised he kind of wanted to do something about it.

Like maybe find out what it would be like to shove Spock against a wall and kiss him.

Idiot.

He honestly couldn't understand how the fact had escaped him before. Or... well, okay, it hadn't been inconceivable for him to admit that Spock was good-looking, but... but how had he been able to deny his reaction to it until now? His very active, somewhat visceral and undeniably real reaction to those aspects that went beyond Spock's anatomy? How had he ignored his own desire? How had he handled looking into Spock's eyes? What was wrong with them, anyway? How could they be so dark and sincere sometimes but also piercing and brimming with that sharp, ruthless intelligence that made Jim's blood hum--focus, Kirk.

Focus on the real problem here.

(Jim was, to be perfectly honest, rather impressed with himself. The level of denial it would take not to notice that the words 'Spock' and 'sex' should definitely be used together in sentences all the time was... quite extraordinary.)

The real problem here being that, exactly one week before the trial began, he'd realised that he was attracted to the man he was accused of being emotionally compromised by.

Jesus. Timing was a bitch.

Chapter Text

Jim stepped into the busy Sickbay still dazed by what had happened (both outside and inside his head) and consequently nearly tripped over several pieces of equipment. Also people. Thankfully, it was a wide room, despite the slightly claustrophobically low ceiling.

"You're here? On time? Damn, today is officially backwards day."

Jim couldn't help but vigorously yet silently agree with Nurse Chapel's declaration.

She was standing next to a bed where a middle-aged man looked rather green, and not in a pretty Vulcan way. (Shit, he really did have a thing for the colour green, didn't he?) Jim rubbed his eye with the heel of his hand in an attempt to get back to the real world. 

It didn't work.

"Dr McCoy is down there." Chapel nodded down the rows of beds at the other end of the long bright room. Jim squinted and, sure enough, recognized his friend talking to two other doctors.

"Thanks, Christine. You wanna join a group of us for dinner later?"

She seemed surprised to be asked, but shook her head with a smile. "I volunteered to help out here for a while. They have some pretty cool equipment."

Jim nodded; the action made his headache spike painfully, but he ignored it. "Well, have fun violently sticking hypos into people."

The patient gave him a vaguely terrified look and he heard Chapel's chuckles as he made his exit, which she tried to conceal by faking a coughing fit that fooled no one.

As Jim passed the miscellanea of patients in their beds (most of them asleep, although some were eating dinner and gave him shy nods in greeting) to get to McCoy, he realized that he recognized one of them. Not because he knew her face, but she had distinctive brown hair and the last time he'd seen it it had been soaked in blood...

He hesitantly stopped before her bed. She was obviously sleeping, starch white sheets tucked up to her chin, but besides being kind of pale her vitals looked okay to his eyes. Not that Jim was a medical expert or anything, but you picked up some stuff when you were in Sickbay as often as he was (because his best friend was the CMO, of course...).

"She'll be fine."

Jim turned to McCoy with a relieved smile. "Yeah?"

"Plenty of tissue regeneration was required and she had a skull fracture, but no brain damage. Just bed rest for the next few days. And she said she'd actually listen to what the doctor recommended. Amazing what patients know to do these days."

"I'm glad to hear it." Jim smiled even wider and they started walking back to the entrance at the same time.

"You know this isn't a social visit, right?" McCoy said raising the medical case in his hand and then pointing at something in front of Jim. "That empty bed over there has your name on it."

"Hey, I came willingly, didn't I?"

"Right. Oh, Spock was here a couple of minutes ago, I think."

Jim froze in his tracks.

"Somethin' about a small burn on his hand. Why wasn't he with you? That girl from the other day came with him, Tara whatshername."

"Is he okay?"

McCoy glanced back and motioned for him to keep walking.

"I think so, yeah. There's this other doctor here, Dr M'Benga, who actually interned on Vulcan, although I have no idea how he got them to let him."

Jim nodded robotically. "Oh. That's good."

That was probably why he'd only used the one arm to hold him up...

"You feeling okay, Jim?"

"Uh... I..."

The highlight reel from five minutes ago came at him all at once; the fall, the catch, Spock's arm wrapped around him and Spock's body pressed against his own, Spock's steaming breath on his neck, the way he'd drawn away... the parting nod, and all without a single word.

And then more, other times, other pictures; "I do not love you" and that adorable indignant little frown Spock got when he was adorably indignant, Spock's mouth closing over the fork with a piece of sugary pastry and Jim being unable to tear his gaze away from the sight, Spock touching him the few times he'd been forced to ignore his instinctive disregard for physical contact, Spock's eyes glinting in the light of a planet with three suns, Spock's body bent over his scanner back at the Enterprise and the way Jim's train of thought usually stuttered to a stop whenever that happened...

Very slowly, Jim shook his head. "Actually no. I don't think I am."

To his indignation, his friend snorted with laughter and didn't seem to take Jim's dismay too seriously.

"You look like someone hit you in the head. Hard. With a bat," McCoy said lightly, steering him toward the bed again.

"Well, that's more or less what happened," Jim muttered, mind still a whirlwind of mosaic-like memories.

The jovial mood vanished disturbingly quickly to be replaced by a scowl. "You'd better be joking, Jim."

"The bat was metaphorical."

"... Oh, that's good, then."

Hm. His tone was a bit off there. Jim narrowed his eyes at McCoy and frowned. Did the bastard know that Spock was hot?

And he hadn't told Jim?

"Sit down, Kirk."

Jim sat at the edge of the thin mattress, still squinting suspiciously.

"Bones?" he said finally while McCoy rummaged around his case for a medical tricorder.

"Yes?"

"You know I like Spock, don't you?"

What? Jim wasn't a complete idiot, despite what recent events might seem to indicate.

"Of course. I like him too."

There was a frozen second when Jim almost died from a sudden and brutal anxiety attack before he heard McCoy continue.

"Not that I'd ever tell that damn elf, but everyone likes Spock, Jim."

He'd found the tricorder and began scanning Jim's torso with it.

"Right. Well, yes. But… I… I like Spock…" it sounded like the beginning of a sentence, but the moment he started it Jim realized that he wasn't quite ready to end it because he didn't know how to yet, and the pause just kept growing, longer and longer until saying anything else would have been weird, and so he just let the incomplete phrase hang there like some sort of half-finished thing that he prayed Bones would understand.

"… I thought we'd established that."

A curious light in the doctor's eye told Jim that his friend was being deliberately dense, maybe to ensure Jim meant what McCoy thought he meant, and not to just suddenly prompt a premature revelation that led to the inevitable panic attack.

But Jim had that part covered. He'd already had two.

"Bones. I mean that I like like Spock. As in, wouldn't mind seeing naked—"

"Okay, okay, I get it! Please stop now!"

Sensing an opportunity for perfectly justified revenge, Jim kept talking.

"In the shower—"

"Don't be revolting," McCoy hissed.

"All steamy and wet, water dripping down his hair and pointy ears…"

Ah. Um. Yes, well, maybe he should stop.

"There will be a special hell for you and your people."

"My 'people'?" Jim shook with laughter, careful not to be too loud (two people were asleep in the adjacent beds). "That's great. It's probably gonna be the coolest, awesomest—"

"No such word."

"Shut up, it's a word. Awesomest hell ever. I wonder what yours will be like…?"

McCoy squinted at the results from his scan and his brow cleared. "This is my hell," he muttered absent-mindedly. Jim chuckled. "Your healing looks good, Jim."

"'Course it does. I said I'd be a good boy."

This earned him an eye-roll. "Yeah yeah, all right. Listen, I'm not coming up to dinner today; Uhura called to ask if I wanted to join but there's too much work here."

"Okay. Don't worry about it."

McCoy shot him a sideways glance and a smirk. "… So you like like Spock, huh?"

Jim gulped, completely thrown by how much of a fifteen-year-old girl he was probably being. "Eh… yes, well, it's a temporary thing."

"Is it?"

Yes. It had to be. He'd already decided that he wasn't going to do the pining thing; he was going to move on. He wasn't about to even consider any other option. And… maybe if he said the words enough times they would become true? He certainly hoped so.

"Yeah, totally. I mean, can you imagine if I let this go on? With the trial and everything… not to mention trying to run the Enterprise with a ridiculous crush on my First Officer. Shit's confusing enough as it is, I don't need more complications."

"Yes, because this sort of thing is completely under your control, obviously."

"Right! Thank you, Bones!" He sighed in relief and leapt off the bed. "I feel way better after talking about it, actually."

The doctor smacked an open palm over his face in exasperation, and spoke in a muffled voice. "You're actually going to…? Oh, forget it."

"What was that?"

"Nothin'. Go eat some dinner."

"That's the plan. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah. See ya."

They exchanged shoulder-pats and Jim left.

Unfortunately his slightly improved mood had vanished about four seconds after stepping outside the Sickbay. Not only did walking into the corridor remind him of the events that had transpired there mere minutes ago, but the prospect of actually facing Spock again within the next few minutes was suddenly very daunting.

Would they act as though it had never happened? Was that even an option? Would Spock explain why he hadn't said a word to Jim after? Would Jim be able to hide this newfound appreciation for the curve of Spock's… ears?

By the time the doors of the turbolift opened onto the deck Jim couldn't deny that he was nervous. His pace was normal and confident as always, but there was no heart behind that fake self-assurance, and the instant he spotted Spock's profile standing next to the door of Room 14 he stopped even trying.

Jim's steps slowed as he took in the sight of his First Officer's gleaming features. Spock really was beautiful. He was a mix of softness; in his lips and the careful grace of his movements, and strength; the undeniably masculine jaw, prominent nose and piercing dark eyes.

The hunger in his chest unfurled again without his permission, making his heartbeat stutter erratically and a strange fluttering sensation settle in his stomach...

Wait.

Fluttering... like butterflies?

Jesus Christ.

"Hey Spock!" he called with forced cheer.

Spock's stance didn't change, and neither did his expression, but something about the way he looked at Jim seemed to tighten further, to compress and contract.

"Captain." Spock's serious face was too difficult to decypher, and his deep voice was low and controlled. "It is... fortuitous to encounter you here."

In spite of himself and of the ringing in his ears, Jim couldn't help but smirk at that. "Fortuitous? We said we'd meet here. Stop being pretentious."

The meticulously guarded grip on Spock's emotions might have relaxed the tiniest bit as he stepped toward his Captain.

"It was not my intention to sound... I was not being 'pretentious'."

"Yes you were. You were very good at it." He resisted the urge to nudge Spock on the shoulder and winked at him instead. "Shall we go in?"

"Very well."

They walked into the cafeteria just as a couple was exiting, so Spock immediately stepped back to avoid any contact.

"Hey, listen—"

But the words died in his throat as it was then that Jim remembered something vitally important, something that, in his less-than-alert state, he'd somehow managed to forget. Something that changed everything.

Spock was a touch telepath.

He knew.

He must know that Jim had felt... he must have realized what Jim had felt and obviously been disgusted, or sad or even afraid, but he was too polite to mention it and that was why he hadn't said anything. Spock had probably expected Jim's reaction even less than Jim had. Shit, this was even worse than that time when he'd been locked in a cramped Jeffries tube for nine hours with the oxygen supply slowly dwindling...

"Yes, Jim?"

Should he ask him? No, of course he shouldn't. That would either be the emotionally healthy thing to do or what Jim considered a more likely option: suicide.

"I, uh, Bones said you hurt your hand. You okay?" He spoke over his shoulder as he led the way to an empty table large enough for when the others got there. Distantly, he was glad to note that even in the crowded room, they were mostly being ignored by now. People were getting used to the novelty.

"A second-degree electrical burn. Not damaging or in any other way restricting my dexterity."

Ah, yes, that... was not a good word, nor was it a mental image he needed to be having when Spock was a foot away. Behind him. Jim futilely tried to block it, then to ignore the thought by sheer pig-headed tenacity, but it was impossible; like someone saying 'purple elephant'. You try not to think of the damn purple elephant.

"It merely required some tissue-regeneration."

"Well, I'm glad to hear it."

When Spock sat down facing him, Jim couldn't help his eyes straying to said hand, equal parts worry about his First being in pain and, well, Spock's long, dexterous fingers. But there was no scarring that he could see, and... he knew better than to try and touch Spock anymore.

It was a thought that left him curiously bereft, this notion that those easy days were over. He would need to watch himself constantly from now on; no more traces of hot skin against his own...

With yet another mental shove, Jim focused. All right, he would need to seriously consider whether this new awareness of Spock's existence was going to be a problem. His resolve to have it pass as soon as possible strengthened.

"I have to admit that I'm surprised you decided to go to Sickbay, though. Bones practically has to drag you by your hair to get you down there when we're on the ship."

Spock shot him a look. "It was not my initial intention, however, the team insisted a visit to the Hospital Bay was necessary and Miss Dalle offered to accompany me."

They were getting dangerously close to broaching the topic...

"That is why I was there when we—"

"I'm sorry I ran into you."

"—met."

There was a tense silence, and then Jim resolved to sort this out now that he had the chance.

"I know that as a touch telepath it's very uncomfortable for you to, well, touch people. And I'm sorry."

Spock tilted his head to the side slightly. The tendons of his neck stretched and Jim found his eyes riveted to the sight. What was wrong with him? This couldn't be normal. It was as though now that he knew he couldn't touch Spock the urge was ten times stronger. Oh yes, very mature, Kirk.

"Apologies are unnecessary. Your Human coordination was not sufficient for you to foresee the possible accident."

"Oy, I'm perfectly coordinated. But seriously," Jim Kirk was nothing if not very brave. Or very stubborn. One of the two, definitely, "getting all those impressions... of people's emotions... that must suck, right?"

A single line of confusion appeared on Spock's brow. Clearly he wasn't on the same wavelength as Jim as to the subtext of this conversation.

"While physical contact is preferably to be avoided, I assure you my mental shields are sufficient to ensure I do not read other's minds, Jim. We have discussed this before."

"Yes, but... are you absolutely, positively sure?"

Spock still seemed puzzled and Jim gave up trying to be subtle about it; it had never been his thing, anyway. "You didn't get an impression of me... nothing?"

There was a pause, longer than usual. Jim's gut clenched in dread. "No," Spock replied finally. "I was occupied by thoughts of my own."

Phew. Either Spock was a brilliant actor and a Class A liar or he was simply telling the truth, and Jim was inclined to believe the second option. He could see the plain sincerity in those features.

"Great. So where's Uhura and the rest?"

"Late, I presume. If you are in need of food, you may consume..."

"Nah, we should wait for them. I think I can last another five minutes without collapsing on the floor."

Spock was unimpressed by this idea, clearly, even though it had been a joke. Jim grinned widely at him.

"Hey, I met another Vulcan today."

At that Spock's eyebrows rose marginally in surprise, although he was clearly humouring Jim on the sudden change of subject. "A Starfleet officer?"

"Nope. A journalist."

The distaste in his First's expression was almost comical, and Jim was happy to revel in a moment of lightness.

"Yeah that's more or less what I thought too."

Spock collected himself with his usual speed. "You cannot know my thoughts," he said firmly. Jim thought it was a bit strange that he'd chosen that particular point to latch onto.

"... 'Course not. I was just saying. I mean, I was just trying to agree with you."

"I understand," Spock replied smoothly, a hint of apology in those dark eyes. Jim smiled at him exasperatedly.

"It's okay. He seemed nice, though. Not that it's easy to tell with you people. For all I know you hate my guts, you're just very good at hiding it," he teased.

"I believe a list of evidence might suggest otherwise, Captain," Spock pointed out. Jim felt his jaw drop, unable to believe The List of Doom had been mentioned. Why had he been so worried about being around Spock again? They were fine, they could even joke about this shit, everything was brilliant and he actually felt great; happiness expanding his chest and climbing up his throat like it was threatening to choke him--

Right. That was why.

He ran a hand through his hair and ducked his head, suddenly unable to meet Spock's eyes.

"Well, who am I to argue against the evidence?" he said, hoping it didn't come out flustered (he wasn't willing to contemplate the possibility of a blush, that was just embarrassing).

"There you are!"

Scotty and Uhura were making their way to the table with loaded trays.

"So much for waiting for you guys to eat. Sulu and Chekov not here yet?" Jim stood to get some food too, suddenly starving, and Spock copied him.

"They'll be here in a few minutes," Uhura replied, sitting down. "They said to go ahead and start. It's pretty late."

The four of them were about halfway through the meal when Sulu finally arrived, followed by Chekov a couple of minutes later. Apparently, they'd been in Deck 19 trying out some flight-simulator techniques and gotten distracted, something Jim could totally relate to.

While Spock's presence remained in Jim's mind the entire time, he was gratefully able to let the conversation distract him. He got to tease Scotty about not wanting to leave the Enterprise that first couple of days, which was fun. The topic of the trial thankfully went unmentioned and so, while he never actually forgot about it, it became simpler not to think of it. Even after they were done and the group walked companionably toward their assigned quarters everything was starting to feel more normal, although everyone expressed their regret that McCoy wasn't there to join them.

"Well, this was fun but I'm super tired. Goodnight, everyone." Uhura waved, typing in the code to her quarters. The door swished open and Jim gaped; they were at least twice the size of his and the open bathroom door revealed an antique tub.

"Hey, wait a second! How come your room is so awesome?"

She grinned and motioned to her uniform. "This stupid dress had to be of use sometime, right?"

Jim gasped in mock horror. "With great looks come great responsibility, Uhura..."

"Oh, shut up." And the door swished shut in his face.

"She always does that," Jim grumbled. Spock was looking at him funny. "What?"

"You do not have a tub?"

"I have a sonic shower, like everyone else," Jim said. Then he realized what the question implied. "Wait, you also have a tub? Like in the old days when they'd waste all that water?" Spock merely blinked, but it was enough. "Life is so unfair."

"Aye aye, Captain," Chekov lamented.

"And our rooms are connected, too. Karma hates me, doesn't it? Unless you also used your amazing looks to seduce Barnett's secretary?"

Oops. A rather stunned silence followed Jim's words, but through pure desperation he managed to keep smiling.

"Which one is it, Spock?"

"I think karma is probably the best guess," Sulu said, voice a bit higher than normal, as though he was fighting the urge to laugh. Scotty was staring into space with possibly no idea of what was going on, but Chekov's eyes were round as saucers.

Spock merely looked disbelieving. "Perhaps it is time to retire to sleep, Captain. Tomorrow we are expected to wake early."

"Yeah, all right, we should be getting back." They were staying at a different part of the deck than the rest of the crew, of course. "See you guys."

A chorus of bye's and the other three started down the long corridor, each to his own room. Jim and Spock's section of the living quarters was only accessible through a sideways turbolift ride, so they stopped in front of the first one they saw and waited.

Normally, Jim would have no trouble starting up a conversation, or even remaining in companionable silence, but now he was finding it difficult to maintain either. It was the damn purple elephant again.

The headstrong part of him that didn't believe in no-win scenarios refused to give up, of course. This was all his fault, so he had to at least try to fix it. He turned to Spock determinedly, with every intention of trying to open with a joke...

And the words died in his throat.

Spock looked tired. Exhausted, actually. Jim had gotten this impression once before already, the night they'd played chess, and just like that time there was no evidence to help support his claim, but he was also convinced that he was right. For some reason that Spock didn't want him to know, the same reason he'd apologized to Jim for his 'personal issues' outside the corridor to Moss's office only two days ago, he was dead on his feet.

"Spock..." he began, with no idea on how to continue. Well, he knew he meant to offer his help, of course, but Spock probably didn't need his curious Human friend poking into his personal life right at this moment. Especially not if said Human friend was having some difficulty handling some problems of his own, namely problems that had to do with the appeal of the aforementioned Spock, who was now looking at him and waiting.

"Nothing. Sorry, let's just get some sleep."

Anyway it wasn't in Spock's nature to need Jim to lean on or anything. In fact, Spock didn't even do things like lean against furniture or various other surfaces. It would look... strange.

(Or maybe somewhat interesting. Suddenly the image of a dimly lit corridor and Spock, eyes as dark and impenetrable as always, appeared unbidden in his mind. There would be nothing casual about his pose, of course, just the usual languid grace this gravity gave him, and maybe at the most a hint of weariness in the set of his shoulders, or the tilt of his dark head. Arms crossed and back curved slightly, one leg bent for support, shadows would cast his shape in relief against the white wall and obscure one side of his face, leaving the other half for Jim to stare at, to keep for himself, to revel in, the strength of his jaw and the line that went from tip of his ear down to his neck...)

It was a few moments later, still waiting for the lift, that Jim snapped out of his reverie under the distinct impression that he'd just gotten turned on by the image of Spock leaning.

And that was when he decided, quite firmly, that he needed to get laid. What sort of sex-depraved creep started having thoughts like these when he suspected that his best friend was troubled?

Poor Spock was just the ignorant victim of Jim's crazy libido. And he wasn't going to let it ruin this. What they had, their jobs and their friendship, was too important for his stupid sex-drive to tear them apart. In fact, he wasn't going to let this weird magnetism attraction thing grow, or even continue. He was going to fight it every step of the way, and he was going to win, dammit, because there was no way he would let it matter. He had to turn it off. He had to get rid of it right now.

"I think I'll head off to the bar before going to bed," he said casually. Spock turned to regard him without offering a response.

"I just need some..." alcohol "...alone time, I guess."

"It is unlikely you will be left entirely alone, Jim. You have a tendency to attract... attention."

Well, that was the plan. Jim forced a smile. "I think I can handle it. Don't you worry."

The lift finally arrived and the Vulcan stepped inside.

"Spock..."

Spock turned around expectantly. Looking at him now, his First Officer as a gentle, innocent soul that needed to be protected from Jim, the big bad wolf, would really be a hilarious notion if it wasn't mortifyingly close to the truth (at least to the slightly strange version of the truth, that was actually quite far from the real truth, that Jim thought he knew).

"Goodnight."

Spock's eyes warmed and Jim forcefully ignored the pleasant shudder that travelled down his spine at the sight. "Goodnight, Jim."

x

Oh and, and... and, as far as Jim knew Spock didn't even like men! It was like so totally out of the fucking question. Nothing could ever, ever happen between them. Ever. Obviously the universe was a conspiratorial hater who didn't want Jim to have really hot sex with Spock. Yes. Clearly the universe blew, big time.

So really his plan to work on not thinking about Spock seemed to be heading toward a great big epic fail, but really... really, Spock was too hot to just be into girls! Right? Or, his clothes were too tight. Or it was the eyebrows. Possibly his super sexy mouth could not only be meant for kissing Uhuras on transporter pads right in front of poor, stunned Jims who had totally not expected that to happen ever?

All in all, it was a good thing that so far he'd been left well enough alone (he suspected because his I-am-having-a-self-pity-fest vibes created a lovely aversion field); he wasn't even very drunk, it was just that... God, thinking of Spock sucked so bad. It was like, fucking painful. Like someone sweetly digging a rusted nail into his eyeball.

Ouch. Way to go for macabre there.

Jim glared at the drink in his hand and tried to will himself to think of something else. Really, anything else. Please?

He waited patiently for about a minute. The bottom of the glass held none of those proverbial answers, and yeah, no, this wasn't working at all. Spock was just too hot and way too probably heterosexual for him.

Sigh.

"... because of my age! Dammit, it's so annoying when some old geezer thinks he's seen it all and therefore my opinions are automatically invalid. Experience isn't everything, you know. It takes a bit of brains too, and guts."

Huh? That sounded weirdly like something he would say.

Jim looked up from the shiny stainless-steel counter of the bar and attempted to identify the source of the oddly familiar speech. Multi-coloured lighting, sparkling drinks and varying degrees of eccentric civilian clothing made him fleetingly wonder whether a rainbow had exploded in there while his back had been turned (see: hunched over the bar wallowing). Good thing it wasn't too bright or someone would be having an epileptic fit soon.

The place was pretty busy, it being a Saturday night, so he had to crane his neck around to try and see.

"Who else would have even dreamed of taking on this case? It's practically suicide, don't think I don't know it."

"No one, Ari... we know."

The music pumping from the speakers was too low to confuse that nickname, and Jim's gut clenched in irrational and misdirected anger. Well, only slightly misdirected.

He had them a second later, a group of four people who'd just entered the place. It was Areel Shaw and three of her friends.

"... Yeah. So when I ask for a little respect it's not like..." she faltered when their eyes met. Jim stared at her, daring and possibly a little frightening also, but her eyes wrenched away and she seemed intent on staring firmly ahead as she walked by, then passed him.

"You really need to stop pretending I don't exist," Jim said loudly. She froze in her tracks with her back to him.

"I mean, come on." He lowered his voice, knowing it would be bad to cause a scene and also knowing she'd hang onto every word. "Not even a 'hello, my name's Areel and you're getting drunk because of me right now'?"

The three who were with her seemed ready to beat Jim into a pulp, which he definitely wasn't looking forward to, but she shook her head at them.

"I'll be there in a second," he heard her say firmly. "He's doing it on purpose, to try and see if he can discredit me. Just let me handle this."

A few reluctant nods and some more murderous glares later, they were alone (at least relatively).

"What do you want, Kirk?"

"Such a vague question," Jim said, secretly thinking he wanted to be able to say 'I don't like Spock' and not be lying. He took another long drink. "How about an evening alone with an Orion? Nope, wait, been there, done that. Um... the... Moon?"

For some reason this made her giggle. Jim turned to look at the woman properly for the first time and surprised himself by realising that she was probably a very nice person in real life.

"You try so hard to sound like an idiot," she said finally, her eyes still shining with laughter. "Don't get me wrong, you succeed with flying colours, but really, Kirk... 'done that?'"

And what was even more surprising... he smiled back at her, and suddenly there was a weird feeling of camaraderie between them and he had to fight the urge to explain that he really hadn't meant the stupid comment at all, and that he'd known an Orion who'd died and he felt terrible for how he'd treated her.

"All of this isn't because I..." 'rejected' had too many syllables, and despite his mostly even clarity of mind Jim was really starting to feel the numbness in his tongue. Didn't stop him from motioning to the bartender to top off his drink. "...spurned your advances, is it?"

"Spurned...? Wait, my advances...?" She seemed torn between laughing again and being genuinely annoyed. "I asked you for one dance, if I recall correctly. Are you..? You're kidding, right?"

"Nope. Many women have been unable to handle me saying 'no' to them," he informed her, deadpan. Of course now he was kidding, which thankfully Areel understood.

"You said 'no' often, then?" She asked with a smirk that told Jim she already knew the answer. He chuckled quietly and landed a clumsy arm on her shoulder (good thing too; he had sucky aim when he was drunk, something Uhura could probably atest to).

"You know, if your job wasn't to destroy my career and separate me from my best friend I think I'd quite like you," he informed her philosophically.

At this, however, the playfulness in the young woman's eyes left and Areel's head dropped with a sigh. "Look, it's really nothing personal, you know. I could care less about..." she started to smirk again. "...I mean, that you thought that because you wouldn't dance with me once it would turn me into this vengeful scorned woman—"

"Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned by James Kirk in favour of his First Officer," Jim said wisely.

Areel raised a brow in a horribly bad impression of Spock.

"That a confession, Kirk?"

"No way. Plus I'm pretty sure that batting your lashes at me and using your feminine charms doesn't count, no matter how hot you are."

The hand that was still resting on her shoulder was then gingerly removed with an eye-roll (in Jim's defense he'd honestly forgotten it was there).

"Flattery will get you nowhere," Areel warned.

"Oh it's not flattery. I do it too, and it works, like, ninety-eight point six two four three percent of the time."

She laughed again. "Has anyone ever told you you're incredibly conceited?"

"I am realistically aware of my effect on people," Jim corrected, and downed another gulp that burned his throat.

"Very aware, I can see." She smiled and pretended to narrow her eyes and size him up. "You're pretty, Kirk, but you're not that pretty."

A challenge! Let it not be said that the Captain of the Enterprise would ignore (look for, deliberately provoke, often imagine it had been issued) a challenge.

Jim slid off his stool and steadied himself against the bar. Then he slowly turned to Areel to give her his best piercing gaze. Now Jim did not know this per se but the look that came so naturally to him was a lethal combination of 'I'm bored but my big blue eyes are eating you up from under my lashes' and 'You want to jump me right now and I know it. I'm okay with it, too.'

"Sure I am," he murmured in his deepest, raspiest voice.

Areel rolled her eyes again but her cheeks were unmistakeably flushed. "Oh, fine. You win."

"Thank you," Jim acknowledged with a satisfied nod, and then proceeded to try to get back on said bar-stool battling gravity at the same time. His legs definitely felt a little unsteady.

"So listen, we probably won't get another chance to talk like this..." she began hesitantly.

Jim frowned, knowing it was true, and motioned for her to continue.

"And for what it's worth, I'd just like to say..." Areel stuck out her hand. "Good luck."

He shook it. "Thanks. I... know it's not your fault. S'not fair of me to blame you for what's going on."

She patted his broad shoulder and shrugged. "Hey, so you're having a bit of a transference thing going on. I get it. If it had happened to me I'd probably be passed out on the floor by now."

"Liar." Jim pointed a mock accusatory finger at her. "You're one of those people who stay sober the entire night and take note of everything that happens so that they can torture their friends the next morning."

More laughter. "Seriously, it's a real pity we can't be friends."

"Yeah, it is."

"Well... bye."

With a sad smile she waved at him and started to walk away.

"I'm sorry," he called out.

"It's... forget about it."

Jim nodded and decided he had already bypassed the pleasant buzz stage a while back; he might as well keep going. It would have all been so much easier if Areel had been a horrible, stuck-up excuse for a living being that he could hate on sight. Instead she was pretty funny, definitely very smart and probably a goody-two-shoes who took impossible-seeming cases to fight the system without caring what they'd do to her reputation. Which made her reckless, too. Although, Jim reflected morbidly, if she won (and there was a chance she would, of course there was), she'd become the most famous prosecutor in the Federation. And that meant she was ambitious, or at least very brave.

She kind of reminded him of himself, actually; a politer, neater, female version. Maybe with less gaping quantities of stupid. Areel wasn't attracted to her best friend who she definitely wasn't allowed to be attracted to, for sure.

Nope, that was aaaaaall Jim.

"Well, well. What have we here?"

Jim blinked owlishly at the woman who'd just perched herself on the barstool next to his in an agile little leap.

"Mara?"

"Princess Kali of Cybelon II, actually."

She was wearing a short black skirt and a tight blue tank top, like a weirdly sexy version of the science uniform.

"You're not funny," he grumbled, motioning to the bartender again. He was definitely getting drunk now. Or, uh, drunk-er.

"Sure I am," Mara said lightly. "You're not funny."

"What do you want?"

She put a hand over her mouth. "Why, Captain Kirk... what are you offering?"

Jim felt his headache spike sharply at the thought of her using that same coquettish tone with Spock. And then he had to remind himself that that was a stupid, stupid notion because he had no right to be concerned or protective or whatever the fuck it was that made his stomach churn with anger at the thought of a woman (any woman, any person) trying to get close to his First Officer that way.

The next drink went down in one.

"Aw come on, Kirk. What ever have I done to you?" She moved in a little closer, a daring look in her eye. "Besides keep your Spock a little longer than I should have?"

He ground his teeth and fought the impulse to lash out with everything he had; Mara was nowhere near as mean as she seemed because she didn't know about his awful, awful twisted desire to grab Spock by his perfectly-cut hair and--

"Seriously Mara. I'd just rather be alone right now."

"Nah, I don't think you would." This time she genuinely looked kind. "And I don't either, so how's about we keep each other company, yeah?"

Jim sighed tiredly. "Mara..."

"Look, I was never really gonna try and fuck your imaginary boyfriend."

The indignant splutter and consequent coughing fit were cut off by Mara's authoritative tone.

"And spare me your little excuses. I mean, you say you're not together? Fine, whatever, but don't tell me you're not dying for a piece of that ass because that is just some unrealistic bullshit right there—"

"Shut up!" Jim whispered frantically. "Shut up, it's not..." And then he had an idea. "Okay, fine, who isn't dying for a piece of that... who wouldn't? But please be quiet."

For added effect he looked around him, but not many people were within earshot and those who were didn't seem to be paying any attention to the pair.

"So you admit it then?" Mara said with wide eyes.

Jim shrugged nonchalantly and thought that the level of caution required for this conversation was way too high given the amount of alcohol he'd imbibed. "Sure. But it's not like that. He's a friend first."

"Oh." She was clearly still suspicious, but Jim hoped she'd end up buying it. "I understand."

"Still wanna commiserate together, then?" he asked, lowering his voice to an intimate invitation without even knowing what he was saying. Then he realized his hand was brushing her thigh. Oh well, he'd decided it would do him some good to fool around with someone, right? The fact that he felt like curling up in shame for doing this was irrelevant. No one would care if he slept with Mara. No one.

Certainly not Spock, anyway.

Mara cocked her head to the side and looked at him with a calculating gleam in her eye, as though this was a game and she was deciding whether or not to play.

"... Yeah, all right," she said finally, with the tone of a girl who knew exactly what his intentions were.

Some time (and a few more drinks) later they left the bar, but Mara was still wearing the same, strange expression of amused incredulity. When she took his hand and keyed open a room that turned out to be a storage closet Jim tugged her arm and kissed her, sinking a hand into her jet-black hair.

A moment later she pulled away to whisper; "Who do you think about when you do that?"

Jim was immediately stunned into stillness.

"... Did I say something wrong?"

"You love messing with my head, don't you?" he accused, knowing his voice sounded slurred.

"Yes," Mara said. "Because you're so dumb."

"You're mean."

"Maybe. Or just very perceptive."

"M'money's on both," Jim mumbled, angry. He felt awful, really, like this was a betrayal or something. But a betrayal of who? Spock. Wouldn't. Care.

Dammit. Then why did Jim?

She kissed him again, standing on tip-toe to twine her fingers in his hair and yank him down, and Jim tried to forget, he honestly tried as best as he could to just let go... he used to be so good at this sort of stuff.

It was probably a bad thing, and he shouldn't be wishing he could somehow get that ability back.

She gave a little moan as he kissed her neck without much finesse. "Kirk..."

"Jim," he snapped almost immediately. "Say 'Jim'."

"Jim..."

But she said it wrong; it didn't sound like a precious gift when the word escaped Mara's lips, it didn't sound special at all.

He pressed his body against hers until she was backed up against the shelves, feeling off-balance and clumsy and almost sure that the room was spinning on purpose (...wait).

"So if I were to slip my hand between your legs...?" he heard himself say.

Mara gave a sharp intake of breath, chest heaving. "Well then..." she whispered. "I'd think you're even stupider than you look."

Her eyes locked with his suddenly, unexpectedly, and Jim's confused brain was too slow to react and before he could stop himself he thought: black, darker than Spock's, unless he was angry which was how Jim could tell; because they became intense and piercing and...

"But I'd let you."

He was tempted. Oh, yes, very tempted, and it had been so long... but in the end he couldn't. Wretched misery made him push her away and think 'This is not what I'm like anymore. This was never what I'm really like.'

"No."

Jim shook his head even though it made the floor lurch under his feet.

"I'm sorry... no. I've gotta go."

The worst thing was the look she gave him. No anger, not even frustration. Just pity with a hint of triumph.

She'd won.

"Leave, then."

And so he did.

x

As he walked down the empty corridor Jim extended his arms at either side of him for balance, very scientifically noting how wide the space was here, and very determinedly not thinking about what he'd just done (or not done). Back in the Enterprise they couldn't afford to have hallways like the ones in a Starbase, and yet his ship felt anything but cramped. It felt like home.

If only he could get back to it he was sure this confusing attraction thing would go away and he'd stop thinking about Spock and wanting to do things to him, inappropriate things which were making him crazy and nevertheless felt much more important than breathing right now. Ugh.

So hey, what was the equation for trans-warp beaming again…?

The code to his room proved obstinate and the tactile screen didn't seem to like Jim's uncooperative fingers much, but at least it recognized his prints, which meant he had ten attempts before an intruder alarm rang.

And hey, for once the universe had seen fit to give him a break and Spock was nowhere to be seen, so at least there was tha—

"Jim?"

"Seriously?"

Something flickered in Spock's eyes that was immediately extinguished, and in his current state Jim was unable to catch it and figure out what it meant. Even so, the Vulcan's tense posture suggested weariness.

"My apologies. I heard you having difficulty entering your room and postulated you might benefit from assistance."

"M'sorry Spock. I wasn't... didn't have 'nything to do with you. I always like seeing you. Always. Anytime. All the time. If I could, I'd love to see you..." he clamped a hand over his mouth because that seemed to be the only way to stop.

"You are inebriated," Spock stated, eyebrows coming up in mild surprise. Jim wished there existed a way to activate the trans-warp beaming formula with willpower alone.

"Yes. In case you were wondering; it doesn't help to make you forget things. Or even to put them into perspective. Mostly it sucks. I suck. You should totally leave me here to die outside my room from total suckage. Is that a word? Probably not. I should stop saying 'suck', shouldn't I?"

Spock approached him cautiously with a hint of amusement, which Jim hadn't expected at all. He'd have thought disgust was in order, or at least a hint of distaste.

"You don't suck, you're awesome," he blurted out. Then he bit his lip. "I say this in a way that is not homosexual."

And that was the word with more than four syllables that he could pronounce. Of course it was.

There were theories about using the trans-warp beaming formula in a way that could cause a time-warp if coordinated in a sling-shot effect by circling around a star...

"Imma figure out how to go back in time. You just wait."

Spock's eyebrows rose even higher and he seemed, to Jim's mind, to be fighting the urge to smile.

"I do not doubt that you would succeed, Captain." Yes, it was definitely laughter in those betraying eyes. He took a few steps closer and they were now only a couple of feet apart; not good, not good Jim, not far enough, not if he could see the shadow Spock's eyelashes cast on his cheekbones... "I believe the correct course of action now is to escort you to your bed. Perhaps with a glass of water for hydration."

"Mhmm," Jim said, chewing on the inside of his cheek to prevent another blunder. "I think I can handle the bed part, but if you could help me with my door?"

"What is the code?"

Jim told him, but then realized he'd already tried to open it twice and the machine wouldn't like another set of prints.

"Wait...!"

He tried to grab Spock's hand before it touched the scanner but Spock was faster; jerking his back immediately to prevent them from touching.

Jim cursed himself internally. "Sorry."

Spock waited, clearly expecting an explanation for the apparently sudden urge to hold his hand his Captain had developed.

"Fingerprint recognition?" It ended up sounding something like 'fingrepit rognition?' but Spock got the gist, and typed the other user code first.

Finally the door opened and Jim sighed in both exhaustion and blissful relief.

"I honestly think that I could, at this very moment, kiss you."

"I would ask that you refrained from performing such an action, Captain," Spock answered, sounding somewhat alarmed.

"You might have t—" he cut himself off by biting his lip again, only this time the action was so forceful that a stab of pain sliced through it and he tasted blood. He winced and Spock immediately stepped even closer.

If only he didn't completely lack the willpower to push his First Officer away. Man, Spock was gorgeous when he was worried but trying to hide it... intense eyes fixed on Jim's lips, following the drop of red that he could feel trailing down his chin...

"Ow," Jim said softly, looking up with wide eyes.

This jerked Spock out of his intense...ness? (hey, impaired mental faculties and all that) and he instructed Jim to tilt his head so that Spock could observe the injury. As always, he was careful not to let his fingers come into contact with Jim's skin... or so it seemed until he extended one hand toward Jim's face.

Jim stumbled backwards, the fear of being discovered a roar in his ears. That gesture meant intimacy and transparency and brought back memories he usually shied away from. Memories of the other Spock and of his mind being flung open.

"Sorry, but... I... can't..." he swayed where he stood, or maybe it was the floor that was swaying--either way he was finding it very easy to remember what a terrible thing it would be if Spock caught even a whiff of Jim's emotions right now.

"It was not my intention to touch you, Captain," Spock said blankly.

"Oh. Really? Good, okay."

"Or to read your thoughts. That is never my intention."

"I'm sorry. I know that, it's just that... this is actually not allowed at all, so I'll just leave now." Spock still looked confused and Jim walked backwards into his room (quite a feat, given his coordination levels right now), willing his friend to understand. "It's not... not allowed. It's forid... fobid... forbidden. Don't tell on me, 'kay?"

"Do not tell who? I do not comprehend your reasoning."

Jim tapped the side of his head. "No epic reasoning skills right now, sorry. It's probably just the brain being stupid. I'll explain tomorrow?"

One fist clenched and unclenched quickly, then Spock nodded. "Very well. I shall await your explanation."

Wonderful. He was really going to hate himself for this in the morning.

The door started to hiss shut but Jim waved an arm forward so that the sensor in the side wouldn't let it close. They sort of stared at each other in silence for a moment, and Jim wondered why he'd done that. This would have been a good point to just call it a night and say boodbye.

In the awkward silence Spock's gaze dropped to Jim's probably swelling, bloodied lip and he breathed in and out once, deeply.

And then he stepped inside.

"Wh-what are you doing?" Jim stammered.

"Our rooms are adjoining," Spock replied, because that just made perfect sense, didn't it?

Oh wait, 'course it did.

"But... but..."

"You may lie on the bed." Now, Jim may be drunk, but he knew an order hidden as a suggestion when he heard one.

"You're not gonna undress me or anything, are y—ow!"

He'd bitten his lip yet again. Spock ignored him, walked up to the replicator built into the wall and started giving it instructions.

Jim slumped on the bed and stared at his First Officer moving around his room. He was still in uniform, even though it was late and he should have been sleeping. His movements didn't denote a hint of weariness, of course, but there was a suggestion of something contained and measured. A sort of... care, as though he had to keep something meticulously guarded.

Something Jim wanted. Badly.

A few seconds later, the Vulcan advanced toward him with a couple of fluffy white bandages and some disinfectant solution. No fancy hypos for personal quarters, but hey, Spock cleaning his lip by hand was...

A potentially deadly situation.

"No!" Jim sat up, wiping his mouth hastily with an open palm. His hand was smeared red and he cursed, colourfully.

Spock had paused in his steps and was probably wondering what the fuck his Captain had drunk. Jim looked up at him sheepishly. "Um... I'll visit the Sickbay first thing tomorrow? Promise."

"I do not much care for your promises when they are related to the Hospital Bay, Jim," Spock said, sitting down on the floor in a fluid movement and dabbing the fluffy white compress with the liquid.

Jim snatched it from his hand before it came near him. Their fingers brushed and Spock's jaw clenched tightly.

"I must admit I had not anticipated your stubborn nature to remain so firm in this state."

Obviously the only logical thing for Jim to reply was: "You've thought about what I would be like as a drunk?"

Spock very nearly rolled his eyes. Jim mentally high-fived himself; he figured if he drove the man crazy enough, it was bound to happen eventually. He knew he was getting closer all the time.

With a couple of rough wipes his lip went slightly numb and stopped bleeding, which was good, and then Spock tossed the wipes in the appropriate incinerator chute.

"Okay, now I'm taken care of. You can go sleep."

"...Yes."

Spock started to turn away and Jim, without thinking, grabbed the hem of his blue shirt. A little tug and Spock had stopped.

"Promise you'll sleep. I want you to get better."

"In order to get better something must have worsened first."

"Yeah, I know."

For a very long time, Spock was silent.

"...You cannot know my thoughts."

Jim frowned. His head was really starting to hurt and Spock was being all cryptic again. "I don't. I just want you to get better. Honest."

His friend nodded once, almost to himself, then gently pulled his shirt out of Jim's grip. "Good night, Captain."

"Hey, isn't that illogical? For you to wish me a good night's sleep?" Jim said, then yawned hugely.

Spock walked all the way to the door that connected their rooms without answering. He opened it, walked to the other side, and turned to look at Jim. His eyes were cast in shadow but Jim could almost feel the soft fondness emmanating towards him.

In a rather resigned (but finally realistic) sort of way he wondered whether he should just admit defeat once and for all.

"Yes," Spock said, just as the door closed.

Jim rolled over so his face was muffled by his pillow and groaned.

Okay, universe. This round went to you.

Chapter Text

There were so many things that were simultaneously wrong with him the moment he woke up that Jim was unsure as to which one was the most worsest... wait, not a real word, but still just horrible, bad, awful, negative adjectives that could be accurately summed up with 'ugh'.

Or possibly 'ouch'.

He was lying on his bed in the same clothes as the night before. Not exactly smelling of roses. With a painful throbbing lip. Sporting a delightfully agonizing headache. Mouth feeling like he'd tried to eat cotton-candy without the candy part. Dizzy. Hard. Hungover—wait. What was the one before last?

"This isn't happening," he said aloud. Just in case there was any doubt about this not happening at all, he added: "I'm dreaming. A nightmare. This isn't real."

Except that it was happening, of course, and there's only so long you can go on denying reality.

...Oh shit.

"Fuck me," he rasped and scrambled to sit up, remembering with shockingly vivid clarity just how explicit his imagination had decided to take things with Spock tonight, albeit all on its own and with no voluntary participation on his first officer's part whatsoever (or at least none that the real Spock was aware of).

Also, by purely accidental and random coincidence, the phrase he'd just said had been featured rather prominently.

Jim clutched his head and groaned as he let himself fall back onto his pillow. The world lurched unpleasantly but he ignored it.

Why, ceiling? Why Spock? Of all people he could want in the most inappropriate ways... why? He couldn't have picked a worse time, place or person to develop this... weird... crush... thing. What was it about Spock that captivated him so completely? Was it merely the fact that Spock was, in every possible way, something he could never have? Off-limits, out-of-bounds, like a door with a 'Do Not Enter' sign or a button marked 'Do Not Press'... an unreachable, unattainable, tantalizing...

Yeah, thoughts like these weren't really helping. At all.

With determined ferocity, Jim leaped off the bed, stumbled, righted himself by gripping the desk chair, then walked to the bathroom at a more reasonable pace.

His resolve to get over this draw towards his First Officer wasn't faltering... exactly. It was more like... wobbling a little bit, because of the wrench in his Plan A. But it was a temporary wobble, of course. He'd be fine. This was only a setback. A minor one, surely.

The problem was that it had never been quite like this before for him. The feeling was new, and therefore distracting. Jim felt honestly disgusted with himself. Where the hell was his self-control?

He questioned this as he stripped off his shirts in the still dimly lit bathroom, reluctant to open the glaring lights.

There had to be another way of getting Spock out of his head, right? It needed to exist, because Plan A was, admittedly, totally fucked since he didn't really feel like sleeping with anyone (he made a point of ignoring the evidence happily stating that there was at least one person whom he did very much want to sleep with).

As Jim tugged down his briefs he was actually glad that he'd pissed off Commodore Emerett and didn't have a tub. Because a tub would make it harder for him to resist doing something to take care of his current state, something that he knew he really shouldn't want to do in relation to someone under his command.

After instructing the computer of the sonic shower to set the water temperature to "as freezing cold as is possible without me dying or something, please God let this be over soon" Jim grabbed his toothbrush off the shelf under the mirror and smeared it with paste, then jabbed it in his mouth and stepped into the shower.

"Holy mother of--!" He yelped in a rather high-pitched soprano, toothpaste flying and brush clattering to the floor as the ice-cold liquid plastered his hair to his skull and snapped him awake with the indifferent cruelty so characteristic of inanimate things. Goosebumps immediately raised on his skin and he shuddered, but after standing still for a few moments he found he could bear it, and he welcomed the frigidity, which helped with the... rigidity.

Determined to get this over with as quickly as possible, Jim dropped to his knees and blindly searched for the fallen toothbrush, vision blurred by the water dripping into his eyes, until his fingers closed around the thing and he stuck it in his mouth again. Then he stood back up and grabbed the soap.

With efficient speed he scrubbed himself, put three different kinds of product in his hair that he had no idea what they were, and finally rinsed it all off, feeling much better, refreshed, and possibly ready to face fake fluorescent sunlight again.

His thoughts hovered toward the other room but didn't enter it, like a kid pressed against the glass display of a dangerous animal.

That is, not until he'd finished brushing his teeth, when Jim tipped his head back and let water pool in his mouth, then spat it out.

Unfortunately, the liquid looked... familiar.

"Fugh," he swore, brush still in his mouth as a battery of images assaulted him.

Oh yes. A cold shower to clear his thoughts. Sure. What a truly grand idea that had been, Jim. Just step in the shower totally naked and don't think of other things people can do while they're naked... and also by 'people' his brain now automatically leaped to 'Spock!', and wasn't that just fucking convenient.

Safe to say his metabolism didn't give a shit about the fact that he was supposed to be cold and therefore not hard, as heat flooded him and what had been a dwindling issue came back, full force.

Jim felt saliva and more toothpaste dribble down his chin and onto his chest as he considered what to do next. Because the obvious solution was wrong. So, so so wrong. Not to mention completely inappropriate. All in all a very bad idea. Quickly heading toward the reaches of depraved, considering his rank and Spock's rank and the fact that Spock was literally in the next room.

He couldn't help himself.

It was fast and ruthless and he almost didn't let himself enjoy it; not until he was close to release and his imagination got the better of him, conjuring up a picture that shot him right over the edge. Nothing original; just... having Spock there with him.

Panting crazily, Jim thought that on the dictionary next to the entry on 'guilty pleasure' there should be a screen-capture of this moment.

Or, on second thought... hopefully not.

x

So... those had been interesting dreams. Plural.

As he walked to the cafeteria Jim wretchedly concluded that his brain had been working so hard on repressing these thoughts before, that now that they were 'unleashed,' so to speak, it had to make up for lost time. And torture him. With sex. Lots of sex.

Imaginary sex.

With Spock.

He hoped, however, that he was up early enough that he could avoid seeing his First Officer for breakfast and skip the whole 'explanation' he was supposed to give the guy for his crazy behaviour last night... oh God, he hadn't accidentally confessed anything, had he? It was all a bit hazy, but he was pretty sure he hadn't slipped up. Although he did vividly remember biting his lip and Spock coming inside to heal it. So thoughtful and sweet, even when Jim was sure to be acting like a weirdo in Spock's honest eyes...

He was so messed up in the head. He'd jerked off this morning on thoughts of his First Officer, and that was bad, that was bad on a multitude of levels, but the fact that said FO was his friend made everything so much worse. Spock was his friend, his friend who trusted him. How was he supposed to face the guy after this?

"Kirk! Hey, Kirk!" A loud female voice called to him from down the hall.

Jim turned toward it with a sinking feeling. Unfortunately, he soon spotted Mara striding towards him from down the corridor, wearing her science uniform and a ponytail.

"Uh... hey."

For once, she looked slightly abashed. "Hey yourself. Listen, I wanted to say that I'm sorry about last night."

"What?"

"I'm sorry. Don't make me say it again? I suck at this sort of thing."

Jim shrugged and started walking again; she matched his pace. "Then I should probably apologize too because—"

"No, it's fine... I was mean. I do that sometimes, and it wasn't... anyway, we were both really stupid. I hope we can just forget it happened and clear the air. Oh, and don't worry, your secret's safe with me."

Jim stopped outside the door to the mess hall and turned around.

"Enough with the Spock thing, okay? I told you, it's not like that with us. Please don't make something out of..." he trailed away as the lie got stuck in his throat. With every word that came out of his mouth, Mara's eyebrows had risen a little more in disbelief. "All right, fine, I give up. You can imagine whatever you want."

"Thank you," she chirped, and strode inside. Jim rolled his eyes and had no choice but to follow, since he was starving.

He was surprised to find the place was already full of people with only a couple of empty seats. Damn perky early birds, the lot of them.

"So... you wanna sit together?" he asked her. He'd have preferred to eat alone, or at least with one of his crew, but all the officers here were Starbase and none of them looked familiar. Besides, the only free table was for two.

"I'd love that."

Mara turned and smiled at him, for once without that teasing, mocking edge, which was why he returned it with real warmth.

They managed to chat amicably enough while they ate sandwiches (Jim chose not to have pancakes, thank you very much) and Mara seemed to be making a real effort to be nice, which was actually great because Jim's brain probably couldn't handle any more stress today.

Not since the way he'd chosen to relieve it this morning. Ugh, he felt like a dirty old man.

"Oh hey, there's Spock."

She didn't say 'your husband' or your 'your boytoy,' which had to count for something, but Jim still jumped slightly in his seat when he looked up from his plate and took in the sight of his First Officer entering the room.

"Yup, that's him all right," he said without glancing at Mara. Embarrassment crept up his face in what was sure to become a blush unless he stopped it (only he hadn't quite gotten to the point where he could control his blood-flow at will) as Jim remembered this morning again. His mind had leapt to the image of Spock clad in steam, the water sticking his eyelashes together, his eyes vitreous as he let Jim watch him wrap a hand around himself and--

"Kirk?" Mara tapped his arm lightly and smirked once he jolted out of his daydream.

"What?"

Her expression was full of theatric concern. "Sweetie, that's not how you look at people. That's how you look at dessert."

Jim shot her a glare, but she just kept smiling. It was more tentative than he'd expected, though, like she was afraid of really pissing him off. He decided he was okay with having her remain a little on edge for the time being.

"Seriously, just lather the guy in chocolate and lick it off, will you? Do us all a favour," Mara added when he didn't answer, her little smile growing into a suggestive leer. "And I mean that."

"Oh shut up," he hissed, fighting a (possibly hysterical, by this point) laugh. "He'll hear you."

He waved Spock over and prayed the hastily-shoved lid on his impulses would hold, because the half-Vulcan looked as prim and neat as always, and that made Jim want to muss up his hair.

"Morning," he said when Spock reached them and stood behind Mara's chair. The friendly grin attached to the greeting came very easily to him but then again, it wasn't smiling at Spock that was the problem.

"Good morning, Captain," his First Officer addressed him in return, consequently eyeing Mara, whose amused expression was replaced by hesitation.

"Nice to see you again, Mr Spock."

"Hello," Spock said, towering over her.

An awkward pause followed, during which Spock and Mara stared at each other and Jim mostly tried to figure out what the hell was going on.

"The lab," Mara blurted. "I need to go there." She stood up (leaped up was more like it, actually) from the chair and Spock stepped aside to let her pass. "I'll see you around, Kirk."

Spock sat down in her place without a word and Jim gaped after her quickly retreating form.

"What the hell was that about?" He said, dumbfounded.

Spock looked at him innocently. "I would not presume to know the workings of a Human female's mind."

"Don't worry, no one would presume that, ever."

Their gazes held for a moment before Jim grabbed his sandwich and shoved it in his mouth in a way that probably wasn't incredibly attractive (but this was a good thing). Spock's stare drifted down to where a drop of mustard had fallen on Jim's shirt, then slowly went back up, as though studying him.

"Whu?"

"You exhibit no outward signs of discomfort."

"M'fn."

"Perhaps attempting to speak after you have swallowed is more prudent."

Jim fought the urge to cough at that and was finally able to vocalize. "I said I'm fine. Bit of a headache but nothing I can't deal with. I... wanted to thank you for last night."

"The desire to thank me is illogical, as you did not allow my assistance. Your lip is swollen and there is some bruising."

Jim frowned and gingerly brushed it with his middle and index fingers. It stung, but it wasn't too bad.

"Still. You were very—" caring, wonderful, amazing "—kind."

Spock did the staring/analyzing thing again, this time concentrated on Jim's hand, still touching his tender lower lip.

"Something you wanted to ask, Spock?"

"Yes." Chocolate-black eyes darted away for a second and back to his. "Yesterday you spoke of something that was... not allowed."

Jim's gut clenched in horror. He couldn't remember exact words but Spock was sure to know them perfectly, commas and all. What had he said...?

"This alleged something was also forbidden. And you asked me not to speak of it to anyone, yet you failed to explain what it was." Oh thank God. "Therefore I inquired as to its nature, and you promised an explanation when your brain stopped... 'being stupid,' I believe was your phrasing."

Right. Yes, he remembered now.

Only how the hell was he going to explain this to Spock?

"Spock... I was drunk."

"I do recall that part of our interaction, Jim," the Vulcan said in a monotone, his eyes still boring into Jim's.

Jim felt a brief smile tug his mouth. Even in the midst of yet another little cozy freak-out, Spock managed to make him feel better, although this time was inadvertent.

"Yes, well, sometimes we Humans say stuff that doesn't make sense. It doesn't have to mean anything."

Spock just kept up his glare and didn't say anything. Usually Jim was awesome at their little staring contests but right now he didn't think looking into Spock's dark, expressive eyes for much longer was a truly inspired idea.

"I'm sorry, but I don't remember," he said finally, casting his gaze down to his shirt and wiping the drop of mustard with his index finger. At least it was sort of the truth, if you looked at it sideways with very narrowed eyes. "You know how you keep saying I'm illogical all the time?"

"Yes."

Jim licked the mustard off and gave a little appreciative hum. "I miss this stuff when we're on the ship. We should reprogram the replicators to make some."

"My point precisely. You were saying?"

"Well, alcohol makes us illogical times a million."

Jim found himself wondering whether his lip looked really bad, because Spock was staring at his mouth very intently. So intently it was almost unnerving.

He sucked his finger one last time and gave a half-shrug.

"So you should just chalk it up to 'Weird Stuff Humans Do That I Don't Understand (And Am Secretly Glad)' and forget it. Please?"

"... Very well."

Spock's lower lip jutted out a little bit, like a tiny pout, and Jim internally whimpered.

"So hey, what do Vulcan newsfeeds read like?"

That got him an incredulous expression, no doubt because of the sudden (and not very subtle) change of topic.

"What? I'm curious, sue me."

"I believe you are already 'being sued.'"

Jim burst out laughing. Spock's mouth twitched at the corners, which meant Jim was forgiven.

"That I am, and you are too, so shove it. Are there any gossip columns? Oh, oh, what about paparazzi? That would be so weird—"

"Vulcan newsfeeds differ greatly from any you might be familiar with, Jim. They state information in a manner that lacks the... embellishments other humanoid species tend to add to create a more entertaining feature. They provide detail that is solely rooted in fact, and do not indulge in speculation."

"So more like academic articles, then?" Jim said, taking another huge bite of his sandwich.

"The comparison is undoubtedly more accurate, yes."

"Oh. Then I'm pretty sure I've read and referenced a few of them for my dissertation. I just figured they were scientific articles."

Spock's eyebrow twitched. "That is because they are scientific articles."

Jim chuckled. "Right. Still—"

"Well if it isn't Mr and Mrs Spock!"

Dammit.

Heads turned toward them from all over them room. Spock's eyes shot to the door Jim had his back to and Jim looked around for the source of the disturbance, already knowing who it was.

Just when he'd managed to forget the idiot was even in the same Starbase, Ben Finney marched up to the side of their table and planted his feet right next to them.

"Morning, Jimmy," he said. Clearly the guy was in a good mood, and this did not bode well.

Jim looked up at him with his sweetest smile. "Fuck off, Ben."

"Never. You'd get bored."

"Believe me, I wouldn't."

"Aw, are we out of witty comebacks for the day?" Ben frowned in mock-concern.

Jim shrugged. "My imagination must be fading. Kind of like your hairline."

"Hmm, a bit forced, but I'll give you points for effort."

Spock was silent but he surveyed the scene darkly.

"Well." Jim clapped and pushed his chair back. "If the sight of you wasn't enough to turn my stomach, we're late now anyway. Bye."

They both stood to leave but Ben grabbed Jim's elbow before he could take more than a couple of steps.

"Five days left before the trial, right?"

"How attached are you to your nose?" Finney's grip loosened and Jim jerked his arm away. "That's better."

They were still pretty close and Ben frowned when he caught sight of Jim's mouth. "The hell happened to your lip?"

"None of your business. Seriously, Ben, you need to get over me."

The taller man's expression went from curiosity to anger with disturbing speed. "Stop saying that. I hate you."

Jim flinched and stepped back. The guy might be acting like a jerk but... they used to be friends.

Suddenly a warm, firm hand closed around his forearm, just above the wrist.

"It might not be advisable to get involved in an altercation at this time, Jim," Spock murmured, although his eyes were pitch-black and fixed on the other science officer, spitting undiluted 'back off' vibes.

Almost like it was Spock having trouble not hitting Ben, instead of Jim. Which would be bizarre.

With one last look at the man he thought he used to know, Jim walked away, a certain half-Vulcan still attached to his arm.

The door opened and closed behind them, and they started walking along the corridor at a leisurely pace, since they were, in fact, rather early for Moss' office.

"I wasn't going to."

"Excuse me?"

He extracted his wrist from Spock's hold with a bit more irritation than he usually reserved for his First Officer. Spock stared down at their hands as though he'd only just realised what he'd been doing.

"I wasn't going to punch Ben," Jim explained, slightly offended that Spock would think he'd actually punch someone in the middle of a crowded cafeteria five days before the trial. "You didn't need to hold me back or anything."

Spock seemed a bit surprised at that, and he regarded Jim carefully. "You did not wish to cause him bodily harm?"

Jim gave a grim chuckle. "Well, that's a whole different matter. But I wasn't going to act on it. Don't tell me you didn't wanna sock the guy," He added with a sharp look, hoping to make Spock reveal something. "Not even a little bit?"

But Spock's face was blank as he replied. "The thought occurred to me briefly. He is a most unpleasant individual."

"Tell me about it."

"He professed to 'hate' you. I cannot understand that."

Jim sighed at the memory. Did Ben truly despise him enough to want to ruin his career and his relationship with Spock, all on one go? He could wrap his head around the fact that someone he'd unintentionally pissed off in the Admiralty had nudged someone else who'd then felt forced to report their situation, but he could still remember trying to get Ben to understand warp-core mechanics and failing hilariously.

Admittedly, Jim was doing great on the whole 'ruining his and Spock's friendship' all by his lonesome, but still. In a sneaky, creeping sort of way that had caught Jim completely off-guard a few months ago when someone had pointed a gun at Spock, it was one of the most important relationships in his life, and he couldn't stand the thought of Ben being among the people who wanted to take that away from him.

"So you admit you wouldn't have minded introducing him to your fist?" he prodded, shaking away the heavy thoughts.

"Violence is not in my nature," Spock replied primly. Jim thought this was a bit hypocritical of him, and said so.

Spock swallowed. "I always endeavor to avoid it. I... am not always successful."

"Hey, I didn't mean it like that," Jim backtracked with haste, regretting it instantly. "It's okay, I totally deserved it for what I said. Even if I didn't mean it. And I'm very sorry."

"We have spoken of this incident in length before, you should stop concerning yourself with what was said." The Vulcan's tone was almost stern.

"When you stop worrying about what was done," Jim replied lightly, having none of that.

Spock eyed him silently for a moment, then gave a brief nod. "Mr Finney's attitude seems most illogical, even for a Human. Is he perhaps inebriated as well?"

It was Jim's turn to note a rather abrupt shift of topic, but he just smiled softly and chose not to comment on it.

"It's actually pretty simple. He's bitter, and his career isn't going great and he used to like me, so now he hates my guts."

"... Fascinating. What is it like to be so governed by your emotions? Entirely susceptible to—"

"Let me just stop you right there before we get into another 'Humans really aren't that bad or crazy' discussion," Jim said with a laugh, holding his hands up. "Agree to disagree?"

"Very well. Yet I am still unable to grasp the concept. It does not seem even remotely logical, and I have seen Humans utilize logic on occasion."

Spock seemed truly absorbed with this train of thought, as though the simple idea was one of his exciting alien plants or something.

It was kind of making Jim want to lick him a lot.

"Come on, the concept of hate isn't that difficult to understand. I'm pretty sure it wasn't adoration that you felt for me the first time we met."

Spock would have scoffed at that if he wasn't so repressed, Jim was sure of it. As it was, he settled for a slightly exasperated look.

"It is not the general idea of hate that is incomprehensible to me."

Jim frowned. "Okay, now I'm confused. Then what's so hard to understand?"

But Spock went all distant as he pondered Jim's question, and didn't seem about to offer an immediate response.

Jim waited impatiently for a while as they walked until finally Spock gave one firm shake of his head and said; "It is irrelevant."

"Wha—? Is this payback for before?"

The Vulcan exhaled sharply through his nose and increased his pace. "No."

And that was all the answer Jim got.

Despite being pretty brilliant at warp-core mechanics, it never occurred to him that what Spock had trouble understanding was how someone could do anything but love James Kirk, even if it was against their will.

x

"I'd like to call Lieutenant Nyota Uhura to the stand."

Jim raised his eyebrows at the lawyer's comment. "You want her to be a witness? To what?"

Moss stood from his desk chair and turned to the shelves behind it; Jim could already see the black-cased Veritas device waiting patiently to be used.

"Well, she and Commander Spock maintained an official, disclosed relationship for quite some time. I think it's important she get her say."

Spock nodded like he understood and Jim suddenly remembered seeing them kiss over the past few months, which was a surprisingly small number of times but still managed to make a bitter taste flood his mouth.

"Okay. Cool, I can tell her to come by tomorrow."

"That's actually my job," Moss said. "Don't worry. I just wanted you both to be aware of it. I trust there are no objections on your part either, Mr Spock?"

"No."

"Excellent. Well, we've made plenty of progress and we've worked well, and there are only four more days left. Obviously we need to keep this up, but I would also like to speak to Dr McCoy. You said you're good friends, Captain Kirk, is that correct?"

"Yeah, we are." Jim tried to picture Bones in formal clothing being interviewed for the defense and not being allowed to swear even a little. He'd done it before for official records stuff but it would still be an awesome sight... and then Jim remembered the last conversation they'd had.

And suddenly that thought wasn't funny at all.

"I... that might not be a great idea."

Moss's sharp stare cut right through him.

"Oh? And why is that?"

Jim sat up a little straighter and met the look with a stony one of his own. "Bones sucks at this sort of thing. He's not exactly a people person."

"I thought he was your Chief Medical Officer."

"Believe me, it's a mystery to us all."

While his face betrayed nothing (take that, Spock!) Jim's mind was reeling. Suddenly he wondered whether he should have told Moss about his little shift of perspective since they'd last used the Veritas to test his answers.

"Still, I think it's important that the doctor speak as well."

Maybe he could wait it out a little though, see if he couldn't try and deal with it on his own before rushing off to get help. Moss would probably have an aneurysm if he knew some of the thoughts that had gone through Jim's mind today, poor fellow.

"Kirk?"

"Yeah. It's fine by me."

"Mr Spock? Any thoughts?"

Jim turned to Spock, still practicing his Vulcan face. Much to his frustration, however, the second their eyes met he felt a little grin tug at his mouth and was powerless to resist.

"Spock loves Bones," he said. "Don't you, Spock?"

Disdain was another emotion Spock pulled off effortlessly. Jim rolled his eyes, grin still in place.

"Stating a few facts is hardly a challenge, I am certain even Dr McCoy can handle it."

"See what I mean?"

"All right, all right, then I'll ask him to meet me here tomorrow as well. Is there anyone else you feel could help state your case?"

They were both silent for a moment.

"What about Sulu? He's the pilot, and also a good friend of mine."

Spock voiced his agreement and Moss toke note.

Chekov might be seen as too young by Commodore Emerett who, being the highest ranking officer, was acting as judge. Even though this was a military court martial and that title didn't give him absolute authority, he was a well-respected figure, and he would mediate the trial. Also, among the jury would be a panel of veterans and enlisted persons that didn't need to be reminded of how new to all of this some of the crew of the Enterprise was.

Scotty was... Scotty, but Jim trusted him probably more than anyone, so he mentioned him to Moss as well. Time passed quickly after that as all these testimonies were debated, until they decided on a small group that included Uhura, Bones, Sulu, Scotty, Chief of Security Giotto, one of the Yeoman who interacted with Jim more often called Rand, and Nurse Chapel. They might not all end up appearing, that depended ultimately on the lawyer, of course, but it was a good start.

"Oh, before we leave I forgot to mention; I met a reporter yesterday."

"You what?"

Moss's eyes bulged and for a second Jim and Spock had practically identical reactions of surprise.

"How is that even possible? I thought the closest they'd be getting here was in a couple of days! What did you say?"

"Nothing! I didn't say anything, I promise," Jim said quickly.

"Figures they'd want to catch us unawares, of course, damn them..." Moss muttered.

Jim shrugged. "I guess. He was really nice, though. And didn't seem upset about me saying 'no' to the interview," he added.

Moss looked a bit mollified. "Still, I'm glad you did, Kirk." He turned to adress Spock as well. "No interviews, I'm afraid, gentlemen. At least not yet. I might consider something once this has started, but first I need to gauge the jury's reaction, before worrying about the public's."

"Sounds good to me."

Spock stood to leave. "I concur. And, since it appears necessary, I shall endeavor to keep the journalist away from the Captain."

"You what?"

Moss chuckled. "I didn't mean avoid them at all costs, Mr Spock, that's probably going to be impossible—"

"I shall do my best. He is not to be trusted."

"Me or the other Vulcan?" Jim said dryly.

"The journalist is Vulcan?" Moss asked curiously.

"He is not to be trusted," Spock repeated, his jaw was a hard line of determination. "It is inconvenient for many reasons that you interact, Captain. He is a touch telepath, you are a tactile being."

Jim was about to object to the qualification, but then he just decided not to.

"If his objective here is to seek information, it is likely his mental barriers are not as strict as mine, regardless of his levels of emotional control. Furthermore, if he does taste your mind it is entirely possible that he may find it desirable."

Well that was a weird direction for the speech to take.

"Come again?"

"Do not trouble yourself, Jim, my constant presence will ensure he does not attempt anything inappropriate," Spock said reassuredly.

"But... what...?"

"You would be powerless to save yourself if he did; your mind is strong and dynamic for a Human's, but not strong enough to battle his."

"But—"

"Do not underestimate him because he is Vulcan. Do not attribute qualities such as kindness to him; you have an intriguing mental makeup and curiosity is powerful."

"But—"

"In the probable event that he is susceptible to your charms, then I assure you I will take it upon myself to—"

"Spock," Jim interrupted loudly. It worked; Spock stopped talking, perhaps instinctively responding to the authority that had crept into Jim's shout.

Then again, perhaps not.

"Okay, first of all, I can take care of myself and I don't need you taking it upon yourself to protect my mind. Although I'm flattered you'd offer."

Maybe a bit too flattered. So flattered, in fact, that he was fighting the undeniable desire to punch the air in joy, but Spock didn't need to know that.

"Second; it sounded like you just suggested I'd inadvertently seduce this guy with my awesome thoughts. That's... I mean, I'll take it as a compliment because I know you mean well but that's one of the dumbest things I've ever heard you say. And FYI if I'm seducing someone, the first person to know will be--well, actually it will probably be whoever I'm seducing, but the second one will definitely be me. So no worries on that front, either.

"And third; you don't even know the guy's name, what makes you think he'd make the sudden leap from curious reporter to... whatever it is that you're implying? I'll be fine. He's not interested in me like that, anyway."

For some reason it was this last part that made Spock's eyes flash in irritation for a moment. "Have you already made inquiries? On your first meeting?"

"What? No. Of course not. I don't go around propositioning every person I come across, you know."

Spock's left hand clenched. "In that case you cannot know that he does not harbor disagreeable intentions—"

"I'm pretty sure I could tell. I'm not that dense." Okay, he was starting to get really annoyed.

"Your logic is flawed."

"Your logic is flawed."

"You are both crazy and I want you out of my office."

They turned as one to see Moss, sitting in his chair wearily.

"Sorry," Jim said, but his eyes were still glued to Spock and it was only now that he understood why.

The Vulcan's stance was taut and there was that feeling around him again, of a coiled spring, of holding back, of clutching control to his chest by gripping it with the last vestiges of rationality... anger looks too good on him, Jim realized.

He also realized that it wasn't annoyance suddenly making it a little harder to breathe.

Those eyes were completely focused on him, making Jim the sole receiver of every bit of Spock's considerable attention. It was a heady feeling. One he'd felt before, certainly, but he'd never stopped to truly appreciate how intoxicating it could become.

It took every bit of his resolve for Jim to look away, wave a distracted good-bye at Moss and walk out. Spock's even steps followed right behind him.

They were silent only for a moment.

"Fine. I'll be the first to admit that, telepathy-wise, I'm not exactly an expert," Jim conceded. "So it makes sense for you to make sure the guy doesn't try and quote my thoughts or something. I'm sorry."

Spock gave one stiff nod, apparently satisfied, and thinking the conversation over.

Yeah right.

"But this is like, the millionth time you've insulted me. I don't care that it's indirect and I haven't forgotten that we come from different cultures, but that doesn't make it okay for you to imply that there's something wrong with the way I handle my sexual relationships."

This actually got Spock to stop walking. Jim turned to him, hoping the hurt didn't show in his eyes (he knew it wasn't the most unreasonable claim ever, but still).

"My apologies," Spock said sincerely. "It was not my intention."

"Sure it was."

"It was not a logical accusation. There is no evidence, merely inference and implications."

Well, he'd gotten Spock to admit to saying something illogical. That was definitely a point to Jim.

"Fair enough, as long as you remember that even if it was all true, that wouldn't make me a bad person. There's nothing wrong with sleeping around, Spock; I'm not asking you to participate in any way and I'm not hurting anybody. I respect your choice not to do it, you need to respect mine."

"This is about you being in danger, Jim. I have never wished to imply I attribute negative connotations to an attitude that simply differs from my own."

"Then you need to stop it with the over-protective... oh."

As he was saying it hit him: Spock was being over-protective. Spock... half-Vulcan, science officer, lover of plants extraordinaire and master of logic above all, was worried about him, James Kirk. You had to care about someone in order to worry about them, right? Spock just wanted to keep him from getting hurt because he cared about Jim's relationships.

"So really all of this is your way of showing your epic and undying affection, isn't it?"

Spock actually stepped away from him, like he was contagious. Jim just laughed.

"Oh come on, admit it! You're looking out for me now that there's another Vulcan in town, aren't you?"

"I... I am unfamiliar with the metaphor of 'looking out'..."

"You know I'll always love you best, right?"

By this point Spock gave up and started walking again. Jim followed at a happy trot.

"You're the cutest thing ever, you are." As long as he said it jokingly, he figured he was allowed to speak his mind.

"I would ask that you do not refer to me as... in that way."

"What? Are you not even allowed to say it if you're quoting me?"

Spock pursed his lips. "... 'Cute'," he said in a monotone.

"Aha!"

"Jim, please..."

The more familiar cadence of fond exasperation let Jim know he'd succeeded in putting things back to normal. Mostly.

"Lemme guess, you don't want anyone to know I got you to say 'cute'?"

"Specifically, Dr McCoy..."

"Swear for me," he said quickly. "Just once, and I promise I won't tell him."

Spock's strict upbringing in haughty superiority no doubt made him incapable of swearing, or maybe he just didn't like doing what Jim told him to do all the time, but either way Jim managed to be glad of this in the end.

For some reason he figured it would probably be hot as hell, therefore a terribly bad idea.

Chapter Text

The last few days passed like a cheesy training montage from those century-old sports films Jim used to love when he was a kid. You know, the ones about a team of outcasts and misunderstood heroes that managed to beat the odds and win at the very last second of the very end (also the cartoon one with the Chinese warrior-girl, because that song was badass).

The routine they'd developed quickly settled, as they spent most of their day in the lawyer's office practicing, testing Jim's answers with the Veritas device, rehearsing and discussing tactics. Jim was still uneasy about the whole "get out of my dreams Spock, I mean it; except for how I don't" situation, specifically the bit where he kept quiet about it and didn't consult anybody... but so far his testimony seemed consistent. He still knew to be speaking the truth when he said he absolutely wasn't emotionally compromised by Spock.

He figured no one was going to ask: "So have you lately been having a series of pathetically addictive dreams that involve sleeping with your First Officer in increasingly imaginative positions?"

It seemed a tad unlikely.

Meals were usually eaten in one of the mess halls with some of the crew. Much to Jim's outer exasperation and well-hidden inner amusement, Spock had taken to sitting next to him in a silently watchful sort of way. Although Stavok wasn't mentioned again by either of them, Jim suspected that every once in a while Spock would look around the room to try and spot the other Vulcan, who had to yet make an appearance.

There were also Sickbay check-ups for Jim every night with Nurse Chapel; McCoy being too busy to do them himself at this point. All in all, this was probably a good thing, since it meant there was no time to have more conversations about Jim's squishy feelings, or lack thereof (... or not). And at least he knew that Moss had said the doctor would testify, so maybe it was all in Jim's head. Maybe. He usually trusted his instincts, and refused to completely banish the notion in case he was right to be slightly paranoid.

Speaking of which, the reporters started arriving soon after, and Jim tried to train himself into recognizing them in order to perfect his avoidance techniques. Most of the bunch were Human, although he was pretty sure he saw an Orion woman, an Andorian... person, and one particularly ugly Tellarite. All of this meant, of course, that they weren't as polite as Stavok when it came to refusing to speak to them, and despite the fact that no one was ever directly rude, a couple of the Humans shot him annoyed looks that spoke of unflattering camera angles.

Fortunately, Jim didn't possess the ability to look anything less than ruggedly handsome.

The day before the trial, however, something happened that tested this theory, because slack-jawed surprise was not, necessarily, an incredibly attractive expression. But, you see, he got a comm-call from his mother.

Which was... unexpected to say the least, since he'd honest-to-God forgotten to tell her about what was going on. Of course, even she'd have seen it on the nets by now, and wanted (demanded) an explanation. Thankfully, while she did spend the first five minutes fuming at him, Winona never could stay angry at her youngest boy for long; no doubt a coping mechanism developed over time in order for her to survive Jim's... exciting childhood. Rather than actually being offended, she gave him what was mostly a chastising lecture, and to Jim's huge relief, never even asked whether there was anything actually going on with Spock.

Winona Kirk was way smarter than she let people think, and could understand her son's feelings, even through a comm-screen light-years away, better than he could himself.

The problem about a training montage is that it lasts a couple of minutes and then it's over, which means...

Game time.

Or, you know, something that sounded more like what a grown, mature man (whom did not fantasize about his First Officer) would say. Also, the verb 'to score' was from this point onwards banned from Jim's vocabulary. And losing was not an option for them, not even losing valiantly, which apparently could sometimes happen in these movies. Yeah, what was up with that? The whole point of the thing was the journey and overcoming your obstacles and whatnot—

Okay, now he had a headache.

x

Jim paced up and down the corridor, knowing that he was the one who needed to contain his energy this time, or at least his nerves, but finding the experience difficult.

Obviously, whoever designed the regulation black trousers didn't know (it was either that or they knew all too well, those bastards) that Spock's ass was amazing. And was he just supposed to try and concentrate with it right in the same room? What if Spock licked his lips in the middle of a an important question and the lie detector said "Ha!" and Jim's super secret crush was totally found out? What if Jim was caught in a serious lie and they really did lose? What if not telling anyone about his dreams had been a huge mistake he'd later come to regret?

Spock wasn't there yet, it was just Jim, walking outside Moss' office waiting for the lawyer to take them to the courtroom... in his dress shirt; a gold-and-green affair with cuffs and a proper collar and everything. The material felt uncomfortably stretched over his broad shoulders and too tight around his muscled arms; he wished he could have just worn his usual command uniform.

"Calm the fuck down, Jim."

Oh right, McCoy was there too. He was standing with his arms crossed and a frown, looking at his Captain with stern disapproval (so, really just a slight variation of his usual expression, Jim thought spitefully).

"I'm calm," he snapped back.

"Stay still, then!"

"This is me trying."

But he stopped and leaned (well, maybe threw himself) against a wall, the painful bang against the back of his head only serving to remind him of how much he hadn't slept that night.

"You're gonna be fine."

"... I'm not so sure about that."

He grit his teeth and tried to rein his emotions even tighter. It wouldn't do to be seen like this in public, even though the corridor was deserted right now (it was lunch break for most personnel).

McCoy just kept looking at him. "Today is only the opening statements."

"And first testimony. Do you know who the first testimony is, Bones?"

"Yeah—"

"Me. I'm the first testimony. Either I screw up and then there's a ton of witnesses ready to try and fix my blunder or I do well, in which case there's a ton of people ready to go up and say 'See? He's not that bad!'. Obviously Spock is one of the last because his pokerface is epic and he can control his fucking pulse or some shit, I don't even know."

Okay, so he was very bad at trying to be Vulcan. And the amount of swearing was usually a pretty decent indicator of the amount of panic he was feeling.

"Jim."

"Sorry. I'm just... this sucks," he finished lamely. "Uh... Spock should be here by now. Do you think one of the reporters tried to corner him?"

"That sounds unlikely."

"But he doesn't do 'late,' I told you. It's just not possible."

He craned his neck to try and see further down the corridor, but Spock stubbornly refused to appear there in all his quietly intense glory.

"Jim?"

"Mmhm?"

"You're acting like a fifteen-year-old girl again."

"Shit."

McCoy laughed. "Look, Jim, I trust you. I trust that you know what the hell it is that you're doing and I trust that lawyer guy because he seemed smart, so I ain't gonna question your judgment or anything. I even trust Spock in this, which is saying somethin.'" Jim felt the corner of his mouth tug upwards in a half-smile. "You'll get through it, okay?"

"Deep down you're really a decent guy, Bones."

"I know." They both grinned. "And I'll always be here—"

"Means a lot—"

"—to remind you when you're acting like a twelve-year-old."

Jim felt a laugh bubble up in his throat and he mock-punched his friend on the arm.

"Hey, I thought we'd settled on fifteen. Why am I suddenly being demoted three years?"

But McCoy got wicked gleam in his eye and he just said: "Because of this," and waved at someone behind Jim.

"Spock!" he called automatically, heart leaping when he realized it was his favourite Vulcan, looking elegant and composed as always in his silver-blue formal regulation attire. Instead of straining against his shoulders, however, the material looked flatteringly snug on Spock's lithe build, the colours only serving to highlight the darkness of his hair, eyes and eyebrows.

Jim caught himself a second too late and shot a glare at his best friend (only it was more of an 'Oh God Bones what is happening to me?' look than an actual glare).

"Hello, Captain. Dr McCoy."

"Hey, Spock," the doctor said. "Nervous?"

Spock arched a brow in a way that seemed to suggest that he'd been insulted by the question but was trying to be the bigger person here. Jim rolled his eyes.

"No, doctor."

"Of course, how could I ever imagine such a thing—"

"Good evening, gentlemen."

The trio turned to see Mr Moss standing outside his office behind a mountain of datapads, with a look that said he might be secretly amused by what was going on, but was in no way prepared to show it.

When he stepped forward, however, the stack he was carrying teetered dangerously and Jim took pity on the man and stepped forward to help.

"Any inspirational speeches ready, Mr Moss?" he asked as he adjusted the weight of the PADDs in his arms, only partly joking.

"Nope. Just good luck, stick to the plan, and you'll be fine. And please don't screw up."

McCoy snickered under his breath as they all started walking down the corridor.

"Oh, and remember that it's very important that you try and pretend you have that 'responsibility' thing we've been talking about," Moss added with a decent imitation of Spock's monotone deadpan.

Jim pretended to be offended while his alleged best friend shook with laughter.

"Clearly you have not seen Captain Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise, Mr Moss, or you would not be instructing him thus," Spock commented. Jim turned to grace him with his biggest, brightest smile, and then Spock added thoughtfully: "He truly has mastered the art of appearing responsible then."

"Wow. I feel so appreciated right now."

His CMO clapped a hand on his back, nearly causing him to drop the datapads he was carrying. "Aw, come on Jim, this is just our way of being supportive."

"Yeah, it's a real lovefest."

But he knew they needed the humour for now, because in about an hour the last thing any of them would feel like was laughing.

x

The room was huge, and almost exactly like what Jim had come to expect. To have anything made out of wood, as was tradition in the nineteenth century, would be ridiculously expensive and impractical. Here were no enormous wooden podium or endless rows of seats for the public; instead everything was made out of sleek metal furnishings with a plain, efficient design.

There was a raised platform where, presumably, Commodore Emerett would act as judge, and next to it, slightly lower, the dreaded chair Jim would be asked to sit on as soon as opening statements were finished. Next to that were the seats of the jury of the court-martial, made up of a group of officers or other enlisted persons. Even the people who sat as observers to the proceedings had to be related to the case in some way or other; advisors, witnesses... no civilians here.

Moss led them to the desk at the left of the judge's chair. The prosecution was already there; Areel sat on the one to the right with even more datapads than they had, which just seemed impractical at this point.

She met Jim's gaze briefly and nodded, but it was a professional, curt expression, which he returned.

A silver-haired, elegant man in his sixties sat beside her, and standing over them both was another woman, probably around Winona Kirk's age. The three were discussing something in hushed tones, and Jim wondered whether Spock could hear what they were saying. Probably. Well, that's what you got when you underestimated his—the Vulcan.

"I gotta be in the back, Jim," McCoy said quietly. He appeared to be valiantly trying to cover up his frowning concern with something akin to encouragement. It wasn't a pretty sight, but Jim really appreciated the effort.

"Yeah. Wish me luck, Bones."

Feeling like he should maybe give it a try as well, Jim made himself smile; a gesture designed to project outward reassurance without any real heart behind it (not unlike the one he'd already used on his best friend when he thought he was stuck on the ground, waiting for the board to rule on his alleged 'cheating' on the Kobayashi Maru while everyone else faced a dangerous rescue mission).

McCoy was not stupid, though, and had called that expression 'pathetic' since day one. Seeing it this time, he seemed to give up on encouragement and just scowled.

Oh well, Jim knew it was on his behalf.

"Jim. Fuck no-win scenarios, you hear me?"

Resolve flooded Jim in a way that he hadn't felt since leaving the Enterprise to come here. He nodded confidently with a true smile, this time; the feeling surging when he realized that he didn't have to fake his self-assurance at all. He could do this. He would.

"Yeah. You behave now."

"Good man," McCoy said, and with a parting mock-salute left to go sit in the back. Since Uhura, Sulu and Scotty were all testifying, they were probably going to join him there soon. The only reason this place was so empty was that Moss had wanted them to be there a half-hour early.

Jim sat in the chair between Spock and the lawyer and was about to try to start up a conversation with his First Officer when he remembered Moss had said that was a no-no. Not here, at least, so...

So now what?

Minutes passed at a crawling pace.

... This was boring.

Okay, so Jim sucked at waiting. Yes, he could be patient for certain things when he set his mind to it, but this sitting still for a long amount of time anticipating a dreaded event wasn't among his best qualities.

After a while, to distract himself, he began to discreetly observe his two companions. The differences between them were obvious; Moss was reading something from his datapad with curious dedication, clearly absorbed. Despite the fact that he was a mostly serious guy, he was very Human as he concentrated on the task he was doing.

In comparison, Spock was just sitting with his hands in his lap and a blank expression... except that it wasn't blank, was it? There were times when his First Officer deliberately kept his face empty, but there was a difference between that and his neutral, Vulcan expression. Usually he looked just as he did now; like his incredible brain was processing a thousand thoughts at once, and he merely chose not to let you be privy to them.

Rapidly forgetting about Moss's mannerisms when there was something as wonderfully complex as Spock to study, Jim took the opportunity to look at him in detail, being careful to be stealthy so that Spock wouldn't notice.

It was a sight that had become so familiar over the past few months, yet remained utterly... fascinating. That really was the best word to describe how he felt; like he'd never tire of trying to figure out what that amazing intellect was focused on at the moment. Like he'd always want to trick Spock into revealing his thoughts to him.

His gaze trailed down from the tip of Spock's ear to his jawline, and then his chin, his lips... then lazily back up to his cheekbones, and then to his lashes, framing... eyes that were looking sideways into his own.

"... Hey."

"Is there something you wish to discuss, Captain?" His voice was low in the quiet room, a pleasant rumbling that should been innocent enough, and nevertheless managed to make Jim swallow with difficulty.

"Uh, no, I'm fine. We can't talk, anyway."

A flicker of irritation made Spock's eyebrow twitch, as though he was annoyed that he hadn't been the one to point it out, but he nodded and looked away. And there ended the moment.

All right, so the problem was that when Jim had nothing to concentrate on, his over-active brain started choosing random things to concentrate on for him. And that was never a wise idea. Especially right now, when it seemed like every single atom in his body was quite content to remain fixated on Spock.

You know, for a change.

To avoid more awkwardness Jim decided to think about other things... quite a feat given the fact that they were almost touching, but it would be an interesting and potentially very useful exercise. Things happened in the world that weren't somehow related to Spock, right? Well, what had his life been like before that green-blooded man had crashed into it with all that entertainingly suppressed righteous anger, accusing Jim of cheating on a test?

In the end he settled for trying to mentally plan and coordinate the gigantic amount of work he'd have when he got back to his lovely Starship. It was more than effective at keeping his mind occupied, since trying to devise shift-changes and speculate about the next mission they'd be given was complicated enough.

And so minutes passed in silence until the room filled steadily with people. He turned every once in a while to discreetly greet his friends as they arrived, and got a thumbs up from Sulu, an encouraging smile from Uhura and a hearty wave from Scotty, who all sat with McCoy.

Finally, five minutes before 1400 hours, the previously unseen door behind the judge's table hissed open and a group of people filed silently inside. Twelve men and women in formal uniforms, all of them easily above the age of forty, glanced their way, then pretended they hadn't.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen."

Emerett walked in behind them in a straining, extremely unflattering version of the shirt Jim was wearing. While the Captain was busy scanning the crowd of jurors and trying to get a reading, Spock's eyes darted between the two men... before fixing resolutely forward, a spark of self-deprecation in his eyes and the merest hint of a greenish tint at the tips of his ears.

"I ask that all communicators and electronic devices be turned off and, as we all know, no recording equipment save the official log is allowed in this courtroom."

There was a flurry of activity as everyone took out their communicators to ensure this was so, and then the Commodore sat down on the chair and raised what looked like a small metal gavel. His dark eyes swept around the room, stopping when they met Jim's, and then Spock's, before he moved on to Areel.

"This court is now in session."

He clanged the gavel against a bell-like device that frankly sounded a little ridiculous and suddenly this was real, it was happening and Jim had the irrational impulse to hold Spock's hand.

(Because that would look great for their case, of course, and Spock wouldn't fling him across the room if he so much as tried.)

"Captain James T. Kirk and Lieutenant Commander Spock are hereby charged with negligence and wanton misconduct due to their emotional compromise with each other. This court martial has been convened to determine the veracity of said charges and assess the threat these officers pose to themselves and to their crew. A verdict of guilty or not guilty shall be issued by the jury and confirmed by me, Commodore Gregory John Emerett, when all the evidence has been presented by either party."

Jim edged slightly forward in his seat.

"To all charges and specifications, what is the plea?"

Moss stood up. "Not guilty."

Emerett nodded. "Very well. The prosecution may make their opening statement."

Areel rose gracefully from her chair, leaving the PADDs on the table. She didn't look nervous, Jim couldn't help but notice; she looked assured and confident and, above all, like she knew she was one hundred percent in the right.

"Good evening your honour, ladies and gentlemen of the jury." She spoke in a clear, strong voice. "Ten days ago James Kirk and Commander Spock were involved in a mission at the planet Tersal II in Beta Quadrant that ended badly. Mr Spock was captured by the native inhabitants of said planet before a proper investigation on their cultural development could be conducted in keeping with the Prime Directive of non-interference. Unfortunately, the Enterprise had been ordered to leave the planet within a half-hour after this occurred, and there was no time to organize a proper search party, let alone a rescue mission."

Jim bristled at the assumption. She couldn't be the judge of that; he'd put together a rescue team in less time.

"As per protocol, the Enterprise chief communications officer, Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, contacted Starfleet Command to inform them of this development and was told that the orders to leave stood, since they were needed to rendezvous with the Fidelius, another Starship that was experiencing technical difficulties."

Here Areel glanced at him for a moment, eyes full of reproach without a hint of that contrition she'd professed to feel just two days ago. She was an amazing actress, and Jim found himself already struggling to remember the funny, compassionate woman he'd spoken to.

"However, and following a disturbingly familiar pattern, Captain Kirk did not heed those orders. He was already down at the planet, severely injured after trying to save Mr Spock from his fate and, against the express orders from his Chief Medical Officer, refusing to beam back up to the ship until his First Officer was rescued. A brave sentiment, no doubt," she added with just a suggestion of scorn; it was there, but not enough that she could be accused of mocking him. "The landing party had also consisted of four security officers, all of whom were ordered to return to the ship while its Captain and Chief Medical Officer remained on-planet. Undoubtedly Captain Kirk did not wish to risk involving more people in his violation of the rules. Again, most noble."

Moss was scribbling away on his notebook, so fast the words barely intelligible to Jim's eyes.

"But the violation of these rules might have been overlooked had it not been for what happened next. You see, Captain Kirk devised a plan to rescue his... friend." The pause was brief and delicate, not overdone. Jim felt several looks come his way and slumped slightly in his chair with a bored look, while internally cursing in every language he knew. Areel was very good.

"It worked, of course, as we can all clearly see Mr Spock sitting next to Kirk. But it relied entirely on Mr Kirk's strategy, a strategy devised while running to his friend's rescue with a bleeding laceration on his abdomen that required extensive surgery and a week of prescribed bed rest."

Prescribed being the key word, here.

She was really starting to get on his nerves.

"The Fidelius was awaiting Enterprise's assistance and Kirk ignored direct Starfleet orders in order to remain on-planet. In other words, he would not leave without Mr Spock. This is not the first time a similar circumstance has happened. Nor is it the second, or the third. It was, in fact, merely the detonator."

Areel sighed softly in dramatic regret. Jim had to fight the violent urge to throttle something. She made it sound like he wouldn't have ordered the ship to warp out in another ten seconds if they hadn't gotten Spock back in time. They never actively disobeyed orders, she was taking things away from context.

"Once it was concluded that the situation had gotten out of hand, representatives from Starfleet administration brought this to the attention of the Admiralty, who saw reason and convened this court martial. The list of charges alone should be more than enough to condemn either of these two men, despite their more heroic escapades."

Escapades?

"While no one presumes to take any glory away from what they have done, it has become impossible to ignore the obvious. Captain Kirk and Commander Spock are emotionally compromised, and their work suffers for it. Undisclosed fraternizing has not been added to the charges because there is a lack of proof, but at this point whether their relationship is romantic or not seems irrelevant. It appears that every time one or both of these men are involved in a mission, the other will lose his ability for sound reasoning. Captain Kirk might be 'only Human'," she added mock quotation marks in the air with a tone that suggested that wasn't an excuse. "But Mr Spock is Vulcan, and yet even he appears to be incapable of separating emotion from the situation."

Jim sensed Spock stiffen beside him and decided that if she so much as suggested something insulting like this about Spock again, he was going to be really fucking pissed.

"There is a deep, powerful bond here that speaks of something more than brotherly affection. And over the course of this trial you will see the evidence become irrefutable proof that the Admiralty's assessment is correct," Areel finished gravely. "Thank you."

With a lingering look at the twelve jurors and a nod at Emerett, she walked back to her seat.

Emerett turned to Mr Moss, his face inscrutable.

"The defense may now present their opening statement."

Moss stood up with a slight, patronizing half-smile that Jim had seen directed at him plenty of times before. Areel would hate it, he thought with relish, remembering her ranting to her friends in the bar.

When Moss turned to the jury, he rearranged his features into a serious expression again, but Jim knew it was no accident that he'd let them glimpse his apparent entertainment.

"Before I begin I'd just like to point out that the Fidelius' technical difficulties were to do with their replicated dairy products. Of important nutritional value no doubt, but hardly an emergency."

A ripple of amusement went through the room, and Moss paused indulgently.

"Well. As we all know, the two men sitting before us are famous among the united Federation of planets for reasons that have to do with multiple commendations and acts of bravery, which I do not plan on repeating. The early promotion of Captain James Kirk was a much-discussed topic a mere year and a half ago, and in that time he has had to struggle with impossibly high-set standards. He has been forced to live under a media spotlight, too, and to have both personal and professional decisions judged and discussed across the nets at every turn. It is not inspite of those accomplishments that so much is expected of him, it is because of them."

Well, well. Moss hadn't warned them about the fact that he was going to suggest this trial was arranged because of Jim and Spock's fame.

"And yet he has undertaken every task he has been set, and completed nintey-two point three percent of them with flying colours. Those are the real odds, by the way, which I can demonstrate," Moss added with another little smile. Letting them in on the joke. Jim caught at least a couple of people from the jury smiling back.

"That James Kirk is an excellent commanding officer is something any member of his crew will tell you if asked. His record since given the captaincy is spotless, and under his command, the Enterprise has a rate of successfully completed missions that no other Starfleet Captain can boast of. Now, we are not denying that, in the stressful situations our officers go through, some rules must be ignored in order to protect the crew. All of the crew. I'm sure that if every other Captain in the fleet was subjected to the same level of scrutiny Kirk has had to unknowingly endure, we would find a similar pattern."

And again, implying that the circumstances were suspicious. This time in a less subtle manner, too.

Moss walked as though he owned the place, but every once in a while he would look at Commodore Emerett and nod in deference. Jim had to admit he was impressed with the entire performance, but part of him was also a bit embarrassed at all that praise, even if he'd never show it.

"His First Officer Commander Spock is a well-respected, remarkably intelligent individual whose culture prizes itself on logic above all. He is probably one of the very few people in this room (or in any room, in fact) with the ability to remain perfectly calm in the middle of a chaotic situation.

"As a Vulcan, Mr Spock also has the ability to control his emotions so that they do not dominate him."

In a shocking flash the ghost feel of steel slender fingers wrapped around his neck made Jim's next breath lodge in his throat. His pulse racing, he stared firmly ahead and hoped no one noticed the way a slight flush was creeping up his cheeks.

Thank God reporters weren't allowed in here.

"Every decision Mr Spock has made when Captain Kirk was in danger can be explained by logic, and to suggest such a thing as 'emotional compromise' exists between these two exceptional officers is nothing less than an outrage. Young they may be, but they have proven time and time again that they get the job done. Perhaps the means are not always conventional, but the missions never are either."

Perhaps Jim was having a little trouble remembering why he really didn't like Spock right now.

"They are a team, ladies and gentlemen. A well-oiled machine, smart and dedicated to their crew; two friends who are just trying to do their jobs, and happen to rely on each other in the process."

Okay, there was a very important difference between attraction and affection, and he needed to establish it now.

Obviously Jim felt both for Spock, but while the former had sneaked up on him unexpectedly, he could perfectly justify the latter with their friendship. Jim was man enough to admit that he cared for Spock, of course he did. They were more than colleagues, definitely. As for more than friends... well, they were partners, in the sense that they complemented each other. Maybe some people had trouble understanding that (maybe Jim sometimes had trouble understanding that, too), but that didn't mean it had to go any further.

"Things are sometimes a little more complicated than simply looking at a general pool of incomplete facts and saying 'star-crossed love story.'" This last part was definitely said with implied laughing disdain.

Now, Jim might not be a master of emotional subtlety (or just... subtlety in general) but he could tell that if he let his feelings grow he was going to get hurt. And he wasn't masochistic enough to let that happen, right?

"Not to mention the fact that until recently Mr Spock was in a disclosed relationship with a woman."

That actually made a few of the jury members chuckle, but Jim was too absorbed in his own musings to do more than be distantly glad that the word 'bisexual' didn't seem to cross anyone's mind.

He had the suspicion that falling for Spock would be frighteningly easy... truly like letting himself fall, or maybe the more accurate metaphor would be to let himself sink. To let himself drown blissfully instead of thrashing and fighting and struggling to breathe above the surface...

Just... letting go.

"But the, ah, romantic aspects aside, these two men do not deserve to be sanctioned, or even separated. They work well together, something that the mission logs demonstrate perfectly, and they will continue to do so after this has passed."

Yes, it would be easier to sink, but it wouldn't be right. And it wouldn't be fair to Spock either, because if he ever found out he'd be put in a horrible position... oh God, Spock could never know.

"James T. Kirk wishes to defend himself from these charges, your honour, and I would like to call him to the stand."

"Captain Kirk, please rise."

Very well. Now wasn't the time to doubt himself or his emotions. Now was the time to beat this thing. He knew where he stood, and it might not be the most dignified of places but it was there.

Jim walked over to the chair between the jury and the judge and climbed the two steps that led to it.

"Are you aware that your answers will be monitored for accuracy with the Veritas device?" Emerett asked while Jim plopped himself onto the seat.

"Yes, sir." He'd spotted it built into the platform when he'd been looking around the room.

"You may proceed, Miss Shaw."

The prosecution always got first turn, Moss had explained. But this was a good thing.

"Good evening, Mr Kirk," Areel said politely.

"I prefer Captain Kirk, if you don't mind, Miss Shaw," He replied with an equally polite smile. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Moss roll his eyes, but not angrily. The lawyer had said to act professional, but also to be himself, the exact words being: 'I've heard you can be charming when you want to. Get sympathy and respect and we've won this thing.'

Apparently, so far so good.

"Of course, my apologies. Well, Captain Kirk, let's get straight to the point, shall we?"

"Sure."

The question had been rhetorical and Jim knew that. Areel smothered her irritation well, but she was no Spock.

"Is there or has there ever been any sort of romantic involvement between you and Commander Spock?"

"No," Jim rasped, then coughed, his throat suddenly dry. He cleared it discreetly and tried not to grimace.

"Correct," came immediately.

Areel didn't seem surprised. It occurred to Jim right then that if she asked: "Do you wish there was?" he had no answer for her.

Oh God.

"Are you emotionally compromised by Commander Spock?"

"No," Jim repeated.

"Correct."

"Captain Kirk… are you in love with Commander Spock?"

Jim felt his stomach clench uncomfortably, but before he could open his mouth to deny the accusation yet again Moss had stood up.

"Relevance, your honour?"

Emerett didn't reply at once, instead he looked at Areel.

"The question is very relevant," She said immediately. "We are talking about emotional compromise, are we not?"

"Whether this emotion is romantic in nature or not doesn't matter to this court, as you've just said yourself—" Moss replied patiently.

"If these officers have been engaged in a romantic relationship without disclosing it to the appropriate—"

"That is not a formal charge, therefore not up for discussion at this time, and it is in no way related to—"

"Your honour please, I beg for the indulgence of the court, since this question will prove its relevance once answered."

Jim felt light-headed, as though the room had begun to slowly spin. He blinked to try and clear his vision, but—

"Very well. Proceed, Miss Shaw."

"Thank you, your honour." Her voice turned a touch too sweet when she spoke next; "James?"

Jim tried to take a deep breath but only succeeded in feeling an uncomfortable choking sensation.

"Are you in love with Commander Spock?"

His pulse was pounding, he could barely draw air into his lungs… something was terribly wrong.

"I…"

Jim's insides gave a little flip and he felt a sudden bout of nausea. When he tried to breathe again his lungs burned, starved for oxygen.

"Are you in love with Commander Spock?"

The headache was throbbing painfully and there was something… there was something wrong with the air.

Areel coughed quietly. "Mr Kirk?"

"It's Captain," he snapped automatically, and stood up.

"Kirk! Sit down and answer the question," Commodore Emmerett said loudly. But Jim had a very strong feeling of… it was danger, he could almost taste it.

"Captain Kirk!"

He recognised the signs in his body, the automatic tension, the buzzing in his head. He'd come to rely on his ability to spot trouble pretty heavily, since despite ages of advances in technology, gut-feelings were sometimes the only thing a Captain had left.

"There's something wrong with the air."

"You will be held in contempt of the court…!"

"Something's happening."

His eyes met Spock's and his First Officer gave a single nod.

"Captain Kirk is correct."

"What?" Areel looked like she was about to have an aneurysm, Jim thought dispassionately. "James Tiberius Kirk, if you do not answer the question you will be held—"

"Shup up, Miss Shaw." There was no time for niceties. "I think… I think—"

Suddenly there was an odd lurch in the room and Jim was propelled out of the stand, and head first onto the floor.

"Jim!"

Spock flew to his side in an instant. Too fast. Even for Spock.

But Jim was fine, he'd barely felt a bump, and his torso was floating off the floor, weightless.

"Is everyone okay?" He asked the room at large. There were a few nervous nods, but clearly people had begun to notice what was happening, and hands were gripping seats uneasily. Zero gravity wasn't exactly a wonderful soaring sensation or anything; mostly it gave Jim a severe headache and the urge to throw up.

"All right. Nobody panic, I'm pretty sure it's the gravity compensators messing around, and when I say I'm pretty sure I'm sometimes right half the time." He grinned cheekily even as he tried to calculate how bad the damage really was and assess the oxygen concentration in the air. "However, just in case, we should probably—"

"Captain Kirk," Emerett shouted, standing with difficulty and bobbing slightly in the air. "I believe I am the highest-ranking officer in this courtroom."

Answering with an 'Oops' (as was his first instinct) would have really irritated the man, but Jim could tell this really wasn't the time, so he ground his teeth together and said, "My apologies, sir."

He clutched Spock's sleeve and pulled him close; a very easy feat considering all it took was the slight pressure of his flexed arm and the half-Vulcan nearly crashed into him.

"Sorry. Listen Spock, I think we should really make sure the gravity failure is all that's happened. If one of the Main Stabilisers had blown this could be a serious problem. Temperature control takes longer to register."

"That is one possibility." Spock adjusted his grip so that he was clutching Jim's arm by the elbow instead of his wrist, and anchored them to the floor by holding on to the edge of the defense's bolted-down table (Mr Moss was suspended several feet in the air with a sort of resigned exasperation and seemed to be only half-heartedly trying to get back to his chair).

"However it is more likely that the incident on Rec Room F somehow precipitated these events. An inadequate bypass circuit might have caused a general gravity failure."

"Oh, you're right. And I prefer 'bad patch-up job' to 'Main Stabiliser problem.' That could've really fucked stuff up—"

Another jolt rocked the space, drowning out Jim's voice. They would have sailed upwards had Spock not clung to the table and prevented his Captain from hitting the ceiling.

Unfortunately for some of the other inhabitants, there was only one superstrong Vulcan in the room, and a chorus of startled cries and shouts started up again.

"Everyone please remain calm!" Emerett was saying loudly. "Stay at floor-level and keep still, please!"

Jim looked around to check on how Bones and the rest were doing, and to his satisfaction saw that Uhura had the doctor holding on to his chair while Scotty jumped around happily, instructing people to get back down in case gravity returned. Sulu was coming toward them.

"Chief Engineer Roberts has informed that the problem will be fixed soon, so if we just stay in this room there is no need to panic," Emerett said loudly, reading from a PADD and clutching his desk.

No one was actually panicking, though, it was just a rather poorly organised sort of mess.

"… Thanks, by the way," Jim murmured to Spock, gesturing to the large pale hand holding on to him with a rueful grin. He was now drifting horizontally a little above eye-level because Spock's arm was fully extended, probably to keep minimum contact between them.

"You catch me when I fall, you keep me from flying away… what else can you do?"

Spock remained standing on the floor, of course, looking for all the world like the only person who was unaffected by such mundane things as gravity.

"I can hardly keep you from flying away, Captain, for my metabolism is accustomed to a higher gravity than this one and I am therefore more likely to float."

He laughed. "Right. But you're stronger, so you get to look cool and—"

"Captain!"

Sulu whizzed past them and crashed into the judge's platform, then pushed himself off more carefully until he was more of less vertical, like Spock (Jim still hovering a few feet above them by Spock's arm).

"These guys have all had zero-grav training?" Was the first thing the pilot asked with a grin.

"In theory, yeah."

It seemed clear that most of the officers here were of the theoretical and academic branches, however, and unused to these situations. Areel, for example, was trying to gather all her datapads, which had floated upwards and kept hitting people on the head. The only people regarding the entire mess with some entertainment were most of the members of the jury, who had all managed to remain in their seats. A couple of them were looking Jim's way, actually, but he didn't have it in him to start worrying about what they'd think if they saw Spock tethering him down.

Sulu's smirk turned serious. "We should contact Main ourselves. Get Scotty up there to work these issues out. Their design is really bad."

Jim sighed, the action causing his throat to feel dry again. "I know." He coughed. "But until someone tells us whether this is happening everywhere or just on our Deck…"

"Chief Roberts here, folks. General gravity will be restored to Deck 16 in ten, nine, eight—"

"Oh shit!"

The loud metallic voice caused real chaos like nothing else had, as people near the ceiling struggled to get down and floating objects were shoved away from potential targets.

"—seven, six—"

"Sulu!"

But Sulu had managed to touch the ground with his feet and was already bracing himself.

Jim tried to twist around but couldn't see the others, there was too much going on. Most people seemed fine and low to the ground, but the potential for broken bones was still there if anyone accidentally moved last-minute.

"—five, four—"

Jim felt a powerful yank and crashed backwards into Spock, whose hand then shifted from Jim's upper arm to wrap around his waist and keep him in place. Completely unexpected as the contact was, arousal shot through him, curling at the base of his spine.

"—three, two—"

The warm tangle of limbs all around him, coupled with the effects of zero gravity and the surge of adrenalin, had Jim half-hard before he even knew what was happening.

He tried to push away at the last second, fumbling clumsily in his weightless state, but it was too late.

"—one."

With a heavy thud everything crashed down, including Jim.

On top of Spock.

On the desk.

…It was hell.

Chapter Text

The landing was rough, and not in the good way.

If a word had to do it justice it wouldn't be 'wham' but 'clang', elbows digging into his ribs and knees banging uncomfortable places, not to mention Spock's hipbones leaving bruises that would burn deliciously for a multitude of reasons he really shouldn't be getting into right now.

Inelegant as their positions may be, though, Jim couldn't help but notice that Spock had twisted around at the last second to cushion most of the fall himself.

Why did he have to be such a fucking gentleman? The result of this act of kindness on Spock's part was that Jim's stunned brain registered only a few facts at a time, and in the wrong order.

First was: Spock is under me. This prompted the logical deduction: I am on top of Spock.

Third was: we're sprawled on a desk, followed closely by: why am I lying on my stomach?

And finally: …I can't move.

A few of the short-term effects of sudden gravity onset are weakened limbs, dizziness and disorientation, as well as nausea and migraine. Unfortunately for Jim, he was now feeling all of them, which did not make for fun times.

By some suspiciously freaky random happenstance Jim had not ended up on his back; instead Spock's clavicle was digging into his neck and cutting off his air supply, and he'd very nearly flattened his face against the desk. The slow and steady rise and fall of Spock's chest was almost ridiculously arousing, which in Jim's opinion was just more proof that this was all about his slow descent into madness and not at all about liking his First Officer way more than was proper.

Spock's arm was around him, heavy and hot and… and the only good thing about Jim's suddenly sluggish state was that it didn't really allow for any part of his anatomy to stand to attention, despite the definite interest he'd felt a few seconds ago (and was still feeling, why lie at this point, really?).

Groans and muffled sounds began filling the room as soon as people could make them, but he couldn't really see much besides the smooth polished surface. Until he could will his limbs to fucking move already he was pretty much stuck.

In lieu of anything else to do, Jim tried to assess the extent of the damage done to his person… but unfortunately discovered that most of his person felt pretty beat up, which one might argue could be interpreted as familiar and comforting in some ways, and yet still sucked.

"Kirk," a voice hissed close to his ear.

Jim started and turned his head slowly and painfully. God, he ached everywhere.

It was Moss, leaning into… no, clutching the desk to remain upright, eyes bloodshot and movements clumsy but still somehow rather frightening.

"Please, please please get off of Commander Spock!"

Jim had been attempting to do just that since before he'd even come to be on Commander Spock, and rather resented the implication that he wasn't doing his absolute best to achieve this goal.

"Honey, it's not what it looks like," he said thickly, giving it another try. Moss was apparently unimpressed by both this attempt at humour and the feeble movement Jim's groaning muscles produced.

"I'm serious, Kirk. I need you out of there now."

'There' being, of course, the amazing feel of Spock's angles fitting into his body, lean muscles pressed snugly against every inch of him—okay he should totally get away this instant.

With barely cooperating arms and a lot of willpower Jim managed to lift himself up so he was on all fours (still on top of Spock, obviously… oh well) and looked down at his First Officer to exchange an awkward look or something, maybe grin ruefully and make an inappropriately sexual comment that Spock would pretend not to understand but secretly despair at…

But Spock's eyes were closed.

"Spock?" He murmured tentatively, feeling something sharp lodge in his windpipe. "Spock?"

The Vulcan's eyelids didn't open to reveal Spock's quietly bemused stare.

Jim's gut went cold and breathing was suddenly very difficult again, as though the air was being sucked right out of his lungs. He searched Spock's face with wide eyes for a sign, any sign that Spock was alive and the universe was allowed to exist. "Spock! Wake up!"

He wanted to shake the guy but even in this situation he had the sense to remember that if there really was a head-injury it would be best not to move Spock at all.

"Kirk, please, the paramedics will handle this…"

But Jim tuned out Moss' voice with the rest of the background sounds. His vision had sharpened and tunnelled so that only Spock's face existed and until he could get the bastard to prove that he was all right, no one was going to wrench Jim away.

He leaned down gently, covering Spock's body with his in a kind of protective crouch, so that his mouth was a hair's-breadth away from Spock's curved ear.

"Spock," he snapped, strict and commanding; his 'I-demand-thoughtless-obedience' tone.

And finally, goddamn finally Spock opened his eyes blearily and Jim's heart didn't slow its unsteady tripping rhythm but it did allow him to breathe again, which was a relief.

"Captain," Spock said evenly. Of course the obnoxious cretin was completely unsurprised by the fact that he was waking up with his commanding officer on his knees straddling his hips.

Oh, which reminded said commanding officer that Spock's hand was still draped around Jim's waist, almost as though it felt too heavy to lift or move away, and there was a very important reason why Jim needed to put some space between them immediately.

"You'd better count your lucky stars that you're okay," he said without even trying to sound menacing.

"I do not own any planetary bodies, nor is the concept of 'luck' in any way logical given the fact that the statistical likelihood of events can be deduced from…"

As Spock was talking Jim slid off of him and then off the desk, and succeeded in not landing on his ass, although it was a near thing. Stumbling to stand and feeling unusually clumsy, he took a quick survey of the room now that he could.

Emerett was talking into a communicator and doing a great job of looking busy and important. Sulu was only a few feet away and trying to stand up while clutching his head with a grimace. Uhura, Bones and Scotty were back in their chairs, the latter looking unfairly perky in Jim's eye, although as Chief Engineer Scotty was obviously way more used to this sort of thing happening.

Areel was sitting on a pile of datapads and trying to sort through them with the help of her two assistants, and Moss… Moss was still looking at Jim with an expression that managed to convey both concern and anger.

Jim ignored him and stayed by Spock's side.

To his unease Spock hadn't moved an inch, he just lay there breathing deeply and slowly, eyes unblinkingly following Jim's movements.

He might be injured, too, which was why Jim painfully bit the inside of his cheek when the sudden image of him crawling back atop that body appeared unbidden in his mind.

"Are, uh, you okay? Did you hit your head?"

"I impacted with negligible force, Captain, do not trouble yourself. I believe I am simply suffering the after-effects of the gravity-shifts, and it may take another minute to adjust."

"Oh, right." Relief washed over him like a wave, not that Jim had ever been to the sea. "Of course. Your body is used to a much lower gravity setting so zero-G plays havoc with your metabolism, doesn't it?"

"Precisely."

Jim grinned. "Well, at least you're finally the one in distress! Being rescued all the time gets boring," he added with a cheery wink.

Spock didn't have enough energy to quirk an eyebrow yet, but his eyes seemed to suggest he was thinking of giving it a try.

"Kirk," Moss interrupted impatiently.

Damn, he kept forgetting other people existed when Spock was around. "What?"

"I need you to step away now, get Dr McCoy and leave."

Jim clenched his jaw. On one hand, he could see that Moss was making sense and a look at the jury had confirmed that most of them were staring at their table, but Spock was looking at him with a carefully guarded expression and unable to move…

"This is a perfect opportunity and you'll do as I say," Moss instructed him quickly. "Get Dr McCoy and leave to help fix this problem, I'm sure Commodore Emerett will let you take your Chief Engineer to Main and work with the officers there—"

"Is anyone severely injured?" Emerett's loud voice drowned out the rest of Moss's frantic speech. No one answered the Commodore but Jim's balance was back and he was definitely feeling more normal. He ground his teeth together and knew he needed to do the safe thing and not the right thing, despite his instincts rebelling against the idea.

"Come on, Kirk. Go."

Spock nodded once, slowly, and Jim huffed an angry sigh.

"Yeah, okay."

He spun around without another word, making his way through the crowd of people standing up from their chairs, until he reached his friends.

"You guys okay?"

Uhura nodded. "Yes, but I don't understand what's happening. Did another circuit malfunction…?"

"Yeah, we think from that first overload. I'll explain properly later—"

"Wait, where's Spock… is he okay?" She frowned with worry, looking over his shoulder.

Jim glanced back, just for a second, and saw Spock slowly sitting up, Moss and a now-recovered Sulu hovering next to him.

"He might need a hypo, I think he hasn't been sleeping too well and this was just a bit much," he muttered, wishing he could be the one to help Spock up and put an arm around his shoulders…

"I'll go take a look," McCoy said, taking out the emergency medical kit from under his chair. Jim couldn't help a snort of laughter.

"I can't believe you take that with you everywhere you go. Is there a dent on your mattress from when you go to bed?"

But the doctor obviously wasn't buying Jim's bullshit, and could tell that he was worried. "Shut up and be grateful."

Jim shot him an apologetic look and turned to Scotty with raised eyebrows. "I'm here to kidnap you and take you to Main Engineering. Any objections?"

Scotty leapt up and shook his head vigorously. "No, Captain!"

"Excellent. We're leaving, then."

Before following Scotty outside, Jim shuffled his feet nervously and poked McCoy lightly on the arm.

"You are gonna go check on Spock, right?"

"'Course."

"Stay with him, make sure he's okay. The fact that he can control the pain doesn't mean something's not wrong, so you should really—"

"Jim, it's just a little bump and some exhaustion. Also I'm a doctor, remember?" Jim resisted the urge to look at Spock again. "He'll be fine," McCoy added gruffly, and set out to the front of the room.

"Uh…"

Uhura was blocking his path, arms folded across her chest and a considering stare pinning him in place. For a moment Jim was almost sure she was going to make some sort of comment that shattered the perception of life as he knew it, but then she seemed to think better of it, motioning towards Scotty by the door.

"I think he's waiting for you, Captain."

"Yeah. See you later, Uhura."

She nodded and stepped aside.

Just as Jim reached Scotty at the entrance, however, Emerett banged his gavel twice and the room quietened.

"The court is adjourned until this problem is fixed, when we shall resume this line of questioning. Now, the Hospital Bay has been notified and there will be a compulsory hypospray shot when you exit the room. Please do not exit yet."

The door was already open and Scotty just shrugged.

"If you say ye're fine, I don't think it's absolutely necessary."

"Let's go."

They slipped out in the chaos of recuperating officers.

x

Engineering remained, to this day, the only job no one had figured out how to accomplish without ending up covered in grime, soot and flecks of oil. Jim decided this in exasperation as he carefully operated under one of the Main Panel's circuits and felt the slick, black drops of lubricating solution plaster his shirt to his chest.

He had ended up acting as Scotty's second the entire time they spent down at Main Engineering.

At first he was instructed to help out by passing tools and holding wrenches, which he did without protest--much to the surprise of the guy who'd called him Captain Pretty-Boy to his face. But by the end Jim was fixing the individual relays himself, organising the work and directing the other officers of the Starbase according to his Chief Engineer's garbled instructions (the Enterprise engineers had become accustomed to Scotty's fast and thickly accented orders, but clearly the ones here needed a mediator).

He had easily become part of the team not just by telling them what to do, but by assisting in those duties, and got the distinct impression that most of the people he met were pleasantly surprised by the fact that he wasn't, in fact, a total imbecile.

Warp-core mechanics and astrophysics had been his two favourite subjects at the Academy, not that many people outside of his crew knew that. And even though those two dealt with more large-scale Starship workings, Jim was good at tinkering with stuff, and his excellent instincts combined with that knowledge made him a far cry from useless.

They actually managed to completely redo the quick patch-up job from the last incident, and even rewired the system to avoid another over-heating thanks to one of Scotty's brilliantly insane ideas (so brilliant that afterward Jim had to kindly pry his Chief away from the adoring younger interns, who seemed rather starstruck).

A long and grueling five hours later Jim ran up to the mess hall in Deck 7, thinking to snatch a sandwich (the replicators in his quarters didn't have mustard and Jim wanted mustard--mustard tasted spicy and awesome; Jim was not ashamed of substituting mustard for sex) and then have at least two sonic showers. However, having lost track of time, he didn't realise the place would be packed for dinner.

His entrance was as dramatic as it could have been; the door swished open and the room hushed immediately as every single person inside turned to gape.

Engineering had had no uniforms to spare and instead of making someone go replicate something for him, Jim had grabbed the first two items of semi-protective clothing he could find.

Starfleet's youngest Captain was wearing precariously low, baggy black pants (that might have been blue at some point) and a sleeveless grey undershirt (guess what colour that one used to be) at least two sizes too small for him. Hair dishevelled and caked with dirt, beads of sweat still shining on his neck and shoulders, Jim knew exactly what he looked like as he walked over to the trays in the corner. Every pair of eyes followed his movements. He definitely caught a woman licking her lips unconsciously and one guy forcefully looked away, blushing, and shook his head as though trying to convince himself that nothing was wrong.

And then suddenly there was an abrupt grinding sound like that of a chair scraping backwards; unlikely since Jim had noted that in this particular mess hall the chairs were bolted to the floor. It would take a rather impressive feat of strength... Vulcan strength.

It was Spock.

It was Spock standing up from the remains of his seat and leaving, eyes straight ahead, gaze intent on something that very determinedly wasn't Jim. In no time the Vulcan strode over to the furthest door, then disappeared through it. Gone.

... The hell?

Jim stood there slacked-jawed for several seconds, trying to come up with an explanation for Spock's behavior. Was he mad at Jim for some reason? Spock sometimes struggled with controlling his anger, but still, to have to actually vacate the room was a bit extreme. Why... why on Earth would he just get up and leave without even acknowledging Jim's existence? Or maybe he hadn't seen Jim at all, but that was extremely unlikely... and the violently uprooted metal nails spoke of some sort of urgent business...

Confused, worried and trying not to think too hard on this issue before his brain steered him in a direction that was unrealistic and stupid and not healthy, Jim forgot all about his mustard sandwich. After people finally seemed to get tired of gawking at him so openly (which didn't stop them from sneaking more covert glances every now and then, but he could pretend not to notice those), he put the tray back in its place and left through the same door he'd come inside, the one opposite from where Spock had stepped out.

He'd have to ask someone from Maintenance to fix that chair, though.

Mentally making a few calculations, Jim opted to start his search back in Deck 5, where their quarters were. Going to the Science Department this late wasn't unheard of for Spock but seemed improbable--plus their quarters would be private so that they could talk, and Jim fully believed that Spock would be able to explain this strange scene in a way that was perfectly logical.

Because otherwise Jim was utterly stumped.

Cause: Jim enters the room looking like someone smeared grease all over him, which was more or less what happened (except with more sweaty men in their fifties asking him to do their dirty work and less sexy female Engineers in impractically short skirts).

Consequence: Spock stands up so abruptly he fucking breaks the chair, then exits the room.

Jim wasn't blind. He could tell what almost everyone in that mess hall was thinking when he walked in; sweat looked good on his toned body. But despite popular opinion, he wasn't all that conceited either. Yeah, he knew he could use his looks when he wanted to and it would work on most people, but Spock wasn't most people. Spock was… Spock. His friend Spock.

His heterosexual friend Spock.

Objectively speaking, of course, he could understand how it might be difficult to come up with an explanation that came even close to being 'perfectly logical' if one excluded the option Jim was unwilling to consider. But it wasn't an option at all. He recalled Spock saying once: "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." The problem was that in this case what remained was also impossible. There was just no way his rational, collected Vulcan, would…

So he was left with nothing, and how can there be a hypothesis with no data?

Okay, he was shoving this train of thought away until he talked to Spock because it was no good getting his thoughts all scrambled and messed up.

Unfortunately, and despite the mental 'Not thinking about it, la la la la la, not thinking about it' chant, Jim was feeling feverish and jittery as a preteen with a crush by the time he stood outside the door to Spock's quarters, heart pounding.

Was it completely insane for him to imagine that, maybe, just maybe, Spock could...?

Was it really that crazy?

With moist palms he pressed the electronic buzzer on the tactile screen, and wanted to slap himself for this sudden onset of nerves. He was James T. fucking Kirk, he didn't—

The door hissed open to reveal Spock's frame and Jim... Jim was no quitter; the very notion of giving up when meeting an obstacle was what made him try to sneak his way around the conventional methods and find another path (carving it himself if he had to) to achieve his goal. Nevertheless, looking into Spock's pitch-black eyes right now, he couldn't shake the feeling that this battle against Spock's attractiveness was already over, and he had been thoroughly and profoundly KO'd.

"Hey."

Spock stayed silent for a few seconds, then stepped inside and motioned for Jim to do the same.

"Good evening, Captain."

"How are you feeling?"

"Completely recuperated. Thank you. I presume you wish to discuss the events that have just transpired?"

Like a sharp hypo stuck into a sparkly helium balloon, Jim's theory that his appearance had in any way affected Spock collapsed and smacked the floor pitifully, dying as suddenly as it had come to life.

His first officer was regarding him cool and collected as always, without even a hint of discomfort, and seeing this made Jim feel like laughing at himself--the extent of his madness suddenly and bitterly clear.

God, this was starting to spiral out of control, wasn't it? How could he have imagined, even for one second, that Spock might...?

"Captain?"

"Sorry, yeah. I didn't imagine you leaving the mess because of me right now, did I?"

"Obviously not. It was my intention to discuss something with you later tonight. Not in a public setting, however."

Still reeling from his little bout of momentary insanity, Jim plopped himself on Spock's bed (grime, sweat, oil-stains and all) without asking for permission.

"What happened, then?"

Spock swallowed carefully and walked over to his desk chair, but didn't sit down.

"I was forced to leave."

Jim frowned. "By who?"

"Forgive me, my sentence was vaguely phrased; circumstances forced me to leave."

Talk about 'vaguely phrased'. Jim narrowed his eyes and examined Spock's posture; despite the calm in his features, something lurked behind the stiff limbs and in the weary inclination of his head. He just needed to figure out what.

In this case the way to get information would need to be delicate. Subtle. With Spock, a direct approach didn't always yield results because it could just make him close up and refuse to cooperate, so Jim had to carefully formulate a question that—

"... So what got shoved up your ass that you can't talk to me about?"

Or not.

Spock blinked twice, then seemed to give up on a clarification.

"I spoke to Mr Moss at length today, and he is not content with our first day," he said finally. "According to him, our behavior was passable but circumstances did not allow us to make a positive first impression on the jury. He was experiencing an emotional outburst at the time he informed me of these observations, but it is my belief that this fact does not lessen their credibility."

This wasn't said as a question, exactly, but the way Spock's gaze slanted Jim's way told him that he wasn't entirely certain angry rants from Humans counted as reliable facts. Jim gave him a tight smile and a nod, to indicate that Moss had probably been pissed but sincere.

Spock went on. "He claims he asked us to continue acting normally, but that he meant normal by 'real' standards, not our own, and that we must endeavor to... look at each other less. Furthermore, he claims we are not... 'believable' as mere friends, and that he is most displeased by the fact that we have chosen to spend ninety-five percent of our free time together."

This wasn't exactly true, Jim thought weakly, but he didn't voice his objections. It was close enough.

"He consequently concluded that we must spend less time in one another's company in an attempt to subdue rumors. Apparently, there have been more cases of false sightings of us engaged in activities of a sexual nature. It is possible that Commodore Emerett was not lying on our first meeting, simply misinformed."

Having finished his speech, Spock neatly folded his hands and looked at his Captain expectantly.

"So... activities of a sexual nature, huh?" Jim said, aiming for extra nonchalance.

Spock's lips pursed and unexpected humor lit his eyes. "I should have anticipated that you would adhere to that part of my explanation."

Jim snorted and wiped his dirty palm on his even dirtier trousers. "What, like people saying they've found us making out in storage-closets, that sort of thing?"

"It would appear so. In his outburst of frustration Mr Moss declared one of the rumors to be of us engaging in sexual intercourse inside a locked turbolift."

Wouldn't you know, this had gone from 'funny' to 'uncomfortable' in a heartbeat.

Jim forced a laugh. "Well first of all, please never say 'intercourse' again, it's—" weirdly and insanely hot "—very disturbing, and second, if that actually happened, how would anyone even know about it?"

Spock seemed to seriously consider this. "The security feeds, I believe, would provide enough evidence," he replied finally with a thoughtful expression.

Oh yeah, Spock was totally hot and bothered about all this. Jim's earlier suspicions weren't to do with wishful thinking. Nope, he hadn't blown things out of proportion at all.

"Right." Jim sighed and rubbed his face with both hands. "So let me get this straight: because some idiots are making up stories about us and their environmental control systems suck, we're not allowed to hang out anymore?"

Spock's mouth turned down at the corners and he nodded gravely. "That is Mr Moss' assessment."

Of course, that explained why Spock had left the mess so quickly. And the whole chair-ripped-off-the-floor incident was probably from exhaustion; it must be hard to watch your strength all the time and, just for a moment after a gruelling day, Spock had been careless.

See? Perfectly logical after all.

Jim stood up and put his hands on his hips, mostly to keep his pants from sliding down.

"Are you going to do what he says?" he asked the floor, knowing what the answer would be but unable help himself.

"Obviously, his entire statement is filled with rampant emotionalism," Spock was quick to clarify.

"Obviously."

"However... I must defer to his expertise in this case."

Jim nodded dumbly. "Yeah, 'course. I agree."

They were both silent for a few moments, until Jim realised he was starving, and also he desperately needed that shower.

"So I'll get going, I think?" he said, stretching one-armed so as to prevent something embarrassing from happening (those pants seemed intent on sliding past his ass, seriously). "And, uh, probably won't see you until… oh hey, do you know when the trial's set to start again?"

Spock nodded. "Mr Moss was told that your testimony will resume tomorrow at 1200 hours. I have also been informed that you and Mr Scott directed a commendable feat of engineering this evening, which is what enabled the normalisation of Starbase activity."

"Oh. Yeah, Scotty did a great job."

The silence was tense this time, until Jim broke it.

"Okay, so see you tomorrow."

He started to leave, wondering what it would be like not to have his meals with Spock again for some time, or having to stop playing chess. Not being able to talk about the stuff he only shared with him, having to be formal and tense around each other all the time, never alone, always in public.

"I guess I'll just have to do with Bones to protect me from Stavok for now," he said, striving for lightness with a grin over his shoulder, but suddenly Spock went very still.

"Stavok."

"Yeah." Jim paused and half-turned, his hand still extended toward the panel. "The reporter, remember?"

"Broadcast researcher," Spock corrected almost absent-mindedly. Dark eyes narrowed. "You had not mentioned his name to be 'Stavok' before."

"Really?" Jim's brow furrowed as he tried to remember. Huh, maybe they'd both been saying 'reporter' or 'journalist' all this time. He propped himself against the wall next to the door, arms crossed.

"Indeed. I have what you would refer to as eidetic memory. I would recall such a name."

"And why is that? Did you know him?"

Spock seemed to be choosing his words with extra-care when he spoke next.

"It is possible that he is not the Stavok I am… acquainted with. Vulcan was a planet with nearly six billion inhabitants."

Jim's shoulders slumped slightly at the mention of Vulcan and he felt a familiar pang in his chest. "But it's also possible that he is this guy you think," he said with a softer voice. "How did you know him?"

"Stavok was in the same educational centre as I."

"You went to school together! Wow, that's…"

He'd been about to say 'great.' 'Lucky,' even. But then he remembered.

Once, playing chess, they'd gotten to talking about Jim's childhood. It was never a topic he cared to reflect on much, especially the times when his mother had been off-planet, but Spock's natural curiosity being what it was, Jim had found himself unable to deny the man what he so frankly wanted to know. So he told him all about his brother Sam leaving, about Frank's verbal abuse and stealing his car, and the day when his mother had finally snapped out of it and told the idiot to get lost. About seeing Winona slowly get better during his late teens but still needing to put his restless energy somewhere, anywhere, wild and uncontrolled and nearly crushed under the weight of his father's name.

They'd talked for a long time, maybe not comfortably, not yet, but it was honest.

And then Spock had offered some insights of his own.

He spoke in clipped sentences and an even tone, still guarded (this was the early days when the word 'friendship' was still an ill-fitting descriptor of their relationship), but not editing anything either. Spock had been bullied at school, up to the point where he'd been severely emotionally compromised and ended up breaking one kid's nose.

"Jim?"

"Sorry. I just remembered… was he one of the kids who bullied you?"

"… The Stavok whom I had met as a child did indeed attempt to elicit an emotional response from me."

Jim flashed back to the image of the Vulcan who had seemed so distant and blank. Instead of blocking what he was feeling, Stavok had seemed completely empty of emotion, in a way that was very different from Spock. Yes, the immeasurable loss that happened the day Nero destroyed his planet made Stavok someone to be pitied, but it didn't excuse him from being a bad person.

"Is he the one whose nose you broke?"

Spock's gaze flitted to the floor and back up, probably in embarrassment. "Yes," he said curtly.

"Good. He deserved it." Jim remembered perfectly well what Spock had explained about that loss of emotional control and what had triggered it. "Have you seen him since you were both kids?"

"No. I was not aware that his application to the Vulcan Science Academy had been denied, nor that he pursued this line of work instead."

Jim frowned, perturbed. Spock, seeing this, took a couple of steps forward and clasped his hands behind his back.

"Jim, I cannot ignore your facial expression."

"What's wrong with my face?" Jim asked, suddenly scrunching up his nose to make Spock smile. Obviously, that didn't actually happen, but Spock got that look that said he definitely wasn't smiling.

"Nothing is 'wrong' with your face, Jim. However, you appeared to be concerned on my behalf."

"I'm not concerned. I'm just…" concerned. "…I'm, uh, disappointed that I didn't realise what a giant douche Stavok really is." But this wasn't true and Spock knew it.

His First took another step toward him and shook his head, once. "Do not be distressed over me. You attribute Human aspects to Stavok which he does not have. Vulcan children do not possess the same levels of emotional control as adults."

"Still. He's a racist."

For a second Spock's eyes seemed to glint in the low light, as though he was touched by Jim's irritation on his behalf, but then it was gone. "As a child, perhaps. He will be ashamed of his behaviour now."

Jim was unconvinced but he nodded. "Okay. But if I see him again and he's mean to you I might have to punch him."

This time the expression was more obvious, but it wasn't gratitude; instead Spock appeared vastly entertained, as though he found the very idea of Jim defending him adorably ridiculous.

"An unlikely notion, Jim. I assume you are using humour."

Needless to say, Jim was not impressed with this assessment.

"Are you saying I couldn't get in a single punch?" he said indignantly.

"... Yes."

He clutched his hand over his heart in mock-pain.

"Ow, Spock!"

Spock looked sideways at nothing and back at him (he was so close to provoking that eye-roll).

Then he had an idea.

"Hey. Um, listen, I know it's against the rules and all..." Jim said, not meeting Spock's eyes. "But if you wanted to chat for a while, maybe let me explain to you just how epic my fighting skills are... and if, you know, you haven't had dinner yet, we could eat together? Here? I mean, I know they could technically locate us but it's not like someone's tracking our every move on the computers or anything. That would just be creepy."

"Perhaps. Also illegal."

Jim grinned. "That a 'yes?'"

Spock didn't even pause before answering. "Indeed. Although I might suggest a... change of clothing, perhaps."

The look of distaste his clothes got from Spock, after the half-Vulcan said this, told Jim that his First didn't have much appreciation for them.

"Right." He chuckled. "This is your polite way of saying I stink, isn't it?"

"No. However, your appearance—"

"It's okay, Spock. I know I look like hell."

"You look like..." Spock stopped mid-sentence. Jim waited for it to continue, but when he spoke next Spock's brain seemed to have completely rebooted itself. "I must finish some reports for the Enterprise spacedock maintenance, and will await your presence here."

"O-kay. Remember I need to go over those, though, before sending them off."

"Very well."

Spock took a PADD from his desk and wrote something on it.

"Will there be anything else you require before coming, Captain?"

A strange time to revert back to rank, and that sentence was just too good to resist.

"Nope." He winked, unable to help himself. "You know I'm easy like that."

Spock let out a breath that could be interpreted as a huff of annoyance and turned away.

With a parting wave at Spock's back Jim left the room through the adjoining door between their quarters and immediately reached to peel his shirt off over his head. Before he could complete the maneuver, however, he heard a thud behind him, suspiciously like a PADD hitting the surface of the table.

He spun around clumsily and nearly fell over, the fabric still twisted around his neck and tangled in his arms so that he couldn't see. He did hear the door hiss shut (oh, it hadn't been closed yet?) and then silence.

For a split-second he contemplated asking Spock whether everything was okay, but then realised how stupid that would sound. And Spock's back had been to him, so he couldn't have been so scandalised by Jim's abrupt strip-tease that he'd dropped the PADD.

With a dog-like shake of his head Jim decided he was overthinking everything and tugged down his pants, stepped out of them and left them on the floor.

x

The next morning Jim and Spock ate breakfast facing each other, but at two separate tables in opposite ends of the largest mess hall.

On one hand, Jim knew it was for their own good and Moss was right; they weren't getting any attention at all, as opposed to the many glances they drew whenever they were together in public.

On the other hand, covertly watching Spock methodically eat his celery made Jim come to a realisation that was rather unfortunate, but really, food couldn't receive such loving treatment and just expect everything to be all right.

He was going to have to change his criteria regarding what qualified as pornographic from now on.

Swallowing, for example, was something people did all the time. It was a biological function that, on its own, wasn't usually considered X-rated material. And someone who was swallowing from a very long distance was even less note-worthy than, say, someone who was swallowing from a very short distance.

Nevertheless, when Spock did it, it became disturbingly obscene. Which just spoke volumes of the levels of pathetic Jim was achieving.

He was nothing if not a record-breaker.

Spock wasn't alone, however. With him sat Uhura, and he was talking to her in that gentle manner of his that Jim had only seen him exhibit with people who he was very familiar with or who he trusted. And that was good, great even, because they were friends. A mean little voice in Jim's ear whispered that they were friends who'd been dating only slightly more than a month ago. And the dating had probably involved sex. Well duh, one only had to look at Spock to... um, that is, Uhura was very hot, too. But that was beside the point. Jim was totally happy that they were getting along so well. Spock obviously still liked her, although not like that, unless he did and they were going to get back together any day now. But that probably wasn't going to happen. Seriously though, if it did happen he was going to squeeze maturity and friendly support from somewhere and force himself to feel them.

Only once did Spock look up from his plate and happen to stare straight into Jim's eyes.

Jim sat with McCoy and Sulu, who were both supportive and wonderful as always. Sulu had even promised to get him a spot with the flight-simulator in a few days, although Jim thought it was unlikely he'd have the time, and the second the trial was over he was warping out of here, one way or another.

Towards the end of their meal two women smiled shyly at him and waved from a table a couple of rows to the left of Spock's. Belatedly, Jim remembered seeing them at Engineering yesterday, although they were both computer-techs and more into software programming. The brunette had offered to go out for a drink tonight and Jim had said no a bit more firmly than usual (not that he usually said 'no' when he was off-ship, but he'd already been reminded of this once that week).

It wasn't just that he didn't really feel like sleeping with anyone, he thought as he violently attacked his toast with the round fork thingy ("Dammit Jim, why are you eating toast using cutlery?"). It was that he didn't really feel like sleeping with anyone who wasn't Spock.

And this could only mean that he was turning involuntarily monogamous.

For someone who didn't even see him that way.

Didn't it count for anything if this whole thing was happening against his will? He didn't want to only want to be with Spock; it didn't make any sense. But lately it felt like that wasn't even his choice.

Soon he'd start running out of bad adjectives to use to describe just how... atrocious it was. Jesus.

x

By the time they met Moss inside the courtroom of Deck 16 Jim was suitably nervous again, but less so than the last time. Yes, he really did have a crush on Spock. But it would be fine. He knew the question now. That helped, because he also knew the answer. He wasn't in love with Spock. He liked Spock… he was attracted to Spock, sure, he wouldn't mind sleeping with—focus. He wasn't in love with the man. He'd never even been in love before, not ever.

"This court is now in session."

'In love' meant commitment and he knew he couldn't pull that off. Jim Kirk and 'marriage' in the same sentence was just laughable. And the point was moot anyway, because this was someone who could never return his feelings. Not because Spock didn't have feelings… but simply because they weren't directed at Jim, and never would be, not in that way.

"In light of the events that occurred yesterday in this courtroom at 1430 hours, Captain Kirk will resume his testimony…"

He wasn't the sort of good, caring person Spock deserved, anyway. He was working hard at being better, yes, but that didn't make him good. Or at least… at least he knew that it didn't make him good enough.

"… then Mr Moss with the defense. Captain Kirk?"

"Yes."

"You may take the stand."

Jim stood up and walked with as much confidence as he could muster, which was actually quite a lot, at least on the surface.

"Miss Shaw? You may continue your line of questioning," Emerett called, waving at Areel to walk over. It was almost as though this was the end of some parentheses and suddenly he was back to yesterday, and nothing at all had happened in between.

"Good evening your honour, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. I believe that before we were so rudely interrupted by the gravity compensators I had asked you a question, Captain Kirk?" Areel said with a faint smile.

Jim waited.

"A very important question, actually. Some might say it was the question that could sentence this entire affair, if—"

"Objection, we all know what the question is, if the defendant could please be allowed to answer it?" Moss said with an annoyed eye-roll.

"Sustained. Get to the point, Miss Shaw."

"My apologies, your honour."

Areel smiled more broadly and Jim was struck by a horrible gut feeling, not completely unlike the one he'd felt yesterday when the air had tasted wrong.

"Are you in love with Commander Spock, Captain Kirk?"

"No."

He felt every head turn to the lie-detector and held his breath—

"Correct."

But Areel's smile never wavered, as though this had been expected, all part of her plan, and Jim's flare of happiness vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

"Well, that just verifies what the defendants have been telling us all along, doesn't it?" She turned to the jury, that gleam of triumph in her eye making Jim nauseous. "Mr Kirk—I'm sorry, Captain Kirk is not in love with his First Officer."

There was a pause as the entire room realised, almost unanimously, what came next.

"Well… Captain Kirk believes he's not in love with his First Officer."

Oh, she was good. She was very, very good, Jim thought dazedly as a frenzied whispering started and Moss stood up and said: "Objection! Relevance! And can we please assume that the defendant is intelligent enough to know whether he is or isn't in love with someone? This is conjecture, and bad conjecture at that!"

"Silence!" Emerett shouted, banging his gavel. "Objection sustained."

He looked at Areel with a frown.

"Miss Shaw, you'd better have a good follow-up to this."

If her smile became any wider she'd start to laugh, Jim mused in a horrified, distant sort of way. He didn't think he could handle turning to look at Spock, even though he knew that all he'd see would be a mask of control.

"Of course, your honour." Areel nodded respectfully. "Captain Kirk didn't lie when he said he's not in love with Mr Spock, but all this tells us is what he believes to be true. The machine cannot interpret facts, it can only detect when a subject is not being honest; and therein lies it's inefficiency, as we all know."

She glanced at Jim before continuing.

"Captain Kirk has demonstrated time and time again that he becomes emotionally compromised whenever his First Officer is involved; his judgement is not sound, his decisions are clouded by emotion. Granted, it's an emotion he clearly does not consider love, but that doesn't matter. Kirk's personal life ends where the safety of the ship and its crew begins. And in this case, his opinion is irrelevant. The facts speak for themselves. And the many, many instances of disobedience cited in the list of evidence are more than enough to prove this point.

"The relationship between Captain and First Officer has become detrimental to the workings of the Starship Enterprise, and needlessly endangering the lives of over four-hundred people is not acceptable."

Jim waited for her to finish before raising his eyebrows in an expression of mildly mocking confusion.

"Oh, is it my turn to make a dramatic pronouncement now?"

Areel glared at him. Jim pushed down his own emotions and smiled condescendingly.

"I mean, was that a question or…?"

She interrupted him with strained professionalism in her voice. "Imagine the following scenario, Captain Kirk."

"I'll do my best," he said graciously, sitting back and stretching a little to get more comfortable. Out of the corner of his eye Jim caught at least three members of the jury smiling exasperatedly.

"Excellent."

Areel took a steadying breath before continuing (if there was something Jim had always been brilliant at, it was driving people slowly and irrevocably insane).

"Please answer me this," she said through gritted teeth. "Mr Spock is unable to get back to the ship in time and you have been ordered to abandon him. What do you do?"

Jim's first, instinctive thought was 'Get Spock back, no matter the cost.' But of course he couldn't say that, because that cost, those orders, could be to take the ship to a colony of sick civilians awaiting medical assistance, and every second he delayed departure could mean deaths.

And yet he also knew that if he replied 'Leave Spock and follow orders' the machine would say he was lying.

In a split second he digested all of this, and finally decided on the complete truth.

"That depends."

Areel blinked. "You're kidding me." Suddenly she seemed to remember where she was. "I mean… please elaborate."

"You haven't given me enough detail of the situation to make an informed decision. Why am I being ordered to abandon a crewman to die?" A quick glance at Moss told him he was doing well. "Furthermore, what kind of situation is this that only my First Officer is stranded? Where's the security detail that beamed down with him?"

"I don't—they died."

"Then I repeat, why am I being ordered to leave…?"

"There's an emergency."

"What kind of emergency?"

"I…" She hesitated. "Just… an emergency."

"Are there lives at stake?"

"Yes."

"Why? How far away are they? And will a quick delay—"

Areel clenched her fists. "Just answer the question, Kirk."

"But I can't until you tell me why—"

"Does it matter?"

And finally, for once, Jim knew he had her. Because this room was full of military and ex-military personnel and Areel's last question had been very, very stupid.

"Of course it matters," he said, strong and bright-eyed and firm. "Lives are at stake here. As Captain, I'm the one who's supposed to make these kinds of tough decisions. If I can save Spock by delaying an order for ten minutes without loss of life, then I'll do it. When you're there… when you're in the middle of a situation like this, not reading about it from some desk, it's different."

The room was quiet, the crowd hanging onto his every word.

"It often depends, Miss Shaw, and it always, always matters."

Moss was beaming at Jim proudly and Spock's eyes brimmed with respect.

"Are there any more questions from the prosecution?" Commodore Emerett said after a short pause.

Areel looked shaken, but not broken. "Yes. One more," she said.

Then she squared her shoulders and tried to appear in control again, although she knew perfectly well how much she'd lost in the past minute. Jim spared a moment to feel sorry for her, but that disappeared immediately after her next question.

"Do you wish there was any kind of romantic involvement between you and Commander Spock?"

Chapter Text

"Do you wish there was any kind of romantic involvement between you and Commander Spock?"

He had no time to freeze in shock. No time to blink stupidly at her and flounder for an answer, any answer, that didn't give away his wish because yes, of course he wished, he wanted and dreamed and at night he needed.

He remembered fearing this exact question yesterday and the moment when he had realized there was simply no way he could deny it outright because to do so would be to lie; he couldn't say 'no' because the word romantic allowed for a wide range of ideas… and maybe Jim didn't have epic sunsets in mind but wanting to worship Spock's neck with kisses counted, or at least to him it did, and he was what the Veritas device was scanning.

He decided to play dumb blonde first, both to annoy Areel and because it had gotten him out of scrapes before. Still, he knew that hiding his intellect when he wanted to remind everyone that he was the fully capable captain of the Federation's prime flagship could only be used as a momentary distraction.

"Uh… but I thought you already asked me that earlier?"

"I—"

"Objection!"

Moss stood from his chair with a frustrated expression under which Jim knew lay panic, knew this because he was feeling the exact same thing and trying to shove it beneath a layer of strained control.

"Captain Kirk has indeed already answered this and the entire line of questioning is, I repeat, irrelevant, as well as extremely inappropriate."

Areel's eyes retained that steely gleam and she crossed her arms over her chest. Before Emerett could speak, she turned to the lawyer.

"I'm sorry, Mr Moss, but are you actually suggesting that whether Captain Kirk wishes to pursue a romantic relationship with his First Officer can truly be considered irrelevant, given what they are being accused of?"

"The nature of their relationship is not in question—"

"Then why do you presume to declare them 'just friends' and yet refuse to allow the Captain to answer a simple inquiry? Ascertaining whether Captain Kirk and Commander Spock are compromised by each other seems quite important in these circumstances, so how can you dismiss a question related to the degree of that compromise, Mr Moss?"

At this the Commodore sat back and didn't seem about to interrupt them, which made the mutters from the crowd all the more conspicuous.

Jim's heart was bruising his ribs by trying to punch its way out of his chest, and Spock was just sitting there, immobile and impassive.

"You yourself stated this during your opening statement, Miss Shaw," Moss said condescendingly. "Why are you contradicting yourself now?"

"I said the evidence would come to demonstrate this exact point without the need to add undisclosed fraternizing to the long list of charges. I did not say we could dismiss the issue."

She was lying, she had said that it was irrelevant. But Jim knew this sudden change of tactic was somehow desperate and yet smart at the same time, because talking his way out of it was going to be tough. From the back row McCoy was watching him tensely, and Jim met his eye and knew none of the fear he was feeling had bled through his expression when his friend nodded gravely without a trace of concern, simply in mute support.

"I am aware of the fact that Captain Kirk's private thoughts are his own and if they hadn't caused him to disobey orders I would be the first to agree that they could remain that way," Areel said with an almost apologetic look his way. Given the circumstances, Jim thought this was pretty rich. "But it is because of the way he regards his First Officer that, for some mysterious reason I'm trying to determine, we find this riveting entry on the list."

She took a datapad from her table and scrolled down for a moment before indicating the number of the entry to the jury so they could read it as well.

"Essentially, Captain Kirk beamed down to the surface of Medas XI alone, refusing to take a security team, and in violation of three different subsections of protocol, just because Mr Spock was two minutes late checking in. In his haste to get to his 'best friend,' the ship had no designated commanding officer for three full minutes right in the middle of a crisis."

For Spock two minutes was an eternity, the 'crisis' had been a temporary shuttlebay power-loss and a worried Jim was a bad, nervous Captain. But she was right this time, actually; it had turned out to be a jammed signal that impeded Spock from contacting the Enterprise with his communicator and Jim had been reckless to beam down by himself, even if at the time it had seemed like a potentially dangerous situation and he hadn't wanted anyone else to get hurt because of his stupidity. It happened two months after being given his command, and already something in Jim had been aware of Spock all the time, aware that Spock might need his help and unable to deny it.

"If you really believe the question to be oh so useless, Mr Moss, then by all means indulge me and allow Captain Kirk to answer it. He will surely prove that I'm wrong."

He was going to have to give an answer. It would look too strange if he didn't. But how to reply with the truth? Her question was well phrased and didn't exactly allow for much wriggle room.

"I'm not in the habit of 'indulging' young prosecutors in frivolous questions that are not pertinent to the case," Moss replied, but he'd lost this one and he knew it.

Emerett clanged his gavel and cleared his throat.

"Given the subject of this court martial Miss Shaw's question falls… precariously within the acceptable range, and I am afraid I cannot dismiss it. Objection overruled. Mr Kirk must answer."

Jim's brain churned over the possibilities and he licked his lips unconsciously before speaking.

"But it's a vague question," he said finally. It would buy him time to fine-tune his reply also give him a way to test Areel.

"Correct."

"Oh?" She said, managing to keep her composure somehow.

"I mean… I don't want to marry Spock, if that's what you want to know." He heard a couple of people cough in what sounded awfully like disguised laughter. Good.

The urge to sneak a glance at Spock was powerful, but Jim's wariness of what he'd see if he did was stronger. Spock could probably care less whether Jim wanted to marry him or not, there were probably a ton of people ready to kill (or otherwise cause serious bodily harm) just to marry him. In fact, Spock could probably just walk up to anyone he wanted with that neatly polite tone of his and ask them to marry him and they'd say yes if they were alive and sane.

Not that Jim cared who married Spock, not beyond the concern that was his due as Spock's Captain and maybe the healthy interest of a friend.

"Correct," the lie-detector said again. And it was; Jim didn't want to marry anyone right now.

"Well, that isn't what I want to know, Captain Kirk."

Of course it wasn't. And he couldn't afford to delay this for much longer at the risk of seeming to stall.

"Look, not that it's really any of your business, but I prefer girls."… to most guys, but apparently not to Spock. Not that anyone needed to know how that sentence ended.

"Correct."

"Again, not what I'd asked. Do you deny the desire to pursue any kind of romantic interaction with the Commander?"

When Jim sneaked a glance at Commodore Emerett, he caught a hint of chagrin in the other man's expression, undoubtedly because Areel's persistence was probably starting to seem extreme. It was going to backfire horribly on her if he could pull it off.

Encouraged by the notion, he shrugged innocently.

"I just told you—"

"You didn't, actually."

He just had to keep this up and she'd have to concede defeat. "But Spock is my subordinate, as well as my friend. And before this I'd never even heard of a rumor about us being together."

"Correct."

"And yet you've still to deny it, Captain Kirk."

Jim pretended to rub his eyes tiredly. Okay, here went nothing.

"Look, I'm not saying that Spock isn't a great guy, and I'm sure there's tons of people who like him and would happily pursue any kind of… 'interaction' with him." Me included. "But I'm his Captain, and frankly I think it would be rather unprofessional of me to act on some hypothetical desire even if I did feel it. Point is though, I don't intend to pursue any kind of relationship with him, especially given the fact that it would be unwelcome, and leave me open to a sexual harassment suit in the workplace."

There was a definite ripple of amusement at this last comment, but Jim still didn't dare glance at Spock.

"Correct."

He could tell by the look in her eye that Areel knew perfectly well how he was avoiding any sort of real answer. The problem she faced now was that besides Moss and the Commodore, no one else would. The public and the jury weren't litigation experts, and his little speech would sound exactly like a denial to them when in reality he hadn't said a single concrete fact. That is, not unless they reread the transcript and picked through the holes in his words with a fine-toothed comb.

But hopefully that wouldn't happen.

"A simple 'yes' or 'no' would have sufficed, Captain Kirk," she settled for finally, defeated. A smart parting remark, and something the sharper jury members would definitely catch, but too little too late. Jim's heart soared as he realized that it was over.

"The prosecution rests," she added, and walked back to her table, a vulnerable hunch to her shoulders that reminded Jim she was Human and just trying to do her job.

"The defense may cross-examine the testimony," Emerett said.

Moss stood up and so began what would turn out to be the easiest part of Jim's day by far. The questions were more impersonal, steering him toward the professional aspects of his job and leaving ample room for ambiguous replies that sounded stronger than they were. About ten minutes in his pulse seemed to steady and he felt much more comfortable, although he didn't cave and look at Spock once, afraid that it might break his concentration.

Moss finished the questions by asking him about the allergy incident, and Jim used the way that had been misrepresented in the report to shed doubt over the other entries on the list. It went flawlessly well, and then the Commodore declared the session closed for the day. Tomorrow would bring the start of the round of witnesses, the first of which was to be Uhura.

Jim stood up from his seat feeling like a new man; optimistic, elated and full of hope, like it might all actually work out and he'd be okay and they'd let him have his ship back, First Officer included. And Spock would never know that his Captain wanted to rake his fingers though that ridiculously neat bowl-cut hair while he sucked on his tongue.

Most of the jury-members were filing out and everyone else either stood to leave as well or milled about chatting, but Jim planned to drag Spock and the others into a rec room and celebrate; he could see Sulu and Scotty talking animatedly on the other end of the room and started making his way towards them. It was slow going because the narrow corridor between the rows of seats didn't provide for easy manouvreing, but midway he realized Spock would have a hard time avoiding physical contact.

So with a signal for his friends to wait up, Jim turned around, still with a good-natured mood, and walked back to the desk in front where Moss and Spock still stood.

"Hey, Spock, wanna hear my plan for—"

The expression on Spock's face as he picked up a pair of datapads made the rest of Jim's animated sentence die in his throat.

Spock looked as he always did in public, serious and retracted, maybe a bit more so than usual, but that was perfectly understandable given where they were. The problem was that he somehow reminded Jim without words (without so much as a disinterested look his way, actually) that they couldn't hang out. They couldn't go to a rec room and play, he couldn't tease the guy to make up for what he'd had to say today in front of so many people, he couldn't even smile too brightly at him anymore. Spock was, in fact, already looking past Jim and at the door, clearly waiting for the Captain to move aside so that he could leave without having to touch him.

Mood plummeting, Jim opened his mouth again to express his regret but was intercepted.

"Kirk," Moss said, appearing from behind Spock. "I need to talk to you in my office right now."

Jim frowned; Moss's stern look was suspiciously like anger. "But I thought I did well—"

"Now."

Without another word the lawyer walked away, leaving Jim staring after him in disbelief.

"What the hell was that?" he said over his shoulder to Spock. "…Spock?"

When he got no answer he turned and found Spock had walked around the desk and was heading outside.

"Sp—" Jim started to say unconsciously, then remembered himself. Spock was being smart and Jim needed to be smart too, so he cleared his throat and gave Spock a stiff nod. "See you tomorrow, Commander."

Spock paused with his hands behind his back and returned the gesture with equal professionalism. "Captain."

The only jury member who remained saw this exchange and suppressed a snort, feeling like his intelligence had just been insulted.

x

"In order to help you I need the truth!"

"I already told you—"

"No you didn't! Do you want Commander Spock to be relocated to another ship? Do you want to be charged with needlessly endangering the lives of four-hundred people…?"

"There are three-hundred and ninety-two people on my ship and I have never needlessly endangered a single one of them!"

Jim and Mr Moss were yelling at each other from opposite ends of the latter's office and it was not a pretty sight. Furious and cornered by the lawyer's accusations, the Captain was reacting the only way he knew how: a good offense was the best defense.

Jim wasn't usually one to pick these sorts of fights, but he'd blown up after Moss's third 'Mr Spock will notice he way you look at him.' Apparently the fucking idiot was convinced that Jim was, in fact, the most irresponsible Captain in the world, and had actually managed to fall in love with his First Officer in a big and disastrous way.

"Just admit it, you fool!"

"Admit what? There's nothing going on between us!"

Moss's face was flushed with rage and he finally spun around and grabbed the Veritas device from behind his shelves.

"That's not what I'm asking you and you know it. There's no one else around, Captain Kirk, don't act any stupider than you are. You're terrible at it."

"Are you saying I'm an idiot or a genius?"

Moss turned on the device with a scowl. "I don't know how you do it, but you manage to be both." And then: "Nathaniel Moss, code four-eight-fifteen-sixteen."

"Confirmed."

"Scan Captain Kirk, James T.'s answers for veracity only."

"Captain Kirk, James T. located. Proceed."

"Turn that off," Jim grunted.

"Tell the truth."

Jim clenched his hands into fists and looked Moss square in the eye. "I don't love Spock."

"… Correct."

The lawyer glared at the shiny black casing incredulously. "I can't believe this."

"See? Spock is just a friend!"

"Incorrect."

Jim froze. Moss looked up at him with triumph.

"Care to say that again?"

"I…" he exhaled slowly. "We're just friends."

"Correct."

Moss snorted in derision. "That doesn't mean anything, Kirk. You couldn't deny that you wish for something more back in the courtroom and you can't say it now."

"I only want… I only see Spock as a friend."

"Incorrect."

It was Jim's turn to glare at the lie-detector.

"Useless. If you know you're lying it knows too." Moss was smiling now, but it wasn't cruel and there was more pity there than anything.

Jim craved his youth when this would be solved by punching something hard enough to break it.

"Spock and I… it's purely platonic, he means a lot to me but our friendship is the most important thing." This had to be correct, okay? He knew this was true. "I'll get over it, it's just a stupid crush with like the worst timing in history."

"…Inconclusive."

Jim stared at the device in surprise, momentarily distracted. "What's that…? I didn't know that could happen."

Moss rolled his eyes. "It means what you're saying can't be properly determined as true or false if you yourself are not sure whether it is one or the other. Extreme ambiguity can render even such a powerful mechanism useless."

Fuck, fuck. He was going to get over it eventually though, right? He’d dissected his own emotions thoroughly enough that the exact degree of his infatuation was a fixed point by now.

"Fine. I…" He what? "I know nothing's gonna happen between us and I don't plan on trying to make it happen."

"Correct."

Moss's smile had faded but Jim hated, hated being forced open like this.

"Kirk—"

"Are we done?"

"No."

He gritted his teeth and stayed put. "What else?"

At least Moss had the decency to look sorry, now. "I'm sorry, but I need to establish how bad this is. This is the thing that could break your case, Kirk."

"It's really not that bad," Jim ground out, forgetting he wasn't allowed to lie. "Just give me a few days, I'll deal with it—"

"Incorrect."

He took a deep breath to try and calm down. "Okay, fine, it's pretty bad, but not beyond salvaging. I'm a big boy, Mr Moss. I… I promise it's not beyond what I can handle."

Moss turned to the lie-detector but Jim just stared firmly ahead, jaw set stubbornly and neon-blue eyes flashing in defiance.

"…Correct."

x

Jim ended up spending the rest of the evening in that office working with Moss around his 'little issue,' as the lawyer referred to it (which was incredibly irritating because on the one hand he did want to downplay the gravity of his attraction to Spock, and yet his upbringing had deeply ingrained in him a distaste for the word 'little' being associated with any part of himself). They talked with forced civility and his nerves were frayed and on edge by the time he left, but it did help him put things into focus and Moss had some good advice on how to elegantly gloss over the aspects that could hurt Jim's image.

Still, the worst had passed according to the lawyer, since Jim wouldn't be required to take the stand again unless something happened that made Moss decide to question him further.

He walked out of there quite late and having skipped dinner, but decided that he wasn't hungry and that he needed to sleep. For the first time in a very long time Jim found himself wishing he wouldn't see Spock before getting to his quarters. He felt strange after all that talk about feelings; wild, unpredictable, like a slightly unfocused image or a distorted mathematical formula.

Obviously, when he rounded the corner outside the turbolift of Deck 5, he discovered that Spock was standing there, looking more serious and Vulcan than ever, and talking to Stavok.

He forgot about his wired mood then. At first glance their stances mirrored each other and both seemed perfectly composed, but as he walked up to them Jim noticed several minor yet key differences. Spock was leaning every so slightly forward, his jaw clenched, and the hands he held behind his back seemed rather tense. Stavok was shorter and had to look slightly up at him, but his posture was the definition of standard and polite.

The second Jim came within hearing range Spock stopped talking mid-sentence and both Vulcans turned to face him.

"Captain," Spock said with a hint of surprise. For a moment he stared at Jim with what could be a nameless positive emotion, and then suddenly he seemed to remember they weren't alone and sharply turned to face Stavok again.

In light of the other Vulcan's presence Jim strove to keep his tone distant when he replied wearily to his First Officer's profile; "Hello, Commander." Spock kept staring forward.

With a tight smile Jim nodded at Stavok. "Good evening Mr Stavok. It's been a while."

"Six days," Stavok replied.

"Right."

Jim looked between the two men and noticed that in addition to being tense Spock was looking at Stavok with slightly narrowed, accusing eyes; a gesture that in his First Officer usually denoted anger. Had Stavok insulted him? If Amanda's name had been mentioned so help him, Jim was going to end that asshole.

"So... is everything okay here?" Jim finally said in the uncomfortable silence, aware that they weren't going to offer any information unless he asked.

"Quite, Captain," Spock replied, still without turning to look at him. Stavok hadn't moved an inch; he was like a pillar.

"Indeed. May we continue our discussion now that Captain Kirk has joined us?" Stavok said to Spock. He didn't look mean or cruel at all, really; just curious.

"No," Spock said immediately. "I have no more to add."

"I see." Stavok looked Jim up and down and then cocked his head to the side to regard Spock with an unnervingly blank expression. "You concede the futility of denial, then?"

Something flashed in Spock's eyes and he took a deliberate step in front of Jim, effectively shielding him from Stavok's view.

"Spock, what—"

"It is not irrational to protect one's commanding officer," he said flatly. Jim couldn't see Spock's expression or Stavok's reaction to these words, but he suspected they were having a ‘Let's See Who Can Imitate The Wall Best’ contest (and Stavok was winning, if Spock's tense shoulders were anything to go by).

"Even now you exemplify unbecoming behavior. This will severely hinder your case, surely you are aware of that?"

Jim was about to retort angrily in defence of his First Officer when he realized that he was actually annoyed with Spock for being overprotective again, and Stavok had said 'unbecoming' but not 'un-Vulcan'. And Jim kind of agreed with him.

So he kept quiet for now.

"I might if it were true. However, it is not, and as there is no basis to your claim—"

"You treat your Captain as one would a child."

Well, that wasn't entirely true. Yes, Jim was the first one to complain about Spock sometimes molly-coddling him, but the point was that only Jim was allowed to point that out (also Bones, who saw the opportunity to call Spock out on acting Human and seized it with gusto). And sure, Spock was a bit of a control-freak, which combined with his deep regard for sentient life in a way that resulted in periodical rehashings of the "You are careless and illogical and risking your life is dumb, respectfully, sir" conversation (except Spock never phrased it quite like that but Jim got the gist). But when it came down to it Spock knew Jim could take care of himself. Jim wasn't Captain for nothing, after all.

He stepped around Spock to tell Stavok to back off, but the Vulcan's next pronouncement stopped him in his tracks.

"Or perhaps I am mistaken, and you treat him as one would a lover."

… What?

Where the hell had he gotten that from? What had Spock been saying before Jim arrived?

"You are severely mistaken," Spock said, stone-faced. Jim felt something in his chest tear slightly and hated himself for it.

"My apologies." Stavok's eyes flickered to Jim again and back to Spock. Despite the fact that his face wasn't exhibiting any more animation than his plain grey shirt, Jim felt him convey disbelief with the gesture. "I did not wish to offend you."

It was difficult to reconcile this guy to the image of Spock's mean childhood bully when Stavok seemed to be trying, in his own I-am-the-superior-Vulcan way, to help. Maybe Spock had been right and his nastiness had just been something that as a kid Stavok hadn't quite been able to control.

"You are mistaken," Spock repeated. "This is not something offensive to me, merely a fact I am attempting to enable you to comprehend."

That being said, Jim was starting to sense the hidden insults under these carefully constructed phrases. So maybe this was how Vulcans argued.

"I thank you for your consideration and concern."

"Your gratitude is unnecessary," Spock said with a subtle step closer to Jim… no, in front of him. Again. "However I believe you would benefit from terminating this illogical theory."

Stavok did not look impressed. "I am needed elsewhere in any case, Mr Spock, but I would recommend you further dwell on this issue before prompting its immediate dismissal."

Spock didn't reply, he just pointedly watched Stavok leave.

A few moments after Stavok had turned the corner, Jim sighed and stepped toward his First Officer.

"What the hell was that about?"

Spock finally looked at him, but his eyes weren't even a little bit softer. Jim felt his posture straighten and his expression harden in response.

"I believe Stavok attempted to impart… advice."

Jim flashed him a sarcastic grin. "Looks like you took it well."

"His warning was based upon an erroneous premise," Spock replied stiffly.

"Yeah yeah. Listen, I need to talk to you about this overprotective business—"

"It would be prudent to discuss this at another time," Spock interrupted him.

Jim stared at him blankly for a couple of seconds.

"Right. Okay, then I guess I'll see you tomorrow and we can pretend we barely know each other again, which you're great at, by the wmph—"

A hand was clamped over his mouth and he was shoved against the wall with so much force that he saw stars.

The Vulcan had moved with such speed that Jim was completely disoriented for a few moments, heart stuttering frantically in his chest. Spock's left hand covered Jim's lips and his right one had latched, vice-like, onto his waist, but those were the only two limbs that were touching him; torso held at a careful arm’s length to restrict the amount of contact between their bodies--and still somehow effectively pinning Jim to that wall.

“You speak in jest, Captain, surely. Our conduct in public is as it has always been.”

Jim tried to speak but Spock shook his head immediately with a non-expression that for some reason made Jim stop even though he hated a) having no idea what the fuck was going on, and b) being unsure whether or not Spock had finally gone completely insane.

They stayed perfectly still without looking into each other's eyes for an endless stretch of time. Jim was focusing with all his might on the boring line where the ceiling met the opposite wall, and not on the sensation of Spock's thumb digging painfully into the spot between two of his ribs. Spock's head was inclined slightly in the direction where Stavok had left and he seemed to be focused… listening.

After what felt like eons and seconds combined, Spock let him go and swiftly stepped away, leaving Jim to pretend he remembered how to breathe like a normal person.

"My apologies, Captain. I could not verbally indicate—"

"You couldn't say…"

"—the reason why you had to cease speaking. Mr Stavok was awaiting the turbolift a few paces away and could hear our conversation clearly."

"Oh. Shit, I can’t believe I forgot about Vulcan hearing.”

Jim couldn't find it in him to be mad at his First Officer, and so he smiled at him instead.

"Good thinking."

Spock's eyes positively shone and he seemed disproportionately pleased by this praise, definitely more so than the situation warranted. Jim decided to take it as his way of apologizing for before, and put the topic on hold.

"When I said we could not be seen together, I meant to suggest that we speak back in the privacy of my quarters. The turbolift is close enough to our rooms that the risk of being discovered is minimal," Spock said carefully.

"It's kind of hilarious that we have to sneak around like being friends is forbidden," Jim commented as they started walking in sync, secretly thinking that it wasn't even a little bit funny.

Spock looked at him, then at picked at a non-existent speck of dust on his sleeve. "I find it most… distasteful. I value our friendship, Jim."

Jim was not blushing, he had absolutely zero intention of blushing even a tiny bit, blushing was for people who were beyond hope and he was really, really not…

"Thanks, Spock. Me too," Jim told his shiny black boots.

They got to their adjoining quarters after a couple of minutes of comfortable silence.

"So…" Jim started, feeling extremely shy for a moment before remembering that he was James T. fucking Kirk and that he was not blushing at all, nor was he afraid of inviting his First Officer to his room to grab a bite to eat and maybe engage in a little small-talk (and, if they were really feeling naughty, play chess).

He cleared his throat and decided to try again at the same time as Spock said:

"Jim, if you prefer I removed myself from your company—"

"Wanna come inside for dinner or something—"

They both stopped and Jim frowned. "Why would I want you to leave?" Ever?

Spock blinked and then his eyes slid away from Jim's in a gesture that suddenly reminded him of the very first day of his command, when Spock had finally accepted the position of First Officer. I can provide character references. The Captain had been unable to bite back his huge, radiant smile and Spock had ducked his head and skirted around the emotion automatically, as though he found it unnerving to be the focus of that attention.

"Your thought processes are often a mystery to me. I thought perhaps you were having difficulty in expressing your reluctance out of consideration for my… for me."

Jim's palms tingled with the desire to grab Spock's arms and take his turn at shoving him against the wall, yell at him to get it though that bowl-cut that Jim was incapable of such noble sentiment—he was simply not that good.

"That's just stupid, Spock."

Spock's eyes did that shining thing again like he was secretly proud or something and it was adorable, and the annoying tingle was turning into an itch, because the corner of Spock's mouth had this tiny, tiny little curve upward that meant he was happy.

"In that case, I would be amenable to your suggestion."

"Awesome. Come in, then."

During the meal they both made a silent pact to stay away from the topic of Stavok and it passed quite amicably. There was only one weirdly tense moment when Jim took off his uncomfortable ceremonial shirt without, admittedly, much of a warning, and Spock had flared his nostrils and sharply looked away--but promptly denied offense when Jim worriedly asked about his culture’s views on light nudity. Instead, he stubbornly refused to meet Jim's eye until the Captain had covered up with a black undershirt.

After eating, though, Jim thought it was time to have this argument once and for all.

"So… Stavok is definitely the guy from your school, right?" he said lightly while he threw the dishes and cutlery into their respective containers to be sterilized and then reused.

The easy, comfortable mood vanished the second he mentioned Stavok's name, and Spock stiffened visibly.

"Yes. However, he is not to be trusted."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Who said anything about trusting him?"

For a second, fierce satisfaction (or was that relief?) animated Spock's face, but he quickly schooled his features into neutrality once more.

"But he doesn't seem evil or anything," Jim continued. "In fact he seems fine to me. Saner than you back then, too."

Spock gave him a stony, unimpressed look. "I believe that it is in your best interests to stay away from him."

"But why? See, this is what I'm talking—"

"He already appears to have made a favorable impression upon you." The words were clipped and Jim could tell that Spock was already annoyed, even angry. His reaction made no sense whatsoever.

"… Does that sentence come with an actual valid argument? Because him making a good impression is not a reason to distrust him; in fact, it’s kind of the exact opposite. You yourself said I should forget about him being a mean kid, Spock, how did you get from there to 'stay away from him?'"

"You cannot understand… it is in your best interests not to see him anymore."

The last plate clattered down the recycling chute and Jim ground his teeth in frustration. "But why? Did he...” he tried to think of a Vulcan-specific faux-pas Stavok could have made in relation to him that could elicit this much anger from Spock. “Did he insult one of the crew? Try to read my mind or something?"

"No… Jim, I am merely concerned for your well-being."

"Yeah, you keep saying that," Jim said, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the table.

Spock stood up from his seat rigidly. "It is the truth."

"Well, I'm not yours to protect." He realized how close this sounded to the secret that crept between his lungs. "I mean, that's not your job."

"I believed we were friends," Spock said, eyes flashing.

Jim took a step forward. "We are friends. But nothing more. So it's unfair for you to suddenly act like a... like an irrational…" he trailed away, unsure as to where the sentence had been going.

Spock stepped back, and for the first time in a very long time his face was completely alien to Jim; stony and cold.

"You believe Stavok's suggestion?" His tone was flat and perfectly controlled. "That I regard you with undue… emotion?"

Jim's chest ached like a motherfucker but this was good, this would help with the process of eliminating his nascent emotions, the letting go that needed to happen any day now.

"Of course not," he retorted. "That's ridiculous."

"Then I—"

Suddenly Spock's expression shifted and his eyes darted to the ceiling. Jim's defensive anger screeched to a halt, and he frowned in confusion.

"What is it?"

"Be silent," Spock instructed him immediately. This once Jim did as he was told but he took another step toward his First, who was standing still as a perfect statue.

After a couple of seconds he heard a low sound… like the faint hiss of compressed air from a release valve, except it was coming from somewhere above them.

Jim looked up, trying to spot the source. He couldn't see anything out of the ordinary, couldn't hear more than that little innocent noise. Spock's eyebrows were drawn together in concentration and he looked almost worried.

"Hey…" Jim whispered. "Is something wrong?"

"I do not know."

The Vulcan took Jim's arm and Jim was so surprised by this casual touch that he let himself be steered behind Spock before he knew what was happening.

"Stop doing that," he snapped, trying to wrench free of Spock's grip.

"Something is—"

And then the low hiss became abruptly much louder, and smoke started coming out of the vent near the ceiling. Except that nothing smelled like it was burning.

"… What's happening?" Jim said, taking a step backwards.

Spock was looking intently at the smoke slowly filling the room. "I do not know. It appears to be gaseous and it is potentially noxious. Securing a sample would probably be harmful." His science officer sounded like he was considering being put out that he couldn't study it, although he had put a hand on Jim's chest and was pushing him toward the door. Jim went without protest, eyes glued to the vent and registering several stray facts that he knew he'd probably need for later: the smoke was odorless, it was denser than air because he could see it flowing down, and it appeared to be leaving a black dust coating on the higher shelves… holy shit.

The top shelf was crumbling.

"Spock, it's not a gas! It's some kind of suspension of an acidic compound—!"

"Shut your mouth, Jim," Spock said quickly, giving Jim a hard shove backwards. But it was too late; the smoke had reached them and Jim realized it had been a literal instruction the moment he felt the substance come into contact with his skin.

"Ow! Fuck!"

It burned white-hot and incredibly painful, making blood well up instantly on his arms. Jim started backing away in earnest, grabbing Spock's sleeve to pull the Vulcan after him, all the while feeling the burn of the powder like pinpricks of fire all over his body and even through his clothes.

"Spock, let's go, come on!"

Spock spun around and the next thing Jim knew, his gravity center shifted and he was being grabbed around the waist and roughly thrown over Spock's shoulder, the air whooshing out of his lungs. He coughed painfully and felt the poisonous substance scorch his throat.

"Put me down!" Jim ordered, his voice scraped raw. Whatever this was he knew it would be a very, very bad thing if it entered his bloodstream, but Spock was in danger too.

"Spock for fuck's sake, put me down right now!" He was furious for being rendered so utterly useless but the grip on him only tightened as Spock crossed the room in long-legged strides and stopped with a bone-jarringly abrupt motion once they'd reached the door between their quarters. Jim tried to squirm out of his arms again but was unsuccessful; he could feel his circulation being cut off in the places where Spock's fingers were tight around his flesh.

"Spock I swear, if you don't—mph!" A hand was clamped over his mouth for the second time in the past hour and the door opened. The air in Spock's quarters tasted pure and clean, thank goodness, and Jim saw the interconnecting door shut before any of that smoke could get inside.

Then the panel to the bathroom swished open and Jim was thrown bodily into the antique tub.

He landed with a grunt of pain that quickly turned into a yelp of surprise when a cascade of water on his face made him splutter and cough, and suddenly Spock was trying to violently wrestle him out of his clothes and Jim couldn't stop coughing and he couldn't see and he was dizzy.

The burning pain from his wounds ebbed as the powder started to wash away but Jim didn't care about that, all he cared about was Spock, always, Spock, who may be able to isolate himself from the pain but that didn't mean anything; this was a toxic chemical and he could very well die.

"Spock—" Jim managed to say in between hacking gasps. "Spock, stop it—"

The Vulcan had fisted his fingers around the fabric of his black undershirt in a way that seemed to suggest that he was quite ready to rip it off if necessary, and he obviously wasn't planning on listening to reason.

"Dammit Spock, come on!"

But Spock was unmoved. Jim tried to slap him but only succeeded in getting a cuff-shaped bruise on his wrist when Spock locked his thumb and index fingers around it (Jim's ego also took a severe blow at the insulting ease with which Spock did this, but that was a matter for later).

Not one to give up easily, Jim bit the exposed back of Spock's pale hand hard enough that Spock let him go, eyes wide with surprise and anger.

"Jim—"

"You're hurt too, you need to clean—"

"Be still."

"Fuck you, I'm trying to save your life—"

Spock pushed him down but Jim just clenched his stomach muscles and tried to sit up again, and soon this had become something that didn't even remotely resemble a team effort so much as a fight as they both tore at each other and struggled with the clingy--now completely sodden material.

Finally Jim managed to get some leverage by playing dirty and hooking one hand around the waistband of Spock's trousers, then giving it a hard yank that made Spock stumble forward and nearly pitch into the tub. There was a loud, guttural growl that he'd already half-expected and then Jim put all his strength behind another, stronger tug and Spock crashed sideways onto him, once again knocking the breath out of his chest but this time with his full weight. Oof, Spock was heavy.

"You cannot die—" Spock began furiously, fingers immediately scrabbling for the black fabric of his shirt and tugging at it with ruthless strength.

"Shut up. No one's going to die if you just let me help."

Rivulets of water ran down Spock's body and fleetingly Jim recalled his dreams; fantasies of having Spock in the shower with him, of sinking to his knees and being grabbed by the hair for purchase …

This was as far from that as it could get.

Green blood was trailing down Spock's arms and staining the Vulcan's formal clothes, so Jim started to tear the collar off with brusque movements. He was relieved when Spock, after an instant's pause, let him; if only to better access Jim's own. The black shirt was rendered into strips and thrown carelessly over the side of the tub at the same time as Jim finally managed to rip open Spock's silver collar and expose his creamy greenish-white neck and torso.

"Jim, you must—"

"Quiet," he instructed. "Help me out with this."

Since there was no time for arguing Spock complied by letting Jim pull the garment down his arms, then returned to the attack raising Jim's legs by the knee and tugging off his black boots. Unfortunately, the Vulcan's strength caught him off-balance and Jim banged his head against the edge of the tub. "Ow. Fuck—"

Spock's eyes darted up to assess the damage and back to his task once he decided Jim would not, in fact, die.

At least not from a blow to the head.

"Wait, Spock, let me—"

"That is not necessary."

Every second that passed meant more blood mixed with the water and when the fastening of Jim's pants proved difficult Spock made an impatient noise at the back of his throat and Jim, without even thinking twice about it, pulled them down, leaving him only in his pale grey briefs. This was about survival. They could die. There was no time for thinking.

The water had started out ice-cold but gotten progressively warmer and was now near boiling, just like Spock's body (Spock's half-naked body) which pressed, uncomfortably hot, against Jim's skin. He ignored this, however, as he blindly knocked a bottle of soap inside and then started to frantically rub Spock's arms and chest with it.

"Jim, an unknown reaction with the substance—"

"It'll work. Shut up."

He pushed Spock backwards so the Vulcan was sitting down and leaned forward, knowing even as he did so that this was something that Spock had allowed, and not entirely Jim's to control.

Soon his hands were sliding over the smooth marble skin, creating foam and bubbles that made Spock glisten and shine. But what Jim was intent on was catching those flecks of green blood and washing away the streaks of black that Spock still had all over him. Water fell into Jim's eyes from his dripping hair but he merely flicked his head like a dog and continued his task.

Immediately after making sure that there was no chemical reaction with the soap, Spock had copied his gestures; hot hands slipping over Jim's broad shoulders and neck, his chest, then down the sides of his torso, his waist, his hipbones. Jim was busy enough trying to do the same that he could ignore the way Spock's touch was rough and much, much too good.

Patches of Spock's sleek black hair were singed and more green blood seeped out when his head went under the the faucet, but the damage wasn't too bad and all this did was make his bowl-cut look more messy.

"Good," Jim muttered absent-mindedly, massaging the scalp to make absolutely sure. "Okay, now turn around—"

"No," Spock interrupted, pulling Jim's hands away from his hair in a quick move. "You have now finished helping me and I am done indulging this."

And it was in that moment, a mere millisecond after reassuring himself that Spock was probably out of danger, that Jim looked down to realise he had practically climbed on top of the other man's lap. And Spock was wearing nothing but foam and his black underwear, starkly contrasted against his pale skin…

"I-I don't… w-what…?" he stuttered, unable to tear his gaze away from the curves and sinews the light exposed, sights he’d never seen before.

Perhaps taking advantage of Jim's temporary failure at thinking, Spock grabbed him by the shoulders and, in a sudden movement that left Jim reeling, stood up.

“Sp—“

Then he slammed Jim’s back against the tiled wall.

"Spock—" he choked. "What the fu—"

Spock cut him off by digging his elbow into Jim’s windpipe. "Understand this; I can incapacitate you," he said, quick and deliberate, obviously eager to get to the point. Jim really hoped the point was not to kill him. "Therefore, it is illogical for you to attempt to move, or escape, or ensure I am healed before you are. I may simply overpower you. Do you understand?"

Jim nodded, unable to speak, and realized he could see a smear of black down the back of Spock's neck. When he feebly tried to reach for it, to wipe it away, Spock shoved him against the wall again.

"Spock, Christ--"

"Stop," Spock ordered firmly. "We will contact the Hospital Bay immediately after I have ensured that you are unhurt and temporarily not at risk. Stop and remain still or we may run out of time."

With a surge of outrage Jim realized that his toes were barely brushing the floor of the tub.

"We're wasting time… right now," he grunted.

"Then do not move. Do not move, Jim." Spock's voice had gone lower and sharper, and it reminded Jim of that time so long ago when he had said 'Back away from me', except that now he was saying the opposite.

The damn truth was that Spock was stronger and could easily overpower him, so it made no sense to keep struggling. Jim went limp and pliant in Spock's arms.

The Vulcan wasted no time in setting him down and grabbed the bottle of soap. Without preamble he began cleaning Jim's wounds methodically and efficiently, past the frantic pressure from before; the worst Jim had suffered was clearly the bleeding on his hands and forearms, when he must have instinctively raised them to protect his eyes from the dust.

The trouble came when it became apparent that some of the black powder had accumulated in the waistband of Jim's briefs instead of washing away, dying them darker around the edges. When Spock noticed this his movements halted abruptly, like someone had pressed a 'pause' button in his brain.

"Uh…"

Normally Jim would have just taken them off. Awkward, yes, amazingly so. But hey, what's a little awkward when it's life and death?

However when Vulcans, touch-telepathy, water and soap were involved, nakedness suddenly seemed like the more daunting option.

"Look… I'll…"

He was diverted from his attempt at composing a coherent sentence when he saw a bead of emerald blood roll down Spock's chin, mixing with the water. He wiped it away with a soapy hand and tried to get back to the mindset of earlier, when the rush and the frenzy of what needed to be done had helped him forget what he was actually doing, but... he couldn’t. He needed to get away. The worst of the threat was over, and the potential for disaster of a very different kind seemed to be growing with every passing second.

"I think I should go now," he said firmly. "We both need a proper decontamination shower."

Spock just kept staring dumbly at the twin lines of taut muscle that started at Jim's stomach and then dipped under the elastic of his underwear.

"Spock. Sickbay. Let’s go."

He took a step back and Spock's eyes flew up to meet his, expression completely unreadable but not blank; instead, it was charged with something impossible to identify. If Jim had to choose an emotion it would perhaps be anger, which was just crazy.

He was about to gingerly step out of the space, trying not to slide too clumsily, when he saw it.

Green blood, a lot of it, was pooling at Spock's feet. In a flash Jim remembered that panicked moment; Spock with his back to the vent, that awful sound, and then the burning pain all over.

"Turn around," he said.

Spock's eyes widened marginally and he almost seemed to not understand what Jim was saying.

"Spock, turn around, you're hurt."

Something must have happened in the past few seconds because instead of arguing again Spock did as he was told. Jim swore when he saw what was revealed; Spock's shoulder-blades and spine looked horribly scraped, and there was green everywhere.

"Dammit, Spock," he muttered softly.

He grabbed the shower-head and washed the black dust from the wounds as best as he could, but soon realized a dermal regenerator would definitely be necessary.

"Okay, we should… we should go now."

When Spock turned back to face him his expression was completely shuttered again, but he caught Jim's left wrist to stop him.

"A moment, Jim. You seem to have powder in your hair still."

Jim was actually aware of this but his sudden urge to get as far away from Spock as he could was warring with his (admittedly very, very poor) self-preservation instincts. Good thing the urge to run was winning, for once.

"No, it's okay, I'll just—"

"Do not be illogical, Jim."

And without giving him another second to protest Spock reached up and started massaging his scalp, fingers digging deeply into it to get rid of the powder. Jim felt his breath hitch and his pulse race even more frantically than before when he'd thought they might die; Spock's hands felt so amazing and he could feel a low groan threatening to escape his throat…

With a start he remembered where he was and what was happening. Shit. Hitherto unknown erogenous zones aside, this was not the time to get carried away. Jim clenched his hands into fists, willing his libido to calm the fuck down because otherwise Spock was going to feel it, Spock was going to know… Spock was caressing the spot behind Jim's ear with his thumb and Jim's toes were curling with pleasure…

"Spock, stop it," he gasped.

"You could injure—"

"I'm serious, cut it out," he said angrily. He could feel the warmth in his stomach start to pool lower…

"Jim—"

"No—"

Their eyes locked, Spock's hands still fisted in Jim's hair, and for a moment it was all Jim could do not to lunge forward. His entire body ached for it.

"Spock, I…"

Jim caught it; the moment the realization dawned on Spock.

Understanding widened his black eyes and made his long-fingered hands drop from Jim's head down to his shoulders. Their faces were so close but all this did was make it easier for Jim to read the fear in Spock's eyes.

An ice-cold stab of hurt worse than anything Spock had ever made him feel before pierced his gut. It was exactly as bad as he'd predicted.

"I… I'm sorry," Jim said stupidly. He felt sick to his stomach, disgusted with himself. "I-I didn't mean to…"

He tried to tell himself it could have been worse. But... how? He would have preferred disgust, or even revulsion. Fear was... Spock was afraid of him.

"Jim."

Spock's lips were wet and glistening. Desire still roared in Jim’s ears but Spock’s reaction to it held him in place more effectively than a cement block.

"I'll go… just let me go and I'll get out. Spock, I'm sorry."

Spock's hands slid down his arms but instead of leaving they remained wrapped around Jim's wrists. Jim couldn't bring himself to look up at Spock's eyes again, to see that fear again, so instead he watched the water pool in the hollows of Spock's throat and collarbone and wanted to drink it, drink it all up.

"Spock, come on, we should—"

"Jim. Apologizing is illogical."

Still staring fixedly at Spock's neck, Jim frowned. He had spent quite a bit of time with Spock since getting his command (probably a lot) and slowly, over the course of their various missions, had filed away in his mind the different tones of voice his First Officer adopted for future reference. Jim had thought, until now, that he was familiar with all the different ways Spock had for calling him "reckless idiot" without actually going out and saying it. All the little inflections or catches in his voice that masked a well-hidden pain, be that physical or mental. He had even learned to identify the slightly sarcastic, warm tone Spock might sometimes slip up and use when he was joking.

But he did not recognize this voice.

"I… I know."

"Then do not."

Jim gave his arm a feeble tug.

"Spock come on, let go of me—"

"I… cannot."

"What the hell does that mean?" Jim snapped, angry now. And in that anger he finally found the courage to look up.

Spock's eyes were fixed on his lips.

The fear was still there. In fact, it seemed to be even more obvious than before and now it looked like positive terror, but the way Spock's pupils had dilated hugely was undeniable. He was... he was...

"What?" Jim whispered sharply.

Spock reached out with one finger and wiped at a spot at the corner of Jim's mouth. The moment their skins touched Jim felt all of Spock's contorted tension as though it had flowed into him as well, making every muscle in his body clench, making him inhale roughly.

"Be careful not to consume any of the substance," the Vulcan murmured.

Oh. 

Oh.

Of course Spock had just been saving his life again even right after he'd realized that Jim not-so-secretly wanted him, even now in this corny antique bathtub and despite the fact that they were in a terribly dangerous situation.

"Sorry," he breathed, except he hadn't realized Spock's finger was still hovering over of his lips and he accidentally brushed it.

Spock's hand was snatched back lightning-fast but something happened to Jim when he saw the way Spock's Adam's apple bobbed up and down. His arm shot out and their palms smacked together, and suddenly he could have sworn that Spock entwined their fingers on purpose and Jim would never know which one of them was the first to move but...

Their lips met.

It made his brain white-out and a surge of adrenalin shoot through his whole body, from the strength with which Spock's fingers were pressing against his back to the way his tongue thrust into Jim's mouth. It was so good, it was too good and he heard himself moan greedily when Spock pulled him by his hair and used his superior strength to smash his back against the wall (yet again), all without breaking the kiss.

He'd never felt this before, it had never been like this with anyone; so desperate and necessary

When Spock pulled back abruptly Jim leaned forward with a noise of protest, trying to follow him unthinkingly, why was it over already, too soon, no, more, he wanted more… before he caught himself and opened his eyes.

"Ah," he said eloquently.

The water kept falling down in a steady stream.

"So… you're not quite as heterosexual as I thought."

Jim heard himself say it, voice still rasping and breathing in short pants, but for a few precious, wonderful moments he was convinced that he hadn't actually said that and it was just his crazy imagination playing tricks on him. To ruin a moment so thoroughly and inappropriately would take a spectacular amount of idiocy.

Spock just stared at him, which confirmed it, and Jim could practically taste the foot in his mouth. He was such a fucking asshole sometimes, Jesus.

"Spock, I—"

Suddenly Spock let go of him as though his skin was on fire and leapt agilely out of the tub, sending water everywhere. Once a few safe meters were between them the Vulcan squared his shoulders and turned to face Jim, who remained exactly where he'd been left; soaked, panting, and in his thin, thin underwear.

"Sickbay," Spock blurted. It didn't sound like everything Spock normally said; calm, well thought-out, rational. It made Jim want to punch himself, the way Spock couldn't seem to look him in the eye. "We must… go, before there is any damage."

Jim tried to find words to say that would make sense if put together in a sentence but this was way harder than it looked.

"Spock… wait—"

"If you wish we may discuss this incident at a later date, and you have my apologies for my unprofessional behavior. Right now it is imperative that we procure medical assistance."

With deliberate determination Spock looked away and walked to his wardrobe. Jim was tossed a science uniform shirt and boots, which he caught with his head still spinning. Then Spock was dressed far too quickly and he wasn't wearing his black undershirt, so the blue material lay directly over the flushed pale greenish tinge of his skin.

Unable to do anything but stare, Jim stayed where he was (well, that and he also dripped). When Spock noticed this he gave a low grunt and threw him a pair of black regulation pants that slapped Jim square in the face and served to wake him up.

"Ow."

"We must depart immediately."

Jim stepped out of the tub and looked around for a towel, realized Spock hadn't used one and this meant they really were in a hurry, and started to dress himself.

... Too slowly for Spock's liking, apparently, since the Vulcan stepped toward him and started yanking the shirt down over Jim’s head. The asshole who had blurted out a comment about Spock’s sexuality a minute ago might have been tempted to comment on Spock’s lacking the earlier enthusiasm he had displayed when taking Jim’s clothes off. What Jim said was: "I can dress myself, you know.”

Spock's hand had been reaching to straighten his shirt. Their eyes met and for just one moment both stopped moving.

Spock's pupils still looked abnormally dilated.

"Very well," the Vulcan replied curtly, and stepped away. Jim instantly missed the contact but instead of letting any of that show he coolly stepped into his boots and strode to the door.

"Do you have a communicator? I want to page Bones on the way." Spock didn't answer, but when Jim turned to berate him for it the expression he caught on his First Officer made his mouth go suddenly dry. "… Spock?"

Spock was looking at his own science-blue uniform on Jim in a way that would make a lesser man want to take it off again. And Jim wasn’t exactly winning any awards today in the first place.

But he had to stay sane here. "Spock. Snap out of it."

Spock did, with a glare at his Captain that did not help.

"Hospital Bay," Jim enunciated. Spock seemed positively offended at the suggestion that he'd been anything less than completely professional.

"I was merely assessing the extent of your physical injuries—"

"Sure you were. And my face is up here."

If he could have, Spock would have scoffed. "You are mistaken—"

"You are a liar."

Spock pursed his lips and Jim wanted to laugh hysterically, then launch himself at his First Officer and wrestle him to the floor.

"We must go, now."

Jim nodded and stepped outside, Spock at his heels.

When he turned left instead of right toward the turbolift, Spock stopped.

"Captain, what…?"

"I need to seal my room," Jim explained quickly, typing the lock-combination on the panel outside his quarters. The door seemed solid enough but it was better to take no chances, and they'd need to contact Engineering, Maintenance, and especially Commodore Emerett just as soon as they got to the Hospital Deck.

"Captain, please—"

"Almost done."

Spock's tense, pinched face seemed to soften microscopically. "Jim. It is possible you are suffering severe chemical intoxication."

Jim finished and suddenly whirled and sprinted toward the turbolift, his speed obviously taking Spock by surprise.

"Come on, Spock, you're slowing me down!" he called, forcing levity in an effort to leave his panic and anxiety behind him.

When he looked back he didn't see Spock, and slowed his steps, confused… only to whip his head around and catch his First Officer running past him.

x

Inside the turbolift, the tension in the air made it seem dense and hard to swallow. Anxiety and panic hadn't enjoyed being abandoned and so had happily caught up with Jim.

He didn't know what was happening except that it wouldn’t be a good thing if Spock was interested in him because hello, on trial here. And so what if something deep down in Jim's chest region seemed intent on doing little flip-flops of joy? They could be perfectly mature about this. It had been a life-or-death situation and the rush of it turning out to be the former and not the latter explained what had happened. They could move on.

Or Spock could move on and Jim could pine a little bit more and maybe get off on this memory a couple of times before moving on as well.

"If something positive is to be extracted from tonight's events, Jim…" it's that I finally know what your mouth tastes like and it's amazing. "… it is that we now know that you are not, in fact, the victim of an increasingly improbable statistical likelihood."

Jim looked sideways at Spock's still-wet, shining skin and sighed.

"Nope. And neither are you."

Unspoken but very clear, one thought remained.

The accidents, the 'bad luck'… it had all been intentional. Someone wanted them dead.

 

Chapter Text

Leonard McCoy was a deceptively patient man. Oh, he liked to scold the officers he treated if it was their own damn fault that they needed medical attention in the first place, and with his Captain and Best Friend James Kirk, this was very often the case... but McCoy knew that for all of Jim's protests the end result was always a fond chuckle and a variety of unsincere insults: 'grumpy' and 'mean' and 'evil' (and, to be fair, McCoy had more or less embraced his deserving of the 'grumpy' one). When it came down to his health Jim was careless, reckless, and disturbingly unaware of just how idiotically dangerous some of his stunts were, which was why McCoy knew that the Captain needed to hear a good scolding because no one else would do the job. And that was okay too, even.

Leonard McCoy might like to give stern lectures to the idiots who deserved them but he was deceptively patient when it came to the emotional... stuff. Emotional stuff was private and for other people to worry about; because dammit man he was a doctor, not a psychologist.

Being Jim's best friend, however, meant he noticed things. And he kept quiet at first, of course he did. If Jim's bright eyes became all the more brighter when Spock was around, well, from day one that kid had been screaming 'Look at me! Notice me! I'm over here!' at the hobgoblin and that was before the two could even stand each other. If the blind fool took his sweet time in realizing what was happening to him, well, was it really McCoy's place to tell him? No, McCoy's place was after that happened, helping out, giving his advice and also teasing the hell out of his Captain for acting like such a dork.

Leonard McCoy was a deceptively patient man. Really. But when he actually saw the state his two superior officers were in that night, well, he kind of forgot.

He'd gotten Jim's frantic and almost unintelligible message to meet him at the Hospital Bay a mere two minutes ago and been worried sick. He'd had to fight the urge to sound the red alert and make sirens blare all over the Starbase. He'd managed to gather that witnesses to this might be a bad idea and sent all the night-shift nurses out for replicated coffee... and after all of that, his first impression of Jim and Spock was that they had just come running to the Sickbay after having some pretty impressively rough sex. The pair were in damp science uniforms, obviously hastily thrown on, and had equally telling flushed cheeks and trickling wet hair. Jim was panting from the run and Spock's eyes had a strange sheen to them, not to mention the usual current of tension between them seemed to have been amped up to an unhealthy pitch.

"Oh my God, what have you two done?"

x

It took them a good thirty seconds of garbled explanations and trying to talk over each other to convince the doctor that no sex had been had, of any variety, including but not limited to 'rough' (and no, cuffs were at no point involved either! Jesus, Bones!).

"Then what the fuck happened?"

The lights of the large main room were dimmed to night-setting and McCoy's shout caused one of the patients sleeping in the bed nearest to them to mutter "My eardrums, please, I'm an innocent bystander."

Jim huffed a breath impatiently and pitched his voice to an urgent whisper. "Look, we'll explain after a decontamination shower. Don't tell anyone we're here, don't page the on-call doctor, don't wake anyone 'till I explain, kay?" He spoke quickly, throat stinging and a painful reminder that he'd inadvertently inhaled some of the poison.

McCoy's eyes widened even more, but before he could ask any questions Jim anticipated him. "No time, Bones." He choked back a cough and tried to school his features into an apologetic grimace. "Decontamination. Where...?"

"There's one next to the offices and one at the end of the room," the doctor replied automatically, and then Jim and Spock were off again, sprinting each to a different cubicle without needing to discuss it.

This time Jim stripped totally naked and let the sonic wash away until every last speck of him felt clean enough that Spock could probably eat off of—okay seriously, what was wrong with him that he still retianed his ability to think of sex even at times like these, wow. The space was small and very bright; lights glancing off of the clinically white walls, so that when Jim caught a glimpse of his reflection in the small mirror he had a very clear image of himself lit from every angle. Strangely, even after being poisoned and possibly about to die and not having slept all too well the day before, he looked almost feverishly alive; better than he had any right to, certainly. And his lips were slightly swollen, as if instead of a brutally short kiss Spock had thrown him onto the bed and used his mouth for hours.

God, he had no idea what the hell that kiss had meant. If it had even—screw it, he couldn't deal with this right now.

He gulped water several times but his throat felt no better, and when he spit it out there was a pinkish tinge that was clearly a bad sign. The corrosive suspension had also left nasty wounds along his forearms, neck and back, and he still felt slightly nauseous, head buzzing unpleasantly.

"Bones?"

When he emerged from the cubicle in a white hospital gown, the Sickbay was just as dark and silent as it had been. The patients all seemed to be asleep and there was no sign of the on-call doctor, not even a nurse in sight. For a moment Jim just stood there hesitantly, trying to figure out where McCoy could have gone.

"Bones?" he called softly, looking around the cavernous room for his friend. The offices, maybe? But for all he knew some of those doors lead to supply closets instead.

Suddenly one of them swished open without warning and McCoy came rushing out with a truly frightening amount of hyposprays in his arms.

"We're going into the private rooms, come on," he said, motioning with his head.

Jim followed him to the very end of the hospital bay and through one of three similar-looking doors that led into a clean and cosy-looking two-bed setup. Inside, nurse Chapel was examining Spock's palms with gloved hands and clearly taking great pains not to touch them. His First Officer was wearing the exact same gown Jim was, except that it made Spock's dark eyes, hair and eyebrows stand out against the pale surroundings in a rather distressingly attractive way... which meant that when the Vulcan resolutely avoided meeting Jim's gaze Jim could only be grateful.

"You need to tell us what the hell's going on, kid," McCoy demanded the moment Jim hopped onto the spare bed, legs dangling by the side. "Spock says you'll explain better than him, which let me just record that forever and play it on a loop because since when has this hobgoblin ever admitted to not being the best at something—"

"Dr McCoy," Chapel interrupted lightly, without even looking away from her task.

"Right. Anyway, was there some sort of accident in the science department? You do know eighty percent of the base is asleep at this time, right? What were you two thinking?"

"I... we weren't in the science department, that's not—"

"I suggest you begin scanning procedures while the Captain provides his explanation, to economize time and increase efficiency, doctor," Spock cut in, gaze fixed steadily forward. Before McCoy could retort to that, however, Jim slid off the bed to lean against it coolly.

"Have they even scanned you yet? And I mean a proper full-body scan, not just preliminary tricorder readings."

"You are a priority," Spock replied. Obviously, he meant that Jim was Captain and his rank gave him immediate distinction in these cases, but it was pitiful how Jim's treacherous pulse sped up at his words anyway.

"You're kidding, right?"

Spock arched one eyebrow inquisitively as if to say 'Who, me?', and the only sign of lingering conflict from earlier was a slight tightness around his eyes. Jim took a step forward to glare at Spock in a hopefully imposing way.

"Spock."

"It is not in my habit to 'kid', as you are well aware of."

"Look Jim, you are the Captain—" McCoy interjected.

Jim held up an authoritative hand to silence his CMO with so much confidence and severity that the doctor was perplexed into silence. Still looking accusingly at Spock, Jim continued. "Have you even told them that you're worse off?" he demanded.

"What?" Chapel whirled on her patient sharply. "Mr Spock, you said you were barely affected!"

McCoy turned around to face Spock as well, clearly pissed off.

"Dammit, what's going on here?"

"Check him out first," Jim said, immediately seizing his chance and pointing at Spock like he was signaling out the misbehaving child in the classroom. "He has burns all over his back. I'll explain as we—"

"As Captain of the Enterprise Jim's health must take priority," Spock interrupted sharply, the look on his face indicating that he was trying to loom while sitting on a hospital bed.

"Oh come on, Spock! Let's not do this again, please!"

"Captain—"

"That's enough." In a heartbeat Jim's voice switched back to the more impersonal tone he used on the bridge. Lately this happened unconsciously, which a distant part of his brain (you know, one that wasn't occupied with either trying to figure out who wanted to kill them, ignoring the pain, ignoring the fear or ignoring the Spock) noted was something that used to take some effort before. "I mean it. You're my subordinate, remember? This is one hundred percent my decision, and you—"

"Just stop it, both of you!" McCoy snapped, looking like he was about to wring someone's neck. Jim recognized this expression; he liked to call it 'Either You Do What I'm Saying Or You DIE, Painfully And In Capital Letters'.

"You're wasting more time arguing than telling me what I need to look out for! This is a serious situation, and no amount of bickering will make it go away, so I need you both to remember who the fuck you're supposed to be and forget about the drama undoubtedly caused by having to shower together naked—"

It was at this point that Jim opened his mouth to protest that they kept their underwear on and then, wisely, closed it again.

"—because I don't know what's going on and until I do no one is making another idiotic comment, get it?"

Spock gave a curt nod. "My apologies, doctor."

"Sorry, Bones."

"Good. Now, Jim, get back on the bed and sit still because I need to scan you and before you say anything you're the Captain and it's procedure. Remember proper procedure? It's that thing you keep ignoring that got you into some pretty big trouble recently?"

"You're so mean to me," Jim grumbled, but he did as he was told.

McCoy rolled his eyes and swept the tricorder over Jim's body while the Captain did his best to try to explain what had happened. Spock didn't interrupt once; he simply sat there and let nurse Chapel fuss over him while quietly listening. Spock had a particular way of listening that somehow made Jim more determined to get his facts exactly right for wanting to impress him; it was one of the constants that hadn't changed from the Enterprise to the Starbase, and Jim took a moment to be grateful for that.

In the middle of gesturing expressively as the doctor double-checked results, Jim discreetly glanced at Spock (he was getting to the part with the soap and he wasn't sure whether there would be any sort of appreciable reaction on that face), but the only sign of emotion he could identify was the thing Spock's eyebrows did when the Vulcan was conveying satisfaction in the general vein of 'they scanned you first so I won, ha.' Smug bastard. Jim shot him a mock-glare and for a moment it was almost normal, almost like it used to be, and maybe they'd be okay after all.

"... and we washed it off as best we could before running over here," he concluded.

McCoy's eyebrows had shot for his hairline at some point during the tale. "So you think there's some sort of conspiracy going on in the base and tonight someone tried to kill you... with acid."

Jim shrugged nonchalantly; partly out of the desire to punish Spock for getting his way earlier because he knew his First hated it when he got infuriatingly blasé talking about his own death. "It certainly seems that way."

"Corrosion is a fucking painful way to..." the doctor trailed off with a horrified look. "Shit. Well, at least you're not dead yet, although that can't have been the easiest toxin to manufacture and I have to say it's a miracle you made it."

Nurse Chapel had finished examining Spock and was taking off her gloves. "I suppose we'll need the dermal regenerator, then?" She asked.

"Yes, and the burn-kit."

"Be right back." She cast a disapproving look at both Jim and Spock before leaving the room quietly.

There was a slightly awkward silence before Jim decided he needed to become Captain Kirk again.

"So listen, we need to page Security and Maintenance before anyone finds my room by accident," he told McCoy, forcing himself to keep talking through the raw soreness of his vocal chords. "We need to contain whatever it was, and I only hope there wasn't enough of that shit to burn a hole through the Deck, although I'm thinking not since that's risking damaged circuitry for the entire Starbase and then everyone would die, including the asshole who thought this was an actual idea."

"Jim—"

"Obviously Engineering will have to take a look at the ventilation system and make sure none of this stuff got into other rooms, although at this point I'm pretty sure it won't have or we'd be on a general Yellow Alert at least, maybe even Red. Then I need to talk to Emerett, because if he's behind this we don't want him to think we suspect him and if he isn't, well, we can use all the help we can get."

"Jim—"

"Oh yeah, and why didn't the environmental systems detect anything? No one was on their way to our quarters right now, I'm sure of it. Have they only been disabled near my room, or is it the whole Deck, or is it the entire Base? I'm sure Moss will be delighted if this paints us in a sympathetic light but it would be best if this was kept quiet—"

"Jim, this can all be done in ten minutes when I've finished deciding whether you're going to die a slow and painful death or not," McCoy said reasonably.

"I'm not sure it can—"

"Well I am, so shut up."

Jim fumed and rolled his eyes and generally behaved rather childishly after that, but he was also silent, so no one could really complain. For a few minutes, at least. Then he got tired of watching his CMO squint and hum and shake his head at his tricorder.

"So how bad is it, then?" he piped up.

"You've got minor corrosive burns nearly everywhere, and light metabolic acidosis," McCoy replied distractedly. "Also you swallowed some of it. Idiot. That could've given you deadly emphisema."

Spock slid off his bed, all graceful economy of movement, and angled his head so he could peek at the results. Jim felt it was a bit of an unreasonable test of his restraint to expect him not to do the same and discreetly walk around McCoy to look over his shoulder.

He wasn't an expert on tricorder readings by any means, but the handy little diagram of his full-body scan clearly showed where he had the worst skin damage, painting him in bright red colours of varying intensity according to the severity of the wound. The worst of it was obviously on his hands and neck, even though there were weird imprints on his waist and back that might've—

Suddenly Spock jerked away from the group and took a couple of steps back, his fists clenched together. Jim immediately frowned up at him, confused, and tried to read the Vulcan's stony face in vain. McCoy kept scrolling down the screen and ignored them both, which was actually his standard attitude to most of their interactions.

It was a pretty visible reaction for Spock, but since Jim was unable to pinpoint the trigger he turned back to the readings to check if he'd missed anything. His pH levels were slightly messed up because of the acidosis, which explained the headache, the nausea and the general weakness in his limbs, but that couldn't be it. There was also a stripe of red over his hipbones where the powder had gathered in his underwear, but again, that didn't seemed to warrant... oh. 

He felt his stomach lurch and knew with utter certainty what Spock had seen, because it became incredibly obvious once he'd seen it too, and it could not be unseen.

As the tiny three-dimensional Captain Kirk slowly rotated on his invisible axis, a curious pattern of marks became apparent, shining bright red against his pixelated flesh, and they were faint but perfectly distinguishable. Like a map of what had happened.

It must have been too hot for him to really feel any pain, or maybe the flood of want making his brain kiss-stupid was enough that he hadn't noticed the burns at the time, but now he could clearly see that Spock must have seared the acid into his skin. Despite the fact that their temporary insanity had been so brief Spock still seemed to have managed to leave trails across his back, large handprints on his sides, and a pattern of fingerprints on his waist where he'd gripped Jim to press him up against the wall, twice (once to restrain him and once to--well).

Thankfully McCoy didn't seem to notice, or if he did his brain refused point-blank to process what it was seeing (Jim rather feared it was this second option, but kept quiet).

"Hey."

While his first instinct was to avoid Spock's gaze and add this to the mounting pile of 'incidents' that he had to repress until a proper conversation could be had, Jim knew that Spock would be blaming himself for those burns, even if they were very minor. So he looked over at his First behind McCoy's back and waved.

"Spock," he mouthed intently, wondering whether willing to be seen alone would be enough for the Vulcan to somehow hear him. "Hey."

Spock's head snapped up and sure enough, his eyes were dark with guilt. What to say, though? 'It's okay' wouldn't mean anything to the guy.

"Doesn't hurt," Jim mouthed soundlessly, knowing Spock could read his lips. He deliberately accompanied the words with his best and brightest grin. On at least a couple of occasions a huge, innocent smile had gotten him out of Spock's wrath of righteous fury; maybe it would pull Spock out of his self-destructive angst, too. "I'm just that awesome."

It didn't change him entirely but there was a definite easing in Spock's shoulders, so Jim took that as a win for his awesomeness, also his ability to sense when Spock needed to be reminded that his Captain was by no means made of delicate china.

"Okay, both of you get back on the beds and kindly stay there, I need to scan Spock and run several tests. I'm afraid that detox hypos will have to do for now, at least until I find a more specific compound to act as antidote," McCoy said, slightly louder than was warranted, still not looking up. Jim didn't know this, but the doctor had caught him making googly eyes at his First Officer plenty of times before, and preferred not to witness it again.

"Wait, I've still got that shit in my system?" Jim groaned. "Even after decontaminating and everything?"

"You took too long in getting here." McCoy was obviously pissed about this, which really made Jim glad that his friend didn't know half of it. "Oh, and I'll need blood samples, so you'd better lie down."

"Lie down? But blood samples—"

He actually lost consciousness for a little while after that because his damn CMO saw it fit to sedate him without his consent. Proper procedure be screwed when it was convenient for him, apparently. Fucker.

Too bad Jim was secretly grateful for it.

x

The next time Jim woke was probably only a few minutes later because lethargy still crawled through his limbs and he had trouble keeping his eyes open.

Undoubtedly through some form of blackmail, nurse Chapel had managed to convince Spock to lie on his stomach and was gently but surely cleaning the wounds on his back. In his tired haze Jim didn't have any strength left not let himself feast on the sight of Spock's calm, sleeping face; the curl of want in his body filling him up until he could almost taste it like an unwelcome, heady flavour on his tongue.

x

Several hours and quite a few tests later Jim had a steady IV drip in his arm, newly-healed tingling skin and his neck stung from the hundreds of hypospray injections it had suffered (it had definitely felt like hundreds and he didn't care if McCoy said it couldn't be more than ten).

He was also trying to answer Commodore Emerett's questions in a mature and composed manner, and mostly doing okay. A team from Security had been immediately dispatched to clear the area and to ensure no one else was in danger, as well as gather evidence from the room discreetly. A few trusted officers from Maintenance and Engineering had also been told what had happened, but Emerett had agreed with Jim that this needed to be kept under wraps for now. Thankfully, both Scotty and Chief Giotto had answered Jim's comm and immediately taken charge of their respective fields in the investigation.

Besides the Commodore, Jim and Spock were sharing their cosy little hospital room with Chief of Security Hayes, Dr McCoy and, as of five minutes ago, Mr Moss in a very, very bad mood.

"... need to consider the fact that you were obviously the target, Captain Kirk," Emerett was saying thoughtfully.

"I'm not sure it's just me," Jim said. "I mean yeah, out of the both of us I'm the one who was in every room that got blown up or had gravity settings fucked with or had toxic chemicals in it or whatever, but out of all those times the only potentially lethal and apparently deliberate attempt happened when I was alone with Spock."

Next to Spock's bed, Moss made a pained face that Jim interpreted as a reaction to his last five words. Spock himself was sitting there and mostly just listening, even though he'd occasionally volunteer his point of view if it was necessary.

"Then how would you justify the other accidents? We have found no evidence of sabotage to support your theory that those were because of you. As you've rightly pointed out, zero gravity is dangerous but hardly a foolproof way of killing someone."

"I know that, but I'm sorry, I just don't believe in coincidences. Or at least not ones like these, not with my odds."

Emerett raised sceptical eyebrows but didn't press the point; it was Chief Hayes who frowned and now stepped toward Jim's bed. "A valid argument, Captain Kirk, however, it doesn't explain why it was only your room."

"What?"

"Why only your room? You say you believe you were both targets yet the substance was only introduced into your room."

Jim frowned. He'd thought he'd covered that.

"Well it's like I said, we were both there, weren't we? Makes no sense to target both rooms if Spock's was empty. Uh... he or she probably knew it would be easier to just sabotage the one air vent."

Hayes nodded. "Yes, that makes sense." Suddenly his gaze shot to Spock. "Except this means that person would have to know that you'd both be together. Is it such a common occurrence that anyone could assume you'd both be in the same room late at night?"

Oh shit. Oh shit, shit, shit

"We were, uh..." faltering in hesitation was the worst thing he could have done, but Jim was, for once, at loss for words. What could he say they were doing at that hour that wouldn't sound like a cheap excuse? "... we had dinner together."

"I see."

Luckily Jim was struck by an idea that would thankfully divert everyone's minds from whatever they thought he and his First had been up to. "Actually, wait. The only way anyone would know this for sure means you've got an irregular entry on the computer locator software," he said triumphantly. "We might be able to trace that if it's a hack. Otherwise the request requires voice command and in that case we could use voice-recognition to identify the intruder."

Emerett looked... not impressed, but certainly pleasantly surprised. "That's an excellent idea. I'll get one of my programmers—"

"Captain Kirk's skill with computers might be beneficial in this instance," came Spock's voice. Jim whipped around to look at him, not having expected the praise, and his First Officer briefly met his eyes in acknowledgment. "To lessen the unnecessary involvement of other persons in the investigation."

"Captain Kirk can trace a hack in the computer system all by himself?" Chief Hayes asked doubtfully. Jim tried not to be too offended by the skepticism in his voice.

"Yup." He didn't add 'Hard to believe someone so ruggedly handsome could also be smart, right? Even though I'm the goddamn Captain of the best fucking Starship out there.' "If you'd just convince my CMO here to get these tubes off me—"

"That's tube, singular, and last time I checked your larynx was swollen and irritated, Captain, which means you wouldn't be able to eat," McCoy retorted. Jim felt like sticking his tongue out at him, but that probably wouldn't go down too well with the veterans in here.

"This can wait until tomorrow, Dr McCoy," Emerett pointed out. "In fact, I'm sure that both Captain Kirk and Commander Spock need rest right now, and we've got enough information to go on."

"That's right," Moss said, speaking for the first time in the past hour. "After this ordeal they deserve some sleep. If Dr McCoy would just allow me to speak with them for five minutes, I'd be most grateful."

Before such a reasoned, cajoling voice, the doctor couldn't really deny Moss five minutes. "Make 'em short," he grunted, and left the room. Emerett and Chief Hayes followed him out, and so Jim and Spock were left alone with their irate lawyer.

Immediately after the door had swished shut behind the other officers, Moss rounded on the pair with blazing eyes.

"I've asked you to do a few simple things for me. It should not be this difficult for you two to be apart, it really shouldn't," he grit out. "I'm trying to help you, and my advice is good, and you need to follow it if you want to win, because this ridiculous codependency of yours is going to end you."

"Your assessment—" Spock began curtly.

"No. You're supposed to be the reasonable one, and it's only recently that I'm beginning to get why the charges go both ways and don't just involve our dear Captain Kirk losing his head whenever you're in danger," Moss snapped at Spock. "There is nothing logical about what you two did tonight and if you can't even go a couple of days without eating together then that should mean something to you. Are you just that stubborn that you still want to refuse everything?"

"Leave him the fuck alone—" Jim began angrily.

"And you," the accusatory finger-pointing for dramatic effect would have looked way over the top if it weren't for the fact that Moss's eyes were flashing dangerously, and Jim was suddenly truly afraid of what insight might spill out of the lawyer's mouth. "I think I'm beginning to get you. You're a hard one to interpret, maybe even worse than Mr Spock, and he's the one whose culture denies emotion. You cover everything up with smiles and jokes but deep down there's still something of a rebel trapped inside all the bureaucratic jumble, isn't there? You still like testing limits, pushing and pushing until you know you're waiting for someone to say you've gone too far."

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Jim bit out, hating that for a moment he'd wondered whether that was actually true.

"Mr Moss you have no right to insult Captain Kirk," Spock said, eyes shadowed with anger. "Or to claim any knowledge of the workings of his mind."

Moss ignored them both. "And hey, if you had to go and get caught in a scandalous forbidden romance, well, God forbid it was boring, like an affair with your female Yeoman or something! No, that would be too easy, wouldn't it? Too cliché! Not only is Mr Spock male and your First Officer, but he's not even your same species! He's half-Vulcan!"

"Enough," Jim snapped loudly. "That's fucking enough xenophobic bullshit from you, Mr Moss. I get that you're pissed and this is bad for our image and shit, but for fuck's sake Spock could have died a few hours ago." Fisting his fingers around the sheets was pulling uncomfortably at his arm where the IV was inserted but Jim could not, at this moment, care less. "You don't get to storm in here and yell at us for this. You can be mad tomorrow because it was late and we shouldn't have eating dinner together, but it wasn't our fault that someone tried to kill us."

Moss's jaw was clenched angrily, but he didn't interrupt.

"Spock has severe chemical burns all over his back and my throat feels like shit—" as if to emphasise this point, his voice rasped and broke on that last word. "—and at this very moment the toxin from whatever-the-fuck melted my shelves is still being pumped out of our systems. So that's enough of the yelling about our stunted emotions."

"I'm yelling at you because I'm worried," Moss said finally, and he still looked mad but he ran a hand through his gray hair in defeat. "We can still beat this but I'm tired of having to overcome the setbacks you cram yourselves into because you didn't do as I say. You'd think the two of you would have learned by now."

"Your anger is no excuse to insult the Captain," Spock said after a short pause. Jim resolutely ignored the way this made him feel.

"I… apologize for the outburst. And I apologize for the 'xenophobic bullshit', Mr Spock," he added. "But you two need to get your shit together soon, you hear me?"

"Will you punch me if I say we're just really, really misunderstood?" Jim said with a smirk that he knew wouldn't quite reach his eyes. Moss smiled faintly and shook his head.

"You need rest. And I really am sorry. I'll yell at you in a couple of days."

"Can't wait."

When Moss had gone Jim realised that this was the first time he and Spock were alone in a room since the last time they'd been alone in a room. With a tub in it. That they had kissed in. Once. Memorably, though.

"Spock, you think we should talk?"

Spock's bed was silent for a pretty long time, but Jim didn't want to give him the satisfaction of shifting to lie on his side and check whether Spock was looking at him or not.

"Humans have an innate need to voice their opinions," Spock said finally, rather flatly, not like he was thinking of starting a philosophical debate over the matter.

"And half-Vulcan Science Officers tend to act like repressed idiots."

There was a short pause. "I am the only half-Vulcan Science Officer in the fleet."

"Well done, Sherlock."

He knew Spock would know who Sherlock Holmes was; he'd quoted him once, after all, more than a year ago.

"Look Spock, we have to talk about what happened. You can't pretend it didn't."

"That was not my intention, Captain, however your unnecessary desire to dwell on the incident—"

"Call me Captain again and I'll… uh, I'll…" he could only come up with sex threats (so not really threats), why could he only come up with sex threats? "…I'll do something dirty, but not in the fun way; in the nasty, you'll-wish-you-hadn't-done-it way."

"It might be prudent to postpone a conversation temporarily. You have not yet slept without drug-inducement."

Jim glared at the ceiling. "You saying I sound drugged?"

"No more than usual, Captain." Spock was obviously way too calm about calling Jim's bluff.

"You're playing with fire here, my friend."

Spock didn't even deign that with an answer.

"Why do you keep calling it 'the incident'?" Jim murmured finally. He hated the way his voice sounded when he asked. Hated the way his whole body tensed in anticipation of the ever-dreaded word 'mistake', even though he rationally knew that that was exactly what it had been and Spock, more than anyone, would have every right to call it that.

"A discussion at this time is innapropriate. You must rest," Spock said, his voice gone softer too.

"Fine, but we will talk about this." It wasn't a question; Jim wasn't going to let it.

"Yes, Captain. As you wish."

"Okay then. So… good night, I guess."

There was a faint rustle of covers from Spock's bed and Jim finally turned his head to watch the Vulcan lie on his side with his back to him.

"Good night, Jim."

"'Night."

Watching the delicate tip of his ear and the gentle curve of his neck, Jim thought that restraint should feel like ropes around his wrists and ankles keeping him away from Spock, but instead the space between them just felt like a whole lot of air that seemed to be getting thinner.

Chapter Text

It turned out that they didn't really get a chance talk the next day. In fact, Jim didn't see his FO at all.

He woke up around twelve-hundred hours to discover that Spock had already checked himself out of the Hospital Bay against medical advice (just to keep things interesting and new because neither of them had ever done that before... right). The trial wasn't set to resume for another two days and the second thing Jim noticed (after a complete absence of Spock in the vicinity) was a PADD that had been left on his bedside with a message from Mr Moss. The message was a voice-recording telling him that he and Spock were getting the day off to rest, which made Jim forgive him for the outburst from last night, because just how adorable was it that he thought Jim would stay in a bed for twenty-four hours when he didn't even have any broken bones?

A nurse Jim recognized from the Enterprise (he was pretty sure her name was Noel) grudgingly helped him get his IV off and told him that Dr McCoy had already warned the rest of the medical staff about Jim's weird allergies to things such as caution and good sense, so he was technically allowed to leave as long as her quick tricorder scan proved he wasn't about to drop dead after a walk to the cafeteria.

It did, thankfully, and after that a free-at-last James Kirk spent the morning working on the main deck, having used his influence as Captain and a fairly impressive amount of bullshit to ask for a peek at the ‘Base computers. It worked, much to his surprise, not with the classically attractive redhead manning her station, but with her stern-looking superior officer, who let him fiddle around with their system 'for kicks.' No one bothered him, either, which was a plus because it was difficult enough to hack into the software undetected without having to field any awkward questions.

Much to his frustration, it was still slow work and he didn't find the irregular entry by the time Scotty had asked him to meet in Engineering; however, he resolved to go back the next day and work more. The afternoon, therefore, was spent helping out the mechanical crew by mostly acting as buffer with Scotty again. His smart Chief did it in a way that let Jim look around the failed circuits too, so he conveniently got a chance to look out for any signs of foul play. Not that he found any, given how most of it was still a mess and Scotty was helping coordinate a pretty huge rewiring process that was going to take a few days. Chief Hayes from the base was clearly making efforts to look unimpressed with the Scotsman's work and, from Jim's rather amused point of view, altogether failing.

By dinnertime, he commed Uhura and asked, as casually as he could, if she had any idea where his First Officer was, and she replied something about Spock spending the entire day at the labs and not expecting to meet anyone for 'social interaction of any kind.' So Jim, Scotty and a bunch of Engineers replicated sandwiches and, despite the fact that his new nickname really did become Captain Pretty-Boy thanks to the jerk from the first day, he was in higher spirits because of their support.

He and Spock had been given new quarters, obviously, but Jim still went by his old room to check out the investigation that night. There was a single security guard outside (although he could hear plenty of people inside) but she refused point blank to let him in. Even full-on charming mode didn’t get him a single straight answer, so Jim left soon with a friendly wink over his shoulder.

Before he went to bed he replicated as much of his stuff as he could because, although most of his belongings were still in his room at the Enterprise, he kind of needed clothes. It was all boring regulation-blacks, but after the computer identified him he got the command gold shirts he would never, ever tire of wearing.

x

Had he imagined the way Spock’s nostrils had flared, eyes taking him in with unfiltered want? Did it even mean anything? Or had it just been another loss of control, another moment of emotional compromise that Spock instantly regretted?

Did it mean about as much as the time Spock had nearly killed him?

x

Jim spent the next morning between Main and Engineering again, and also avoiding people. He ducked out of sight of Mara Dalle on his way to lunch because he didn't really feel up to her annoyingly perceptive jibes; he stepped into a crowded turbolift when he'd been walking to Engineering so that Ben Finney and a team of fellow science officers didn't see him; he took pains to disappear whenever he recognised a reporter... and by the end of it all, he was itching for a confrontation, old instincts gnawing at his frayed nerves.

Where was Spock? Jim had commed him twice but gotten no response, and he didn't want to ask Uhura again for fear of getting one of her long and very pointed silences (for a communications officer she had the most terrifying way of not saying anything).

Finally, it was time to meet Moss at his office, and Jim was eighty-percent annoyed and maybe fifteen-percent nervous (the remaining five-percent was replaying the episode in the shower on an endless loop). He wished they'd had time to talk before, even if it was just to establish that it had been a mistake that wouldn't happen again.

As he walked down a crowded corridor and traded polite smiles with people who recognised him, however, Jim found himself acknowledging that if that was what they settled on eventually, it would only make things easier in theory, not in practice. Or maybe in practice things would be even worse, actually. Because nothing Spock said would erase the way he'd grabbed Jim that day. Jim knew, now. Knew what it felt like, to be kissed by Spock, even if it was with more hungry desperation than slow finesse. Hell, if you wanted to get technical about things it had been more than kissing, if only for a very short, very intense time. What the hell was he supposed to do with that knowledge? He now had a perfectly accurate and real picture of what Spock looked like in soaked-through underwear. Jesus, was he supposed to just ignore that forever? Would his sex-life ever survive it? Would he ever have a sex life again if he got all conflicted and disinterested whenever he thought of sleeping with someone who wasn't Spo--

Wait, wait, what? He hadn't been thinking of it like that before.

Oh come on, so now he didn't want to sleep with anyone else ever? The incident with Mara hadn't been a fluke, it had been a sign?

"Captain Kirk?"

"What?"

Moss rolled his eyes and sighed, and Jim blinked at him.

"Have you heard anything from the past two minutes I've been talking?"

"... No?"

Next to him, the empty chair where Spock wasn't seemed to be mocking Jim, and he was mostly expecting what happened next because it was ten minutes past the time Moss had told them to meet him but it still sucked to hear.

"Kirk, Mr Spock commed me to say he still needs some time to recuperate from his injuries and won't be coming today. So... it'll just be us."

This had crossed over from 'coincidentally not seeing each other' to outright avoidance. That was it, after finishing up here Jim was going to find Spock and force him into a civil conversation if he had to. The trial resumed tomorrow, they needed to sort their shit out tonight.

"Okay. Yeah, I figured he might, I mean he had really bad burns, you should've seen—"

"Kirk." Moss' tone was dead serious. Jim immediately raised his metaphorical shields, having heard that sort of inflection on his last name a million times before. He was about to get the 'feelings' talk. Moss was going to try and get him to 'open up.'

Well, too bad. It took McCoy a long time to succeed and he remained to this day the only person besides Spock to have done so (Pike didn't count because he was perceptive enough to cut through Jim's bullshit without making him actually verbalize the truth).

"Yeah?"

"I don't want to force you to talk to me about yourself, and I'm perfectly aware of the fact that I'm your lawyer, not your psychologist. But this thing with Mr Spock you're obviously not telling me about..."

Jim clenched his jaw and waited.

"... I think that all I want to know for now is, are you going to be okay?"

Huh. Well, he got points for originality, that was for sure. Jim graced the man with a small, genuine smile, and shook his head, going with complete honesty for once.

"I have no idea."

Moss' eyes were kind, but not pitying, which was good. "I see. Well, if you ever feel like making life easier on yourself and just telling me about it so that I can help you, please do so. Meanwhile, before we focus on the witnesses I want to talk about the last day in court. I've been thinking and Miss Shaw's rather amateur questions may not have been as foolish as I first thought."

Jim frowned. "What do you mean?" He'd been happy to think of Areel's questions being perceived as childish and unprofessional. "I'm pretty sure most of the people in there were cringing by the end, including Emerett. You know, the judge."

"Well, yes." Moss rolled his eyes again. "But I'm not so sure about these being rookie mistakes anymore. I think she's being pretty reckless about it, but she got to point out the tension between you two, the signs. Her words will stick, unconsciously altering the jury's perception."

Jim raised skeptical eyebrows at this. "I don't know." He clearly remembered most of the jury blob looking decidedly unimpressed that day. And as for the tension... well, two days ago he would have sworn it was one-sided, but now he was completely and utterly clueless as to what the hell people would find between him and Spock if they started digging.

Moss waved a hand around impatiently. "Look, I might say to you now that your hair looks awful today—"

"Hey!"

"—and you might dismiss it immediately, but that won't stop you from checking the first mirror you see. In a way, Miss Shaw's seemingly clumsy attempt has ensured that they'll be watching out for that now, even if it's just out of curiosity or amusement or boredom or all of the above. But it'll be more closely than they would have otherwise."

"Well fuck my life, things can never be simple, can they?"

The lawyer smiled grimly. Jim found himself running a hand through his hair and answering his own question with a snort. "Of course not."

"Let's move on."

"Yeah, let's."

Moss shuffled some of the papers strewn over his desk and rearranging the notes into piles. He had so much paper, it made Jim curious.

"Why don't you use datapads in your office? You take them to the courtroom to seem more professional, but in here it's all books and papers and wooden desks and old stuff—"

Moss looked up at him shrewdly. "I happen to like 'old stuff.'"

"Me too, actually," Jim admitted. "Not that I have a huge collection of mega-expensive relics like you do but, yeah, it's interesting."

"So now you know my secret. To me, paper is a way of making knowledge... tangible. A comfort, of sorts."

"Wow, that's deep, Moss," Jim said mock-seriously.

Moss just rolled his eyes, clearly amused. "Anyway. We should talk about the witnesses. I met with Lieutenant Uhura yesterday since her turn to testify is tomorrow, and I have to say that it will be tricky. Very tricky."

"Uh, tricky how? She's smart as hell, she can handle it."

"Yes, that's the problem. She's a little too smart; too perceptive." Moss looked very pointedly at Jim when he said this and something in Jim's stomach felt like it was trying to claw its way out. Something like a zombie version of the butterflies he'd felt around Spock. "Unless Miss Shaw asks very ambiguous questions, the Veritas device will pose a serious problem. The thing is that I can't avoid it. She was in a relationship with Commander Spock, if I don't call her to the stand as a relevant party the prosecution will not only have a field day, but a chance to yell about obfuscation."

"Okay. Well that blows, but I trust her."

"Let's just hope that's enough. Dr McCoy, on the other hand, seems... opinionated, but firm, which is good because I do want the jury to see how faithful your crew is..."

x

"Captain."

"Hey."

There really was no way to control this Pavlovian reaction to Spock's presence, Jim thought to himself when he felt the familiar jolt upon meeting his First Officer's eyes. It was tragic; he became this ridiculous version of himself that was horrifyingly comparable to an eager little puppy; all bright-eyed and nervous energy and wanting to please. Much as Jim hated the repeated association of his person with fluffy baby animals, the effect was undeniable. It was... oh great, it was literally like one of Pavlov's dogs; he was actually salivating.

"Seeing each other at this time of night is inadvisable," Spock informed him primly, not stepping away from the door.

"Yeah, I know."

Swallowing (both literally and figuratively) with a grimace, Jim clapped the Vulcan's shoulder and promptly let himself into Spock's new quarters.

A quick glance at the bathroom told him this time there was no large antique tub, for which Jim was mostly grateful, but that was probably the only difference between these and their previous quarters. Just like the old room it had the standard, Starfleet-efficient feel; narrow bed against the wall, a desk with computer terminal, one table that might pass for a nightstand and two empty shelves high up on the wall, under the air vent. In fact they looked pretty much identical, right down to the adjoining door on the right wall connecting them to Jim's room.

"Do come in, Captain," Spock said drily once the door had hissed shut, without turning around.

"Funny." Jim plopped himself on the bed and raised his eyebrows, instinctively conjuring up all of his bravado. "So. I think we should just skip the awkward small-talk and get straight to why you've been avoiding me."

Spock's posture didn't change one inch; it was as though he was frozen in place, his back still to Jim.

"And don't tell me you're gonna deny it because that would just be sa—"

"I have not 'avoided' you, Jim."

Jim huffed an annoyed breath and clapped his hands once to get Spock's attention.

"Hey, I'm over here. Look at me."

Spock turned around. His eyes were intense, immediately trying to pin Jim in his place, but he should have known that under such severe scrutiny Jim reacted differently from every crewman who'd cowered before the Vulcan's wrath. The Captain spread his legs comfortably in the civilian jeans he'd thrown on after he left Engineering and put his arms behind his head; a perfect picture of mindless relaxation, untroubled by such trivial things as insecurities or fear.

"I see you, Captain," Spock said, with the sort of deliberate calm that betrayed his impatience.

"You'd better. You have been avoiding me for two days." Spock was silent. Jim lost his temper a little bit because the past two days had really sucked. "You didn't come to Moss' office because you feel under the weather? Really? Is that how little you think I know you?"

He hadn't planned on them butting heads straight away, honest; he'd been hoping for a peaceful resolution. But the problem Spock sometimes presented was… well, Jim was all restless bottled-up tension right now and Spock was stillness, calm control just waiting, begging to be messed with…

"The notion that a living being does not necessarily desire your constant presence at all times is entirely out of your grasp, I presume."

"Don't bullshit me," Jim snapped, dropping all pretence of ease and of standing up from the bed instead. He wanted… God, he wanted to kiss Spock so badly, to make him crazy with it and leave him panting for more. To punish him by pulling away the second Spock tried to get his hands all over Jim again, make him want it so bad he'd wish he could burn imprints of his touch onto Jim's skin, same as last time.

As it was, Spock merely took a step forward, cheeks flushed a touch greener than usual in what Jim now knew to be anger. It wasn't a huge reaction but it still gave Jim a thrill because he'd made that face betray what it never wanted to.

"If you wish to speak, I do not intend to prevent you from doing so," Spock told him, using a reasonable tone that just irritated Jim all the more because it sounded exactly like his least favorite teacher scolding him for blowing up the school's lab when he was nine. Jim was perfectly aware of the fact that it would be a bad idea to try again (obviously, if he used the same formula the compound would explode; he just needed to find the right proportions).

"I'm not here to rant at you, Spock, come on. Work with me."

Spock's eyes looked dark. "Are you here for an apology? Is that what you wish to hear?"

"What? No! That's stupid, we were both there, it's not just your fault." Wow, this was spiralling way faster than he'd anticipated. But Spock was being deliberately obtuse.

"Then I propose we establish the parameters for future interaction and then leave this matter aside."

"Look, I…" Jim had gone from angry to baffled in short seconds. "Spock, I'm not sure what's gotten into you since we k—"

"There is no need to rehash it. We were both present at the time, we are both aware of what transpired."

Jim snorted. "You are being so fucking confusing right know I don't even know how to respond to that."

Spock took an aborted step toward him and Jim remembered what happened the last time Spock had gotten so angry he lost control; remembered for the millionth time the choking pain when Spock slammed him down and closed those long, deft fingers around his throat, gripping so tight that Jim saw stars and couldn't breathe. Oh well, there were worse ways to die, and in his current state, Jim was almost ready to settle for suffocation if it meant he could feel Spock's hands on him again.

"Jim," Spock began, everything about his voice still reminiscent of a school-teacher facing an undisciplined James Kirk who'd done something wrong. "You cannot understand—"

"Bite me."

There was a pause during which this statement was contemplated by both parties.

"That would be illogical for a multitude of reasons," Spock said finally, his voice a touch hoarse.

"Why have you been avoiding me, Spock?" Jim repeated flatly.

"I c-cannot—" Spock started to say, then abruptly cut himself off with an expression of mild disbelief, as though his own incoherence was an unexpected, rather curious surprise. He took a slow breath and then started again; this time his voice was substantially more even, if not back to monotone. "My apologies."

"Don't worry about it," Jim said with just a twinge of sarcasm. "Now that's enough with the stalling. First you're going to tell me why you've been avoiding me and then you're going to explain why one little kiss has got your panties in a twist, got it? And don't bother refusing because I will make it an order."

Spock opened his mouth to argue but Jim raised his hand with as much of his Captain authority as he could muster, if not entirely unkindly.

"Just do it."

There was a short, charged pause, and then Spock caved. Finally.

"Your absence is always beneficial to my capacity for reasoning and logical thought, Jim. I required both." The Vulcan's tone had changed completely; it was said with an unexpected sort of softness, like a confession, which jarred in Jim's ears when all he'd heard out of it was a confirmation of his fears.

"So basically this is your nice way of saying you'd just rather not be in my company."

Spock opened his mouth as though he was going to object to this assessment, but then frowned slightly and appeared to thinking about it. "I cannot deny that your impression is accurate," he said at last, more than ever giving the sensation that he was choosing his words with care. "I am thankful that you can understand, Captain."

Jim felt a little sucker-punched. "Okay, so you prefer being away from me. That's… that's not exactly the friendship norm or anything but, uh, fine, I guess." He made an effort to sound sincere. "I mean I don't mind, if you want more space, less of my crazy—"

Spock took another step forward (they were eating up the space so quickly, Jim thought detachedly). "Please, allow me to explain my behaviour."

"I'd love that," Jim said eagerly, and as the ghost of a smile graced Spock's features the air around them seemed to diffuse some of the tension. Phew. Jim slumped down on the bed again, stretching comfortably. "Go ahead. I'm listening."

Spock walked to his desk chair and sat down. "In order to ensure maximum coherence I must ask for clarification of your previous order."

"Right." After all, 'explain why one little kiss has got your panties in a twist' wasn't exactly the most straightforward of commands. "Listen Spock, we're both adults here and I think we should discuss what happened in the shower rationally. But before we do that I want to know why it freaked you out so bad. You've never gone out of your way not to see me before, and I'm not an expert on Vulcan culture, so I'd feel way better if you explained what this… uh, means to you. I mean, it's not the end of the world, is it? It was just one kiss, right?"

"There is no such thing as casual physical interaction for me, Jim."

There was no special inflection in the way Spock said the words, but to Jim they sounded… heavy. How exhausting it must be, he thought now, looking at Spock and his perfectly composed appearance even in the casual setting of his own room.

"I'm sorry."

"It has been thus all my life," the half-Vulcan replied simply. It wasn't simple, though. Jim was sure of that.

"Okay."

"Two days ago I touched your skin at the same time as I was concentrating on repressing physical pain, which is why my mental barriers were not as strong as they should have been."

Jim gulped. He could remember what came next in high-definition and surround-sound.

"I… I must apologise. It was not acceptable and it will not happen again. I violated your privacy."

Hm. Well, that was true, but Jim hadn't really thought of it that way until now. He'd been a bit more worried about bombarding his best friend with lust-crazed thoughts of them together covered in soap and poison.

"So that's what you meant before," he mused out loud. And the look on Spock's face in the moment right before, that fear that pained Jim so very much to remember… that made much more sense now. "Listen, you don't have to apologise. I'm the one who should be apologising."

A tiny little line appeared between Spock's eyebrows and his nose crinkled slightly, both signs of deep puzzlement. Both so adorable that Jim had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from making a out-loud noise. "Excuse me? For what purpose?"

"Well, I never meant for you to feel all of that… uh, that is… I'm sorry I'm a perv?"

Spock's eyes widened. "Jim, are you apologising because you find me sexually desirable?"

Okay so when you put it like that it sounded kinda stupid.

"… Yes?"

"That is illogical. You cannot help yourself if you think of me that way."

Jim wanted to scoff and ask Spock if he wanted to look up 'humility' in the dictionary again because he must have gotten the meaning wrong… but then again, touch telepath.

"Yeah okay, so we established that I'm sorry I think you're hot." Wow, he'd actually just said that out loud. Not that… well, he'd always joked around with Spock before and flirting came to James Kirk about as naturally as breathing, but still, he genuinely meant this and it felt different than any other time he'd confessed finding someone attractive. "We should move on from this point, my ego feels."

It was probably a bad sign for Jim's plan to claw his way out of the grave he was digging for himself.

"Very well. I… as you know, my mother was Human." This time it was easy to catch the slight strain in Spock's words as he got them out, and Jim ached to put his arms around the guy and comfort him. But he wisely stayed where he was.

"'Course," he said roughly.

"Well, my mixed heritage implies certain… differences between myself and other Vulcans. I… obviously my control has not always been optimal; something you learnt first-hand."

Jim smiled wryly. "It's okay. I totally deserved it."

They'd already discussed that particular incident several times and now was not the place for more guilt-ridden angst (or at least, not any more than they already had to deal with).

"However, I was emotionally compromised at the time. My normal state is far from such shameful instability." Jim nodded and didn't see Spock's right hand involuntarily clenching into a fist. "You asked why a… mere kiss would elicit conflict in me. Yet I believe that you are attributing Human qualities to my behaviour which do not apply. There is no logic in mindless pleasure, therefore my actions were illogical, and unworthy of a Vulcan."

For Spock's sake Jim ignored the little flip his stomach did at the word 'pleasure' coming out of Spock's mouth like that. Obviously it was a big deal for the guy to just give in to lust like that, and so Jim also ignored the fact that was staring at him in the face; Spock was definitely sort of indirectly admitting that there was lust there.

But Jim needed to be a friend now, not a horny asshole. "Spock, it was literally a life-or-death situation. And it was mostly my fault anyway."

"It remains unacceptable conduct. You do not understand… many Vulcans do not exchange such gestures until marriage." Spock looked at him sharply, obviously intent on catching Jim's reaction to these words.

"Whoa." Jim gulped and tried to school his features into an 'I'm totally cool with this' expression. "That's… uh, okay." And then something pretty relevant occurred to him. "But wait, if all this is because of a kiss, what the hell happens if you have sex outside of marriage?"

"The reason intercourse without the intent to procreate is frowned upon in Vulcan culture is that it is illogical, not because of any outdated religious belief. Just as intercourse without the eventual intent of marriage is entirely without purpose."

Jim could think of a lot of very vocal objections to that, but he kept his mouth shut.

"There are other… factors that come into play at a later time, however, for now suffice it to say any physical interaction that involves touch-telepathy must imply a substantial lack of self-discipline in myself."

"But what about Uhura?"

"... I do not understand your query." There was something about Spock's guarded face that made Jim's breath hitch.

"You know. If a kiss freaks you out, what happened when you fucked her? Is it because I'm a guy?"

His vulgar phrasing made Spock tense visibly, and for a moment the Vulcan didn't answer.

Jim sprang to his feet and strode over to tower over the other man (something he never got to do unless Spock was sitting down). He felt suddenly feverish, completely off-kilter. "I mean, you did do it with her, didn't you?"

Spock shook his head slightly. "Nyota and I have not had sexual intercourse, Jim."

"You… wait, seriously?"

Spock and Uhura were together for a pretty long time and Jim had just assumed that any sane person with a brain and the right sexual orientation—or screw that, just any living breathing being ever would want to hit that if given the chance. 'That' being 'Uhura.' Or, no wait, maybe he should change it to 'Spock', now. Uh, actually, he wasn't quite sure. Jesus, those two together would be hot.

Actually, no. With a ferocity that left him stunned, Jim's entire body revolted at the idea of Spock with Uhura. Yes, sure, from an aesthetic aspect it would probably be fucking gorgeous, but just… no. No, he didn't want to imagine that. Spock with someone else was a twisting feeling in his gut.

"Then who?"

Suddenly he had to know. Who, if not Uhura, who…? He needed to know this, it was completely vital for his continued existence.

Spock looked up at him from under his lashes, expression completely shuttered.

"Who, Spock? I mean god, if she wasn't—"

"Vulcan reproductive cycles differ from Humans, Jim."

It was almost too much to process. Jim's stomach was churning as though he was about to throw up and his skin felt too tight and tingling; every time he moved it scraped his bones and shot jolts up his spine.

"What's that mean?"

"There is no logic in mindless pleasure," Spock repeated. "To a Vulcan there is no such thing as a casual or frivolous encounter. Therefore, there is no purpose in recreational sexual practices without a lifelong commitment to your partner and the eventual intent to produce offspring."

Jim's brain seemed to be working extra syrupy-slow, but he was having a difficult time with all of this.

"Just say it plainly, okay?" he settled for hoarsely.

"I have not had sexual intercourse with Lieutenant Uhura or anyone else, Jim. I have never had sexual intercourse because there was no reason to."

No reason to…?

No reason?

Spock was a virgin…? Spock was a virgin. Spock had never been touched in all the ways Jim wanted to touch him by anyone before and for a single, crazy moment Jim's blood roared its approval of this because yes, fuck yes, Jim would be the first, the only—but of course he wouldn't. Couldn't. Marriage, Spock seemed to be implying. Commitment, and words like 'lifelong.' Jim was no good for that and Spock didn't want it with him anyway.

"Jesus fucking Christ."

It was a lot to take in, okay?

"The fact that this is traditional of Vulcan beings does not mean I am in any way implying… insult to your sexual practices, of course," Spock said, but his voice was weirdly sharp, as though he was secretly wishing he was allowed to look down at Jim for his promiscuity.

"Okay. Yeah, and I mean it's totally cool with me too. About you not having… you know. It's fine. You're gonna outlive me by fifty years anyway."

They both flinched slightly when that last sentence left Jim's mouth.

"I trust you understand why it was illogical of me to act on impulse, Jim."

Jim met Spock's gaze as steadily as his crazy pulse would allow. It was his turn to choose his words carefully. "I understand why it would freak you out and why you could think it was a bad thing. I can't really agree with you, though. Spock, you were in pain and the last thing you needed was to feel my, uh…" how did he put this lightly? "… interest. You said yourself you're only half-Human. You couldn't really help it, could you?"

Spock pursed his lips but his eyes lit with unexpected humour. "Indeed. I must say you are quite certain of your irresistibility."

"Are you positive that's a word?" Jim asked with a wink, taking a couple of steps away from Spock's chair so he wasn't crowding his space anymore. His pulse was slowly getting back to normal. "And you're damn right I'm sure. Not even Vulcans are immune to my power, so there."

He hoped this became something they could joke about. He'd try his best to ignore his stupid feelings on the issue.

The corner of Spock's mouth twitched, but he quickly sobered. "Jim, you realize, I hope, the gravity of our situation."

"Of course. I'm sorry. But look, it doesn't have to be that bad. We don't need to tell anyone, and I already took the damn Veritas test so no one can ask me if there's ever been anything even remotely romantic between us. You're so cool you're immune to the thing, so we're safe."

"Indeed."

For some reason, as the atmosphere between them started crawling back to normal Jim felt… disappointed. Which was weird, because this had honestly gone better than he'd been expecting (what had he been expecting?), but… it was so businesslike. 'We kissed, we must cover our tracks and move on.' It was kind of painful, actually; in a dull, achy sort of way.

"Except… wait." Jim realised what he was saying. "You're still gonna have to lie."

"…I am aware of that."

"But you suck at lying."

Spock breathed in a way that said 'I'm suppressing a long-suffering sigh.' "I understand the logic behind stating something that is not true for a higher purpose, Captain. I am not a child."

"Right, and neither am I, now that we're at it, so that's enough with the lecture-tone, sir." At that Spock managed to convey being positively affronted without moving. "Look, I'm just not sure how I feel about you lying in front of a tribunal. I've heard you bullshit before so that's not the issue. It's just that a trial… it's official."

For a very long time after they met Jim had been absolutely convinced that the words 'official' and 'sacred' meant the same to his First Officer.

"Jim. I am quite capable of speaking a false fact regardless of the audience. It is generally said that Vulcans do not lie, however… if absolutely necessary, logic will justify an erroneous interpretation of the truth. And I am half-Human, as we've established twice already over the course of this discussion."

"Fine, fine." Jim wondered whether he'd get away with asking Spock to prove he could lie by saying 'I am a ballerina.' Probably not. And if he really thought about it, despite what Spock appeared to be in Human eyes, by Vulcan standards the guy was a total rebel. No one had ever rejected entry to the Vulcan Science Academy, for example.

It was kind of stupidly hot, actually.

"So… great. I should probably go in case anyone's checking the computer locator to try and kill us again. Don't wanna make it easy on the crazy psycho, y'know?" He started walking slowly toward the adjoining door.

"I find your humour morbid."

"It's about death, Spock; 'course it's morbid. It's about our death."

Spock's looked away from him for a moment (it seemed relevant enough to note, apparently; whenever Spock wasn't focused on Jim) to lift a datapad from the table and put it in his lap.

"You must have learned by now that I will not permit anything of that sort to happen to you," his first officer said firmly. Then he turned the PADD on and typed something with quick fingers.

Jim gave him a quizzical look, but Spock offered no explanation. "Uh, duh, and same here, which is sort of the reason we're in this mess in the first place?"

Spock looked up at him for a moment, hands still curled around the instrument, and Jim was struck by the way his exotic features were heightened in the bright lighting of his quarters; the glint of his black eyes making him wild, almost fey, and above all so fucking gorgeous that it was all Jim could do to stay where he was.

"So I'm leaving now."

"Very well, Captain."

"Is the 'Captain' thing a turn on for you? Because you keep calling me that even when we're alone."

He would never not use inappropriate jokes to diffuse tension. It worked every time. Jim firmly believed in uncomfortable laughter (not that Spock would actually laugh, but the principle remained).

"… Good night, Jim."

"That's not a 'no!'"

Jim grinned widely (and it was only slightly forced) at the little tug of amusement at the corner of Spock's mouth.

"Fine, fine, good night to you too. Sleep, okay?"

"Yes, Captain."

Jim chuckled and left.

There was a message waiting for him back in his room. It was sent from a PADD about five minutes ago, and after he'd read it Jim felt like running back through that door and kissing Spock senseless, yes, of course, but mostly he wanted to shake him and yell: "For the love of science, Spock, have mercy! Stop being so torturously fucking perfect in every way. Stop being everything I think about and everything I want and just... please, stop looking so goddamn fuckable when I'm only Human. Cut it the fuck out!"

It said: "I agree that we must indeed avoid facilitating the killer's goal by enjoying each other's company, which is why other means of communication are less dangerous, such as this one. However, if the undeniable urge to be in my presence assaults you again and a message to my datapad does not suffice, a visit would be acceptable."

x

The second time Jim woke up with morning wood thanks to Spock it wasn't because of some hypothetical scenario his brain had magically conjured up; it was both better and worse because that incredibly vivid dream wasn't a dream so much as a memory, replayed over and over again from every possible angle (and even some angles that were downright unlikely).

Spock's dilated pupils and parted lips right before their fingers entwined; Spock's mouth, the feel of it and the taste of it; Spock shoving him against the wall without breaking that kiss; Spock's strength and his unexpected lack of restraint right until the moment he'd lunged away. And it was enough, that memory of a kiss, oh, it was more than enough for Jim to be so hard it was almost painful. And this time he had less of a crisis of conscience because Spock was his friend, yes, like Bones, except not at all like Bones, actually. And Spock was driving him insane because he was completely unaware of his effect on Jim, completely ignorant of his appeal, and now that Jim knew all that skin was uncharted territory he was plagued by the possibilities; a chance to prove himself, to demonstrate the logic of 'mindless pleasure' as many times as Spock could handle--

The knowledge of what couldn't be made his movements rough with frustration.

He clamped his jaw shut to prevent Spock's name from escaping his lips and after a shallow orgasm told himself that saying it wouldn't have changed anything or even made it remotely better; it would only have increased the likelihood of being murdered by his First Officer if Spock had heard him through the wall, which was improbable but still frighteningly possible.

Jim was dressing in a slight daze, limbs still sleepy and relaxed even after a quick shower to try and wake himself up, when something happened.

He was leaning over the replicator, bare-chested because the formal green dress-shirt was pretty damn difficult to find among the selections and he needed to type in some authorization codes, when he was struck by a memory from the night when he'd almost died (the last time that happened; what even was his life that he actually needed to specify that).

Specifically, the memory of Spock's face when Jim had been forced to wear a science-blue shirt. It had been undeniably… there. A sort of approval, almost like a sort of pride in seeing Jim wear Spock's clothes.

And suddenly the entire conversation they'd had the night before felt a little less… definite. Less final.

That woke him up.

x

"You work with both of these officers quite closely, don't you, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, I do. I'm the Senior Communications Officer on the ship."

"Correct."

Jim shifted slightly in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, the material of his stupid shirt pulling uncomfortably.

The courtroom was completely silent while Nyota Uhura answered Miss Shaw's questions (looking unfairly fantastic in a formal variation of her red dress). She was doing great so far; appearing calm and competent with just a touch of gutsiness about her that Jim suspected had half the jury in love already.

"You maintained a relationship with Commander Spock for some of that time, correct?"

In his seat, Spock was perfectly still, gaze fixed on the Lieutenant.

The first few days of Jim's command, when he and Spock weren't really friends yet, Jim had tried to poke and prod for a reaction or a confession or something that would explain the Vulcan's relationship with Uhura, to no avail. After that, however, and as he got to know Spock better, he stopped. In fact, up until yesterday they'd skirted the topic as much as possible; Jim having finally accepted Spock was very private about these things and not wanting to push the guy on them, and Spock obviously having no intention of volunteering any information ("I have no comment on the matter").

Even after they broke up the topic was a bit of a taboo. If it was mentioned in passing by someone else, Jim recalled trying to be supportive and polite despite the fact that, to his eyes, Spock and Uhura together had made absolutely no sense. He could see where they came from if he squinted, maybe, and sure, both Spock and Uhura had the 'cool kid in class' sort of vibe going on, but in absolutely opposite ways. And it was just... wrong.

Plus like he said, not a very common topic. But thinking back on it, they had been together for a pretty long time.

"Most of it, actually. Yes."

"Correct."

It took Jim half a second to realise she'd said that to help, as if his admiration and esteem for the woman needed to grow any more since the respect he'd recently developed over that fact that she seemed to have, somehow, gotten over Spock and moved on. Jim wondered how one got around to doing that, and wished he could ask for tips.

"I'd like for you to elaborate on that later, but for now if you would please give the jury your assessment of Captain Kirk and Commander Spock's working relationship."

"Of course." Uhura crossed her legs elegantly and smiled, and the other half of the jury who'd been struggling against being charmed was probably done for. "I met Captain Kirk under less than favourable circumstances, and we didn't exactly get off to a great start. Commander Spock was my professor at the Academy."

She probably had no idea this happened but when she mentioned Spock her tone got subtly softer, something Jim couldn't bring himself to resent her for.

"During our involvement with the Narada disaster I saw each of them acting as both Captain and First Officer at different times."

Jim chanced a quick glance at Spock out of the corner of his eye and saw that Spock was still looking at her very intently. It made Jim itchy to get the Vulcan's attention, which was childish and ridiculous and a bit sad, but Spock hadn't really blinked in quite some time and Jim was genuinely concerned for his First Officer's corneas. It was purely on a friendly level. Not irrationally jealous or anything pathetic like that.

"I've had a chance to work with them separately and I've worked with them together, and the difference is pretty blatant. They balance each other, steady each other beyond the simple 'brains and brawn' dynamic because Spock is just as smart as he looks and Kirk is way, way smarter. Otherwise we'd all be in big trouble." Jim rolled his eyes fondly and quiet laughter invaded the rest of the room. "In my opinion, each has his strengths and his weaknesses but when they work as a team is when you get everything right. You could ask anyone who's been on the bridge during a crisis and they'd tell you the same thing. I don't think separating them is a good idea at all."

"Correct."

"Thank you, Lieutenant Uhura." Areel gave her a little, genuine-looking smile. "Now I'm afraid I need to ask you about the Tersal mission. Specifically, about the Captain's seemingly illogical behaviour."

"There's nothing illogical about rescuing a stranded crew-member," Uhura replied with a quirked eyebrow.

"Correct."

"Of course not. But the circumstances were anything but simple. You're the one who received the direct order from Starfleet Command to proceed to the rendezvous with the Fidelius vessel, is that right?"

"Yes."

"Correct."

"Was that order ultimately obeyed?"

"Yes. With one and a half seconds to spare."

"Correct."

Again, a ripple of amusement went through the room.

"If Mr Spock's rescue had taken another hour, do you personally believe that Captain Kirk would have stayed?"

An hour. One hour for the price of Spock's life? Yes, Jim knew now, looking back, that he would have stayed. But as he sat there reflecting on it, he wondered where the limit was. A day? Then again, a day without lactic supplies really wasn't the end of the world, even for a constitution-class starship with as many officers as the Fidelius. So… two days? Calcium was of vital importance for the body, he was pretty sure of that, so he'd need to ask Bones how long Human beings could go without dairy products. Still, it was probably not very long before he was risking their health. What would it take for Jim to let Spock die? What great need of the many would outweigh the need of Spock?

He had no answer for now, and realizing that terrified him.

"I can't speak for Captain Kirk's hypothetical actions, sorry," Uhura said with a shrug.

"Incorrect."

Commodore Emerett, who had been silently observing the proceedings, now hit the little bell with his gavel.

Uhura gave a little incredulous snort. "Fine, fine, I'm not sorry. But I really can't say what Kirk would do, that's up to him, not me."

"Correct."

Areel stepped towards the stand where Uhura sat.

"Very well. Tell me, Lieutenant, would I be correct in assuming you know Mr Spock better than anyone on the ship?"

Moss scribbled something on his notebook and passed it to Jim. It read: "Classic segue into asking about Spock's behaviour but VERY DANGEROUSLY PHRASED."

Jim was still sitting frozen in his chair, having allowed himself a few seconds to reel at his discovery, wondering when these jolts of realization would be over. He also wondered for a moment whether there was solid ground at the end of this fall or whether he'd just keep going forever, swooping sensation in his stomach the same as when the transporter put him back together.

He was used to the adrenalin rush, but he wasn't sure whether he found this exhilarating. Somehow, he had the feeling that there was definitely a crash waiting, not-too-patiently, for James T. Kirk.

"Mr Spock is still a good friend of mine, if that's what you mean."

"Correct."

"Well, it's not," Areel said with a hint of exasperation. "Please just answer the question. Would I be correct in assuming you know Mr Spock better than anyone on the ship?"

Uhura was quiet for a few moments, her eyes slightly narrowed. "Not exactly."

"Correct."

Moss hissed quietly (so quietly Jim was probably the only one who noticed). He underlined the 'danger' in DANGEROUSLY twice and then focused completely on Uhura's cautious expression.

"Oh?" Areel looked surprised, but Jim thought it was probably fake; Moss' reaction told him that she'd been counting on that answer. "Who could possibly know him better than the woman he was with for nearly a year?"

The Veritas device was gleaming prettily in its place and Uhura's gaze actually flickered in its direction before she replied. "I'm not saying… Kirk is also a good friend of his. He also knows Spock well, maybe better than me. I wouldn't really know, would I?"

"… Inconclusive."

There was a slight mutter among the crowd and Jim tried not to shift in his seat.

"Care to elaborate on that so that the machine can give a more accurate reading, Lieutenant?" Areel asked gently.

"I… look, there's a reason Spock and I broke up," Uhura said. There was an awkward pause and Jim gaped at her when he realised what it seemed like she was implying.

"Not—not that Kirk was it, he had nothing to do with it," she added quickly, just fast enough that the Veritas device would wait to scan the entire explanation. "I just meant that the fact that I've known Spock the longest of the crew and been in a relationship with him doesn't necessarily mean I know him best. At least, I don't think I can boast knowing him better than anyone else."

The device seemed to be churning the information for a while before emitting a low whirr and then: "… Inconclusive."

Uhura's eyes widened and Moss' frown deepened. But the machine wasn't done. In Uhura's sweet, clear voice, it started quoting her back.

"'I just meant that the fact that I've known Spock the longest of the crew and been in a relationship with him doesn't necessarily mean I know him best'. Correct."

The quality of the recording was scarily good.

"'At least, I don't think I can boast knowing him better than anyone else'. Correct."

Moss was slowly shaking his head, eyes wide with dread. It felt a little like the entire room was holding its breath, but Jim would never, honest-to-God ever have expected to be witness to what happened next.

"I… look, there's a reason Spock and I broke up. Not—not that Kirk was it, he had nothing to do with it."

Even a second before it did.

"…Incorrect."

Chapter Text

She heard herself talking and knew it, the second those words left her mouth--knew that they weren't true and that she was lying, lying and about to be caught, but it was too late by then, it was all wrong and it was her own damn fault.

Goddammit.

x

Three months ago

They fought again today. Not Spock and her, of course, even though sometimes she felt like screaming at the impassive face. No, she had never been able to make him angry enough that one of their arguments turned into an actual fight.

No. It was Kirk and Spock.

It was always Kirk and Spock, lately. As though they'd become this single entity, and you couldn't have one without the other. KirkandSpock.

She wasn't even there to see it unfold; her shift had ended at least an hour before and she'd been catching up on some work in her quarters, listening to different Argelian dialects on her headphones in preparation for the new mission. But she knew it had happened the second Spock walked through the door, because his eyes glinted dangerously and there was a faint emerald blush on his cheeks.

She no longer bothered to hide her intuitions about him, no longer paid meticulous attention to their every interaction.

"Did Kirk disprove your theory again?" she asked before Spock even had the chance to open his mouth and offer a greeting. Her tone was clipped and annoyed; even she knew that.

It gave Nyota equal parts satisfaction and pain to watch the perfectly composed face betray a flash of irritation at her words. It also made her (extremely reluctantly) impressed with her Captain, that Kirk could provoke such a visible reaction without even being in the damn room.

She turned away from him, chair swivelling back to her computer, feeling like a conflicted mess and hating herself for being such a coward.

"The Captain did not disprove anything," Spock replied with what, to her trained ears, sounded like obviously forced calm. "He merely attempted to ignore my interpretation of the facts and its significance. And was unsuccessful."

When she looked at him over her shoulder it was to find that Spock had extended two fingers for a kiss, as was their usual routine if they met at his or her quarters after a long shift.

For a brief second Nyota contemplated not reciprocating the gesture, hoping out of pure desperation, perhaps, to see if she could ever make him react like that. To make him lose it like Kirk did with such insulting ease…

But then the moment was gone and anyway she could already tell that Spock wanted to vent--not that Spock knew this, but she knew. Spock wanted to talk about how illogical Kirk was and how the rate of his calculated risks which paid off was inexplicably high. Spock wanted to complain about Kirk's constant need for medical assistance, and cite him for being irresponsible and insolent. He wanted to protest Kirk's lack of discipline on some regulations, which somehow always involved saving other's lives and so Spock wanted to argue about the value of preserving those lives versus actively defying Starfleet orders with excessive frequency and the risk that posed to their command…

It had been a while since Spock spoke of anything but the Captain, and Nyota Uhura was beginning to notice.

Ironically, Vulcan was a great language for swearing. She felt a little like swearing, right now. She felt a lot like slapping Spock, which would be a terrible thing to do (or so she was trying to convince herself).

Nyota had studied the languages of the worlds and she had learnt to listen, because it wasn't always about talking, oh no. She heard things in the inflection of a single syllable that others could not, and she remembered thinking how Spock, more than anyone, was a fascinating subject to study in that he worked tirelessly to hide those particular inflections, those sounds that gave away one's moods. At first, having to struggle to find out what he was thinking had been exciting and challenging.

But then she got better at it.

And now a pattern that was very obvious had begun to develop, and she heard what Spock was very deliberately not saying, and probably not even thinking, the poor, innocent, confused little Vulcan. No, he probably didn't know.

But to her the truth was so loud that it had become impossible to pretend she was deaf to it.

x

Kirk wasn't all of it. Of course he wasn't, and it would be unfair to say that their breakup was his fault. But he was definitely the trigger, the reason she could finally see why Spock and her, why it was pointless to keep pretending everything would be all right, that everything still had a semblance of logic. They didn't make sense anymore by the end, and it was as simple as that. She had loved Spock fiercely but she wasn't stupid, despite what recent events might indicate. It was for both of them that she told Spock calmly that she didn't think it was fair for their relationship to maintain this—this illusion that it meant more than it did.

"I… look, there's a reason Spock and I broke up. Not—not that Kirk was it, he had nothing to do with it."

"…Incorrect."

She was expecting an instant buzz of frantic whispers but it was even worse than that, because before the room exploded there was this sort of frozen, disbelieving silence and she felt every single person staring at her like a heavy, crushing weight, too much for her slim frame.

And then Emerett banged his gavel because being caught lying on court was illegal and technically Uhura could be charged with this, it would go on her permanent record... but it was like the warning shot because suddenly everyone was talking. The people sitting as spectators weren't even trying to whisper, and out of the twelve members of the jury at least eleven were having in-depth conversations with the person sitting next to them. It was confusing, a mess, Kirk and Spock's lawyer was objecting (to what, though? To Uhura's complete and utter idiocy for volunteering the damn information?), and she could see McCoy trying to get Kirk to turn around at look at him by gesticulating wildly yet soundlessly, wide-eyed in a way that made him look slightly insane. It was kind of hard to believe that every person here was a mature adult and a Starfleet officer. Scotty had actually clapped a hand over his mouth like they did in movies and was gaping at the back of Spock's head.

Out of everyone in the courtroom, Kirk and Spock were the only ones who remained perfectly still, like two mannequins sitting next to each other with identical closed-off expressions. Even if she'd tried, Uhura was sure that she could no more tell what her Captain was thinking than the Vulcan. And Spock... oh Spock. I'm so sorry, she wanted to say. But that wouldn't do him any good. Spock didn't know, of course.

Three months ago she'd reasoned with herself that it would be too soon and too cruel to explain to the Vulcan something he wasn't ready to hear; to tell him that part of the reason she broke up with him was that he'd fallen for someone else without even realizing it. Now, however, she was quite sure that Spock would have figured it out; dissecting his own emotions like a mathematical equation until he came up with the correct answer. There were a lot of clues by this point, even for someone who every day made a conscious effort to suppress and ignore his feelings.

After a very long minute, the Commdore-acting-as-judge managed to be heard above the din and impose silence.

"May I remind the inhabitants of this courtroom that this is a court martial, not a place of idle gossip and wilful chatter." It sounded like a threat, and would have been less funny if not for the note of uncertainty that had crept into the man's voice at the end of that sentence. Things had certainly taken a turn for the dramatic in here.

"Lieutenant Uhura, I'm going to give you a chance to rephrase your incorrect statement."

Oh thank God.

"Thank you, your honour," she said, clutching her composure as best as she could. She kept her gaze level and spoke only to the prosecutor, avoiding both Kirk and Spock, afraid of what would come out of her mouth next if she was met with their horrified stares.

"It's not true that Kirk had nothing to do with Mr Spock and myself ending our romantic relationship."

"Correct."

Uhura took a breath before continuing, because this needed very careful wording and she couldn't afford to screw up again. Granted, it would be difficult to do so as royally as she had before, but with a bit of effort she was sure the possibility of making things worse was most certainly there, and so caution right now was probably key.

"Kirk was, in fact, indirectly part of the reason we broke up, because he made me realise that Spock and I were better off as friends."

"Correct."

"How did this realisation come to be, Lieutenant?" Areel asked. She'd had the decency not to clap her hands delightedly when Uhura dropped the bomb, at least, and instead looked kind of dumbstruck and slightly confused, as though she didn't quite know how to process what was happening (in that moment she'd actually reminded Uhura of the Captain the first time he was confronted with the sight of Spock in an undershirt for a medical exam).

Kirk and Spock's lawyer didn't try to object this time and Uhura knew why. Technically, it was worth making a token protest so that it was noted in the official record, but right now she was in the middle of a very delicate conversation and interruptions might steer it away from the way she wanted the questions to go.

"Well, it was seeing their friendship that made me understand." She gave the other woman a small smile and tried to ease the tension out of her taut muscles. She could do this. She knew words, she could do this.

"Correct."

"Seeing the way Kirk and Spock behaved toward each other made you want to end a romantic relationship with the latter?" Areel asked, and this time Moss did leap up with a ready "Objection!" because she'd completely twisted Uhura's words. With perfect accuracy, of course, but the wording was everything.

Emerett banged the gavel again, a look of mild terror on his face at this point, probably because this session had very quickly descended into the kind of relationship drama that the man seemed to hate.

"Sustained. Miss Shaw, please don't rephrase the Lieutenant's statement."

Areel opened her mouth to apologize, probably, but Uhura saw her chance.

"Yes, because that isn't what I meant to say at all."

It was the truth, but she hadn't meant to say the truth.

"Correct."

"I meant that seeing their friendship was what opened my eyes to the problems in my relationship. One of them was communication, something Kirk and Spock do perfectly, beyond the status of Captain and Commander because they really are very good friends. So in a way Kirk was the trigger, if you will. Not the cause."

"Correct."

"And I didn't mean to suggest anything else; my previous statement was obviously badly phrased, for which I apologise."

"Correct."

x

Jim was having serious trouble keeping his gaze steadily forward; the urge to turn to Spock scratched at his skin, relentless in its intensity. He had no idea what to think, but he couldn't just slip into shock and blank out his mind or something equally convenient; his brain was too used to making quick assessments and then jumping to action. The problem was that he couldn't come up with a single satisfying answer and so he was left scrambling through all the possibilities over and over.

He wasn't dumb. In fact, he was pretty damn smart. A part of him wanted to believe... knew it would be easier to believe that Uhura was simply telling the truth as she justified her mistake. That he'd been foolish to feel his heart leap at her words, as though the first and obvious explanation was immediately the right one, Occam's Razor of Joy and all that. That he'd been naive, and she'd simply meant what she later tried to justify.

But James Kirk really was a smart-ass, in that he was both smart and had a great ass. And there was something about the way she spoke, the meticulous phrasing of her sentences after, which he couldn't ignore. The suspicion that Uhura truly believed he'd had something to do with their break-up started to become a certainty.

And so it was that after a horrible, agonising hour of staring at anything but Spock, and after hearing Areel cleverly try and poke holes in Uhura's answers and Uhura just as cleverly duck accusations, after Emerett declared it was Moss' turn and the lawyer stood and asked only two questions ("Do you believe that Captain Kirk and Commander Spock are emotionally compromised?" "No." "Correct." And "Do you believe Captain Kirk and Commander Spock have endangered or will inadvertently endanger their crew in any way?" "No." "Correct.")... after it was all over Jim continued in his herculean effort of ignoring Spock and walked straight up to Nyota Uhura.

She still sat in her chair, as though reluctant to leave the high stand.

"Hey," he said, looking up at her calmly. People were shuffling around and the mutters had started up immediately after the Commodore closed the session for the day.

She flinched, even though all he'd done was greet her politely and he wasn't even mad at her or anything. She'd only lied to protect them. The problem was that now he wanted to know which truth she'd felt the need to cover up, and he was curious and more than a little determined, as James Kirk was wont to be.

"Hey, Kirk."

"You mind walking with me to someplace where we can talk?" he said, not even trying for subtlety. Then he felt (he didn't hear it, didn't see it, he felt) Spock's presence behind him and turned around without knowing what to expect.

"Spock, what's up?"

"I wish to speak to Nyota," Spock said, something about his voice or maybe the set of his jaw making Jim frown.

Uhura looked down at the both of them for a very long moment, then slid off her chair and went over next to Spock, so that they formed an isosceles triangle with Jim being the furthest point.

"Kirk asked first," she said, her tone a bit teasing but mostly wary, her gaze intent on Spock's face just as Jim's was, both of them turned to him, waiting for his reaction.

"My apologies. I was unaware."

"It's okay, I can leave if you'd prefer," Jim said. He could understand that Spock might be even more curious than him.

"Yes," said Uhura with a sigh and "No," said Spock at the exact same time. "You wished to speak to Nyota first, I will do so at a later date."

"But Spock—" Uhura began, leaning a little closer to him with pleading eyes. Jim was struck once more by the familiarity between them, and the practiced delicacy with which Uhura respected the Vulcan's personal space. He'd never gotten the hang of that, he always ended up forgetting.

She had started to say something in fast, low Vulcan that Jim only caught snatches of (the words 'explanation' and 'reason' and 'conversation') but Spock shook his head once and she quieted. For a moment Jim thought; you're not supposed to just let him get his way and back down if he's being stubborn. I'd have argued, if there was something I needed to say to him. I'd have made him listen.

"Oy, you three!"

Moss walked up to them, and a little way behind him waited McCoy, leaning against the defense's desk.

"I'm sorry," Uhura interjected before the lawyer could say anything. "I'm really sorry, I screwed up—"

"It wasn't your fault," Moss said.

"Of course it was my fault," she snapped. Then, looking at Spock with pained eyes, she repeated. "I'm so sorry."

"I was unaware of your thoughts on this matter," Spock said softly.

Moss rolled his eyes. "Well, I wasn't, but I thought we'd be able to avoid the question." The fact that the question hadn't even been asked lingered in the air between them.

"I'm sorry," Uhura said again, a touch something like defiance in her eyes that said she was starting to get a bit tired of being scolded. In that aspect, at least, she reminded Jim of himself a lot.

"Yes, well, let's just forget that for now—"

"What?" Jim rounded on Moss, indignant. "Are you kidding me? She doesn't even get a long evening being ranted at by your delightful self? Is this because she's hot? Because I'm also hot and I got four hours of verbal abuse, so that, my friend, would be very misogynistic of you."

His comment served to diffuse some of the tension on the air.

"Shut up, Kirk."

Spock quirked an eyebrow. "The Captain's inquiry seems genuinely valid, if we were to extrapolate a pattern of behaviour considering your previous reactions to our mistakes."

Even Uhura was smiling a tiny bit (at Spock, not at Jim, but whatever), but Moss had had enough, apparently.

"Yes, well, her mistake will cost more gossip to go around, that's for sure. But since your last little incident—" that word was like a curse, Jim thought, jolting at the sudden memory of water dribbling from Spock's parted lips and down his chin "—had to be kept quiet, the entire Starbase is convinced that you were seen running around in your underwear, and that the reason you changed sleeping quarters--yes, Kirk, everyone knows where you sleep; the reason you changed sleeping quarters is that you wrecked the ones you already had through some sort of unorthodox sexual practices."

Uhura managed a choked little laugh (that sounded like a damn tinkling bell because her voice was gorgeous) but Spock… Spock was looking at the floor and blushing. It was unmistakeable. His eyes looked slightly dazed and there was this green flush over his cheeks and nose that completely betrayed him. Jim was confused because he could feel his pulse pounding like crazy as though his blood-cells knew his brain needed oxygen but they were struggling against a pull slightly south of that direction.

For a few moments no one seemed to know quite what to say, although Moss certainly looked very smug, but sadly they were spared the need to come up with a suitable response by the timely appearance of one six-foot asshole called Ben Finney. Apparently the bastard just had to keep popping up whenever Jim was sure he'd finally gotten rid of him.

"So you've finally decided to try that menage-a-trois, then?" a voice said loudly. And yeah, the room was starting to empty, but there were still a lot of people in it, including over half the jury.

Jim rolled his eyes. "You're not allowed in here. Go away, please."

"Session's over Jimmy, I'm allowed wherever I want."

Then he realised something. "Wait... were you waiting outside for me, Ben?"

"I—"

"Wow, maybe now that I'm here I should get a restraining order, because clearly your obsession with me has degenerated into stalking."

At this comment the general unpleasantness in Finney seemed to morph into something even uglier.

"Well, Ensign Sanz was just telling me about Uhura's fuck up. Way to go, girl." Ben smirked.

Moss, who stood slightly to the side of the group, was staring at Finney with a baffled expression.

"I mean it; you're clearly a genius. Can't say much about your precocious promotion, what with Admiral Pike handing out high-ranking titles like freaking party favors over at the Enterprise... but these two?" He gestured at Kirk and Spock. "I've gotta hand it to you. First you get Cadet Farmboy hot for you, then you screw your professor, and now that they're together the triangle is complete and you're free to screw someone else! Let's see, you've done the Captain and the First Mate, who's next? The Chief Medical Officer? The Chief Engineer?"

"Back the fuck off, Ben," Jim spat, incensed.

Ben raised hands in mock-surrender. "Wow, still carrying a torch for her after all these years, Jimmy? Your boyfriend won't like that."

"What hole did this piece of shit crawl out of?" Uhura said incredulously. Spock's jaw was clenched and he'd moved slightly in front of her, unconsciously protective.

"Don't pretend you don't remember me from the Academy, Nyota," Ben said. "I'm the smart bastard who knew to tap this ass when there was still something fun about him, before Starfleet beat the rebel into submission." He leered at Jim, who out of the corner of his eye noted Spock's stance shift slightly, as though he was itching to place himself between Ben's eyes and Jim's body. "He's probably bland as fuck by now, which is a shame 'cause dammit Jimmy, those were some fun times we had."

"Maybe for you," Jim grit out, forcing himself to sound nonchalant.

"Like you didn't beg for it like a little bi—"

"Back away," Spock cut in, his tone biting.

"You wanna defend your man? Make me, dude."

Okay, this had gone from cheap shots to barbed insults very fast, and this time there was nothing subtle about the way Spock stepped forward, eyes blazing. Ben looked back at him with equal dislike.

"Spock, this isn't your fight—" Jim muttered, trying to pull Spock back.

"Tell me, Mr Spock, does he still like it a bit rough?"

"Do not speak of the Captain in this way or I will make sure that you are unable to—"

"Okay, let's all calm down, shall we?" This was Moss speaking loudly and sternly. "I don't know who you are but clearly, your issues need to be addressed by a counselor, my friend. Now please leave before you cause a scene."

"I have every right—"

"Fine, we'll leave," Jim interrupted. "Come on guys, let's get out of here."

Spock followed him without protest, as did Moss and then McCoy, but a few seconds later, Jim realised Uhura had stayed behind.

She was looking up at Ben Finney with narrowed eyes and her feet planted slightly apart, an unyielding stance that made her look menacing despite the fact that she was much shorter than him.

"You ever insult my Captain like that again and I will, as Chief Communications Officer on the USS Enterprise, bury your ass in so much bureaucratic crap that the promotion you're obviously so desperately panting after will never see the light. After which I'm going to punch that beak you call a nose right into your skull."

McCoy gave a low whistle of admiration.

Ben was trying to act unimpressed. "Right. Under whose authority?"

"Mine," Jim volunteered, raising his hand. "Because I'm the Captain of the USS Enterprise. Unlike you. Who isn't one. A captain, I mean."

Uhura nodded firmly, and then crossed her arms over her chest.

"So you should really reconsider this disrespecting attitude you've got."

"Your precious Captain is the one who broke the rules, missy; not me."

"My precious Captain is the best fucking Captain in the fleet, asshole, so unless you want me to follow through on my very specific, very real threat, you should just shut up."

Wow. So Uhura had quite a mouth on her when she was mad, too. Hot damn.

"Stay away from us."

They all marched out of the courtroom together, which felt pretty great, to be honest. Jim even managed to fist-bump Uhura, and got a punch in the arm from McCoy. It was a bit crowded outside because everyone else was sort of milling around still, but Jim took advantage of the distraction to look sideways at Spock, hoping to exchange a reassuring glance of some sort (surprise: it didn't work).

Since they were splitting up in different directions, Moss waved a gruff goodbye at them with a promise that they would talk later, and then there were four.

"If you don't mind, Kirk, I'd like to talk to Spock first," Uhura said.

"Oh. Yeah, sure. It's just…" he wanted Spock to acknowledge his existence in some way, but Spock was looking at Uhura. Deliberately, the bastard. "… fine. Forget it, it wasn't important."

"Oh. Okay."

Even she was eyeing Spock strangely, though, like she was wondering what the hell was with him. So Jim wasn't the only one who'd noticed.

McCoy clapped a hand on Jim's shoulder. "Let's go have lunch."

"Bones, it's a bit early for—"

"I thought it was never too early for food."

Jim managed a smile. "Yeah, okay. I'll see you guys tomorrow, then."

They were halfway down the busy corridor before Spock caught up to them.

"Jim, a moment please."

It didn't sound like a request, not even remotely.

"Can't it wait?" McCoy asked with raised eyebrows. Spock glared at him, or at least, that was the feeling that came across when Spock tore his gaze away from Jim's to look at McCoy in a very specific manner.

"It is not urgent, merely convenient. Allow us to converse for a few minutes alone, please." Again, it sounded more like a threat than a question.

"Yeah, no, the only person allowing anything here is me, thank you very much my two, strong manly men," Jim professed with an eye-roll. "For the last time, I am the highest ranking officer in this threesome."

"Not where it counts, Jim; get over it," McCoy grinned. Jim punched him on the shoulder and looked at Spock again, but Spock remained decidedly unamused and the smile on Jim's face swiftly faded.

"A moment, please," Spock repeated, caveman style. It wasn't hot.

"Fine, fine." He was sad; sad and weak. "Wait for me at the Hospital Bay if you want, Bones, Spock and I are going to have a moment."

"See you later."

The doctor wove his way through the crowd and away. Jim fixed Spock with his best scowl.

"I thought we decided we wouldn't be alone together anymore. We can't just walk into the first empty room and have a conversation."

Apparently this version of caveman Spock still came with all the brainy attachments.

"We can go to Deck 6, on the botanical aisles. This is an adequate time for you to see the results of the scientific research being done here and we might speak without being overheard."

"… But we'd still be together."

"In order for a conversation to happen, us being together is a necessity," Spock said, the clipped edge in his words a sign that he was unimpressed by how stupid Jim was being. Jim decided not to point out that they could very well have a conversation over the communicators. "At least we will not be together alone in a room with an available and sturdy enough surface—"

"Whoa, o-kay! I get it, Jesus."

"Very well."

x

It had sounded fine when Spock suggested it, but now Jim was strolling with his first officer amidst rows and rows of flowers, so maybe he should have really thought this plan through.

Although Deck 6 was actually pretty amazing.

The dome-like structure they were inside of right now was so large that it actually took up part of Deck 7, and the calibrations on the artificial sunlight were so good that it could be easily confused with the real thing. Starbase Theta was relatively close to several fascinating uninhabited planets for study but for a project of this magnitude to depend on the distant suns was very unrealistic, so the specific conditions for each sample had been recreated here, down to the heat that was slightly above the ideal neutral for body-temperature. Jim revelled in the feeling, even though his dress uniform shirt felt extremely uncomfortable after about two seconds.

The place was bustling with activity and he'd seen several people working at their various stations when they came in, but only a couple of them looked up, and no one seemed interested in them. You could say that for these Theta scientists; they really did like their plants. The aisles themselves were oddly quiet and almost felt secluded; all sorts of flora springing from their pots and creating this strange, almost cramped atmosphere. Several rows had special lighting, so the effect was a tad disco and multicoloured, but Jim found that he understood why Spock liked coming here so often. It was oddly peaceful.

"So what did you want to talk about?" he asked, pretty mystified by this point. The sound of his voice was oddly muffled by the foliage around them.

"I must confess, I was disappointed that you did not think it fit to inform me of the fact that you and Mr Finney had a romantic relationship."

"… Are you serious?"

"I inferred he was infatuated with you, but you did not tell me the emotion was reciprocated. It shows an exceptional lack of judgement at the time, on your part."

Jim stopped walking, struck dumb for a very long moment. Next to him, a freakishly tall vine-like plant towered up, up, all the way to the top of the dome. It was one of several, all littered across the vast room and faintly glowing purple, with no actual flowers that Jim could see.

"So let me get one thing straight," he said finally. "You say you need to talk to me, we come here so that it doesn't look suspicious, you keep Uhura waiting for you even though she said she wanted to have a conversation… and this is what you want to talk about? You want to… what, to insult me? Make me feel worse? Indirectly call me a slut again? Are you fucking kidding me?"

Spock looked indignant. "I did not ask you here to punish you, Captain. I merely wish to understand. I will not be able to reason this logically if I cannot understand. How could you…? You do not intend to resume your relationship with him, correct?"

"Resume…? He's an asshole! Who insulted you, and Uhura!"

Spock nodded, apparently satisfied. "And you." Jim felt like throwing his hands up in the air.

"Right! For God's sake, it was just sex, Spock. Ben and me… we were friends, sure and maybe there were benefits a few times, but I'm not like you, okay? I don't have an emotional breakdown every time I think of kissing someone else." Um, not unless that person is you. But that's irrelevant. "And you know what? I didn't have an emotional breakdown even after I'd had sex with him. Because it didn't mean anything."

Spock's face was completely remote when he replied. "Very well. I understand."

"Good."

"Nyota, then. Do you intend to pursue her again now that she and I are no longer in a relationship?"

"What?"

Jim knew he wasn't allowed to yell in here, but he came pretty damn close.

"You did harbour romantic intentions towards her for an extended time. It would not be illogical to postulate—"

"Oh my God. It wasn't… look, I don't like Uhura like that anymore. I never really… I'd have told you first, if I wanted to try anything with her." Spock took a step towards him and Jim felt almost cornered, even though Spock was only slightly taller and not abusing that height difference in any visible way. "And you know she'd just laugh in my face if I did, which I'd totally deserve."

The plant behind him started humming sweetly and Jim flinched, startled to remember other things existed in the world besides Spock's reproaching eyes.

"She is a beautiful woman."

"Other things are beautiful." One of the pale flowers behind Spock's head unfurled its translucent petals lazily. "And anyway, beauty is relative and I'm not that shallow."

"Why would you not desire her?"

"I just don't, okay?"

"She is intelligent, accomplished, and—"

"You love her so much, get back together with her," he snapped.

"I never loved her," Spock said. The confession, spoken almost like a reassurance, turned something hard in Jim's stomach to jelly.

"Well… she's not the one I kissed two days ago."

Spock stared at him.

If he could have, Jim would have stared at himself.

The silence around them was suddenly stifling. Had he just…? Did this count as…? Where the hell had that come from?

Suddenly the humming plant emitted a high-pitched blast of noise that nearly made Jim leap into Spock's arms.

"What was that?" he yelped.

"I do not know. I suspect someone will soon arrive to investigate the source of noise, however," Spock replied. He actually looked a bit shell-shocked as well, but maybe that wasn't because of the noise. Spock tended to remain cool in the face of unexpected noises. Like a rock. Or a ninja.

"Right. I should leave, I said I'd meet Bones and he'll be waiting for me," Jim said shakily.

"Very well. I shall see you tomorrow."

"Yeah, okay. Bye."

And with that he spun on his heel and left. He was so distracted and confused and panicking that he nearly crashed into a gorgeous doe-eyed blonde when he rounded the corner.

"Shit, sorry," he said, steadying her. She was wearing a bottle-green jumpsuit over a light purple shirt, and carrying two datapads.

"I'm fine; it's fine." Her eyes were blue and freaking huge. "I was actually… um, you're James Kirk, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"Is… is Mr Spock here with you?" The little catch in her breath told Jim everything he needed to know about this girl's feelings for his First Officer. Join the club, sweetheart, they didn't have jackets yet but he might as well start designing them (they could have 'Logic RULES' emblazoned on the back). God knew there were enough members.

"Yeah, he's back there."

"Thanks. I have some questions, and he's so… um, if he has time. That would be helpful. I can't find Mara. Mara Dalle? I think you know her. She's my lab partner. Not that you… anyway, I can't find my lab-partner and Mr Spock is really helpful."

Jim wanted to give her a little pat on the head; possibly even coo at her a little. She must be in her early twenties at least, but she looked like a teenager. "Just go on ahead."

"Thanks. It was nice meeting you." She stood there for a moment, clutching her PADD's tightly, seeming to steel herself to say something. "I… I have a cousin on Earth."

"Uh… okay."

She nodded. "So… yeah. Thank you. You were both so brave. You deserve to go on exciting missions and stuff--um, together, you know? I… I hope this trial goes well."

Actually darling, I have no idea what's going on between us right now which is messing up everything and everyone around us, and it seems like whenever I turn my back on my emotions they've just grown tenfold and then some, also Spock keeps acting like a possessive bastard which is definitely not helping matters even though I'm pretty sure he's completely ignorant of the fact that I'm gagging for his

"Thank you."

She smiled sweetly and waved a little.

"Well, see you around, I hope."

"Yeah, sure. Hey, what's your name?"

"Oh, it's Leila." Her smile grew into a grin. "Leila Kalomi."

"See you around, Leila."

x

"Doesn't Spock see how ridiculous it is? I'd never get back together with Ben… we were never even really together in the first place, for fuck's sake!"

"I know. I was there."

"If we were the last two people in the universe and the survival of the Human race depended on us—"

"Jim, how would that even—"

"—I still wouldn't sleep with that bastard ever again. That's how much I hate him, Bones! I'd doom humanity!"

McCoy snorted a little and then gave a startling, bark-like laugh. Jim was sitting on one of the beds with his legs dangling by the side like a toddler, and letting his friend scan him while they talked. Thankfully it was lunchtime and the end of the large Hospital Bay where they'd secluded themselves to talk was deserted. In the distance, a doctor McCoy had introduced as M'Benga and three nurses were tending to the few patients.

"Stop laughing, I'm having a crisis here."

"You do know Spock is just jealous, right?"

That made Jim wince, as though the word were a physical blow.

"I… do you really think so?"

"Oh God, do I look like a twelve-year-old girl? Yes, I think so. I wouldn't have said so if I didn't think so, you idiot."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Look, if I'm being perfectly honest…"

McCoy help up a hand. "But not too honest."

"Not too graphic, but perfectly honest," Jim amended with a grin.

"I can live with that." The doctor nodded, satisfied.

"Great. Well, I… there might be something. Uh. We, um, kissed, actually."

"You what? When did this happen?"

Jim grinned. "Hey, remember that time when Spock and I had to shower together naked—"

"Oh my God, why did I ask…?"

"Come on grandma, we had our underwear on. And it was just this one kiss, nothing else happened. I thought we'd be okay once we'd talked about it, you know? Which we did, day before yesterday, very rationally and everything, but he told me… Spock was really torn up about it because to him these sort of gestures always mean something, right? Except it didn't mean anything with me, which is, you know, whatever, but that's what freaked him out. That he could kiss me and not feel anything and I guess that was a bit of his Human side showing and he hated that. I guess…" he tried to laugh, but it didn't really work. "…I'm just the exception to every rule, huh?"

The doctor looked very sceptical.

"What?"

"Are you sure that's what it was? He specifically said that?"

Jim frowned. "Uh, yeah. We talked about this yesterday."

"Pull up your shirt."

Jim did so. He'd decided to change into a clean blue medical shirt because his dress uniform itched. McCoy rested the tricorder against his chest for a few seconds and squinted.

"… I'm sorry, kid."

"Don't be. I'm fine. Or, I mean, I'd be fine if he didn't start acting like an asshole when I least expect it."

McCoy raised his eyebrows, then took out a hypospray. "Spock is only mean to you when you put yourself in danger. So, okay, at least twice a week, but still."

"Well apparently now he's also mean to me when I used to have sex with Ben Finney?"

"Like I said. Sounds a lot like jealousy to me."

Jim rubbed his eyes tiredly and didn't succeed in stamping down a thin ray of hope.

"I… I honestly have no idea. But I can't let myself—" he grit his teeth. "He's obviously going through a tough time too. I know for a fact that he's not sleeping well. And I'm pretty sure, I mean--he kissed me back, so I'm pretty sure he's attracted to me at least, but that can't be easy, for a Vulcan, that can't be something he's used to dealing with, right? I thought they could just choose who they liked. Who they let themselves like. Spock doesn't seem to… at least with me, he obviously doesn't have a choice."

It made him uncomfortable to meet McCoy's shrewd gaze as he said this.

"I mean, I'll try to tone it down. Not touch him or stuff, I think would be a good start. Because of the trial and—actually that's a lie. I'll do it for him. Just for him."

"How... noble of you," McCoy said. Jim snorted, hoping to convey through that snort the amount of disdain he felt for such a ridiculous notion.

"Yeah, I'm a prince."

"Jim, you're turning into a proper gentleman."

It was really ridiculous, okay?

"Screw you, Bones."

"Just go talk to him, you idiot."

And then he jabbed the hypo in Jim's neck.

"Ow! Dammit, give a poor man some warning!"

X

Jim was a lot of things, but 'hesitant' rarely applied to him.

Um, he was... thinking.

You see, he was standing in front of the door that connected his quarters and Spock's. He'd waited all day to confront Spock. He'd had time to rig the door in a very specific way for his purposes. And now was the moment, because the rooms were soundproof but he'd asked the computer for Spock's location and it had all but said: 'duh, a few feet away from you.'

He was ready. In a moment. Just... aaaany second now.

Count to three and—

He opened the door.

Spock was sitting on his bed at the far corner of the room, reading a datapad, but he looked up instantly.

"Jim." The datapad was carelessly left on the pillow.

"Hey."

Jim held up a finger, a silent 'wait, trust me', and walked all the way back to his bed, at the far corner of his room. Spock immediately understood, and didn't get up or follow him inside.

"The system will detect the open door."

Jim grinned and shook his head. "No, it won't."

"… I see."

They looked at each other quietly for a few moments.

"You are wearing the science uniform," Spock noted with a quirked eyebrow. He had to raise his voice a little for Jim to hear him, the span of both rooms substantial between them.

"Yeah. I stopped by the sickbay for the check-up Bones wanted. You should too, by the way; he said he'd strap you down if he had to. He's really into that, apparently," he added in a mock-whisper. Spock's hearing was three times better than his anyway.

He couldn't be entirely sure because Spock really was rather far away but Jim thought that maybe he saw the corner of his mouth twitch slightly.

"So listen, I—"

"I am glad you devised this way of speaking without the use of communicators, Jim," Spock interrupted. "And that you chose to speak to me at all despite my rather appalling attitude today. I… was angry."

"At who?"

Spock took his sweet time in answering. "…Myself. Most illogical, I am aware."

Jim had the sudden urge to pace, but he crossed his legs and stayed where he was. It took him less than a second to muster his resolve to ask the question. Sometimes not thinking about it was really the better option.

"Why do you care so much if I slept with Ben?"

"He is still in love with you. His mind is practically psi-null but his emotions are broadcast very strongly, and what he feels for you is very powerful. I believe resentment and jealously have warped the… goodness of his emotions, and this love is destructive, but it is still there."

Jim shifted in the bed and looked at Spock from under his lashes, unforgiving. "That's the kind of answer I'd give the Veritas device, dude. Because it has nothing to do with my question."

Spock clenched his jaw. "It is unpleasant for me to speak of these things."

Suddenly Jim was furious, and tired, and maybe a bit frightened of just how much he'd let himself care about Spock's opinion of him.

"Well I'm sorry to hear that, but is it worse than making me feel like crap? Because your apology kinda sucks so far. See, first I need to stay away from Stavok because he could try to read my mind when the guy has been nothing but nice to me and helpful to both of us. Then I'm scum for ever having slept with Ben. And let's not forget the ladies, 'cause surely the only reason I'd want to hang around two awesome chicks like Mara and Uhura is sex, right? Where do you get off making me feel like shit, Spock?"

"I realise it is not my place—"

"You're my friend, and you've made it your place by shaming my every choice so far—"

"Never. I never wish to make you feel badly, Jim, I—"

"Well, you did. Over and over. So what's it going to be?"

Spock's jaw clenched in anger. "He makes me act illogically. He elicits anger in me."

Jim leaned forward, squinting to try and understand. "What are you saying?"

One fist clenched, and Spock looked up at him with a touch of exasperation. "If you cannot deduce it, I do not believe it would be a good idea for us to continue the conversation in this particular topic."

"Why not?"

"Because it may lead to things that will damage our case."

"…What?" He was on his feet before even being conscious of making the decision to stand up. "Why?"

Spock remained where he was, back ramrod straight and at the edge of the mattress, looking up defiantly. "I cannot answer this question without putting the result of the trial at risk."

Jim felt very confused. "I don't get it."

Spock murmured something that sounded suspiciously like; "You wouldn't."

"Excuse me?" Jim stepped forward, the simmering anger in his stomach only building.

"Jim, I am asking for your trust in my judgement."

"And I'm asking for yours! What, you think I can't handle whatever it is that you'd say?"

"I only doubt your intelligence in occasional matters and right now is not one of those times."

"Gee, thanks for not being a jerk to me anymore today, Spock!"

Spock stood up abruptly, his right fist still clenched. "It is for your own good."

"Fuck that. Tell me and then I'll decide whether it's for my own good or not."

"No."

"I'm not as fragile as you think, dammit!"

They both strode over to the doorframe at the same time and stopped right in front of each other.

"You cannot know—"

"I know that I don't need to be protected!"

"You wish to lose, then, and be separated for the rest of our careers."

"Of course not, but—"

"Then be quiet and stop asking questions."

Okay, the schoolteacher voice was back and Jim was furious.

"Don't tell me what to do, Spock, you know that never works," he threatened heatedly.

"It will this time if you know what's good for you, Captain."

Jim actually slammed his palm against the wall beside him. "Spock, come on."

"It should not be this unreasonable a request, Jim…"

"You're treating me like a kid again, just like Stavok said." He eyed Spock up and down; Spock flinched back as though burned. "Or maybe he's right and that should be lover, huh?"

"Stop."

"Tell me what's wrong."

"Is it truly impossible for you to 'let this go', Jim? Or do you believe it would be appropriate to treat you as a child?"

"You're such a mean, stuck up— "

"You are acting like an immature brat."

"—annoying, irritating— "

Spock leaned dangerously close to the invisible barrier, his hands at either side of the doorframe. "And you refuse to believe that someone might know what is best for you."

"—patronising, know-it-all— "

"This is really immature of you, Captain..."

"— frigid— " Jim said loudly.

"... and you do not understand—"

"Then tell me what's happening, help me understand why—!"

He cut himself off and stared.

They were so close. Oh, so close.

Spock's breath was coming in little shudders and Jim found that he didn't want to blink because even blinking would mean having to stop seeing that awesome sight for like half a second and he was not entirely sure he possessed the ability to do so. Or would ever.

"Oh."

And so it was that he finally understood. Because he knew, with a sudden certainty that only barely fit between their bodies, that even with the invisible wall between them they were seconds away from doing something very stupid.

Spock was implying… Spock seemed to be suggesting that if they shone a light on the problems they might discover some stuff that would make it pretty hard to act normally after.

And he knew the doubts would come later. Maybe Spock was actually saying that he knew how hard-up he had his Captain and if they discussed it it would ruin their friendship. Maybe he'd imagined it, the way Spock's eyes bore into his. Maybe it was all in his head.

But right now, he was sure. He was sure that it would lead to something potentially huge, and that it would change them in ways that couldn't be reversed. And so he nodded slowly, the tension still making it slightly difficult to inhale and exhale without having to consciously think about it.

"Okay. You're right. Okay."

Spock blinked confusedly.

"Okay, we should just avoid the topic for now. I agree with you."

Jim took a few steps back and Spock made an aborted move forward, as though he'd been about to follow him blindly before he realised the door was still supposed to be between them, and then he stepped away as well.

"Thank you, Jim."

"Yeah." He let out a shaky breath and tugged at the unfamiliar colour of the fabric he wore. He could have replicated a golden shirt at the Hospital Bay, if he'd really wanted one. But he'd wanted Spock to look at him more. "I, uh… I'm gonna shut the door now."

"That… would be wise."

Jim bent down over the controls and fiddled for a little until he got the wiring back to where it was. Spock didn't move from the doorway the whole time, hand still curled into a tense fist.

"Okay, done. I'll, uh… I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Yes. Good night, Jim."

"Sweet dreams."

He knew his dreams might involve creative uses of syrup at some point, but would in no way be sweet.

x

Two months and twenty-four days ago...

Spock always thought that there was something rather… excessive about Jim Kirk.

When he first met the young cadet this startlingly Human observation came as unexpected to the Vulcan, but it did not disappear, because he knew it to be accurate.

As Spock got to know the man over the course of their mission, his impression of this fact only grew more firm. Jim Kirk was like an overflowing glass. The metaphor was accurate in describing his Captain in that Jim did not limit himself to a single container; he poured his emotions unto others. His passion would animate Chekov, his bravery in turn give Sulu courage, his devoted, complete infatuation with the Enterprise gain Scotty's respect, his wise decisions in the face of danger surprise even Nyota.

While on duty this entire thought process became irrelevant, of course. Jim was careful not to spill his energy, choosing instead to save it. Jim was serious. Jim was efficient and strong and incredibly intelligent. Jim was good for crew morale; Jim took time to help everybody.

Even Spock.

Even though Spock's patience was worn surprisingly quickly after speaking to his Captain for mere minutes. Even though Spock disagreed with Jim's impulsive, brash ideas constantly, and Jim and Spock fought, and they often ended up shouting or rank-pulling (that was mostly Jim) or, once, having to resist the urge to shove the other against a control panel in a fit of rage (that was, regrettably, mostly Spock).

For a man raised and taught to live by Vulcan logic, the tornado of force that was Captain Kirk became a distraction. Too good at making Spock's control slip from his grasp.

Too… much.

As their relationship grew into a tentative friendship, Jim's exuberance became apparent to Spock not only in his attitude but in his physical appearance as well. It was, in truth, a source of distress for his first officer. Spock decided that the languid grace of Jim's body wasn't required to command a ship, his coordination, his muscle definition, all of it, unnecessary. Yet very much there. Full lips which he would occasionally, unconsciously moisten much to Spock's annoyance (since the action was obviously not imperative, yet the Captain did it anyway).

And then came the day when he had the thought that Jim's eyes were too blue. Of course colours are what they are and it is illogical to say something is too blue; things are just blue and cannot be not blue enough, for example.

Even if Spock found himself comparing the Earth sky to Jim's eyes and having that exact thought.

Nyota asked him about it. A week ago, the day after one of his and Jim's more memorable fights, she said: "Do you think Jim is attractive?"

And Spock had replied honestly. Or as honestly as he knew, at the time. "I do not. There is something… excessive about the Captain. Something overwhelming…" The word was oddly accurate, despite it not being Spock's initial intent to use it, and he paused thoughtfully, pondering the implications of his choice. Perhaps there was some truth in the fact that Jim could easily overwhelm Spock without even speaking. "…about his physical presence," he added at last, having forgotten Nyota was awaiting his response.

And she'd nodded and turned to (unsuccessfully) conceal a light snort from him, to Spock's utter perplexity.

That same evening she had calmly informed him of the fact that she no longer wished to pursue a romantic relationship with him, and Spock was saddened but could not summon much surprise. They remained friends.

Then, after he and Uhura had broken up, there was a joke.

"Discipline? Kinky!"

And Spock (much to his own chagrin) understood it but wished he had not, and Jim laughed somewhat self-deprecatingly because apparently, as he informed Spock immediately after issuing such a startling comment, the joke was 'bad.'

And perhaps because Spock had not exactly objected the Captain understood that this was an equivalent to giving permission for more jokes to come after the first one, and the teasing unsettled the Vulcan because when Jim said "Fine, I'm going to bed! Care to join me?" Spock had to fight the desire to exclaim, or snort, or do other such actions to express his total and utter contempt for the idea in a very Human manner, because somehow, inexplicably, there was a feeling that arching an eyebrow was not enough, that he must make it very clear that the notion was positively ridiculous to him, that he must convince Jim more absolutely.

And just as things cannot be 'too blue' it is impossible for something to be 'more absolute' than something else, which was when Spock realised that he was beginning to fall…

Chapter Text

Lying to himself? What a waste of time that would be. Jim had never been one to tolerate that sort of thing. He had quite enough to do on an ordinary work-day, let alone in the middle of the mess they were currently in, without adding 'denial' to the list.

But Jim was aware of the fact that, given the right circumstances, the smart choice might be to choose not to think about something. Purely for his own survival, you understand. Didn't mean he wasn't aware of the fact that he wasn't thinking about it. Whatever 'it' may be. However hilariously obvious 'it' was.

Survival of the wilfully ignorant.

Didn't mean he wasn't completely aware of the fact that he was avoiding it (well, he was trying to avoid it. There's only so much 'avoiding' one person can consciously do when that increasingly obvious idea is yelling and jumping up and down and waving it's metaphorical arms going "HEY! YOU! YEAH, YOU, JAMES TIBERIUS KIRK! OVER HERE! LOOK, I EXIST! HEY LOOK!").

Now, this would have been a relatively valid plan had Jim not sucked royally at avoiding stuff. He wasn't too proud to admit it to himself; he was terrible at evading confrontation. Hell, he was famous for actively seeking it out, wasn't he? Immature and misguided as those instincts may be, he might have helped save the Earth at some point but he could not, for the life of him, sit back with folded arms and resist the urge to poke the bear. He'd come pretty far with the whole 'self-restraint' thing since that night in a bar in Iowa when he'd hit on the wrong girl, but.

They hadn't said anything about meeting for breakfast and Jim felt fairly certain it would just be best for everyone involved if they didn't bump into each other at all. Naturally, a few seconds later he noted how the few sleepy-looking officers shuffling down the corridor kept glancing at the lone figure that had just rounded the corner toward the turbolift. And just by the way said person held himself Jim knew who it was, even without the sidelong glances his fame had earned him.

For a moment Jim actually considered going back into his room and waiting in order to avoid Spock, but…

… he really did need to get better at this.

Steeling himself, he walked quickly to catch up with his First Officer, who stood waiting for the turbolift with two other people.

"Morning," Jim said, tapping Spock's shoulder tentatively. Spock turned his head quickly and concealed his surprise well.

"Good morning, Captain."

Jim gave him a hesitant smile. The air between them was awkward and thick, with fear and uncertainty and want, and he wasn't sure where to look, and Spock's eyes had (apparently unconsciously) dropped to his lips, which yeah thanks, was not helping, but they weren't alone, and he didn't know what to say.

Please specify what you implied last night.

Are you that amazingly oblivious that you have no idea what I feel for you?

What would happen if we talked about the kiss some more? Would it lead to the worst break up of a friendship ever, or…? Have you thought about it too? Do you even know how unquantifiably much I want you? When did you realize you were attracted to me?

Why can't you just turn it off?

You would if you could, wouldn't you?

"Hey, you wanna get something to eat?"

Spock's eyes snapped back up to meet his and he exhaled slowly. His face looked perfectly calm, but Jim knew, now. He sort of possibly had confirmation that Spock felt—Spock was attracted to Jim, had thought about Jim (hey, rule of thumb meant he'd thought about him at least once) and yesterday had, well, almost been leapt on and molested by Jim through an invisible door.

What was making breathing so damn hard right now was the fact that Jim strongly suspected that Spock would have let him. For a full ten, fifteen seconds before tossing Jim across the room, even. He'd seen Spock's hands gripping the doorframe; he'd felt Spock's impossibly hot breath blowing over his face as Spock fought for control, God

"So, you hungry?"

Spock took his time in replying, expression blank. And then his eyes slid down to Jim's mouth again.

"Not for breakfast, Captain. No," he murmured, so low no one else would hear but oh, Jim heard all right. Spock's voice was almost pained, as though he was confessing an unforeseen complication and it was Jim's fault (once could argue it sort of was, but Jim wasn't going to apologize for existing. Not ever). "I will accompany you if you desire, however."

"I… yeah, okay."

Their eyes met and locked, like tumblers clicking into place.

They both started slightly when the turbolift doors opened, and immediately looked away from each other.

*

"Captain, duck!" Sulu cried.

"Sulu, it's weird that you still call me that when we're in the middle of—"

"Both of you, 'tis not the time of being nice, we must regroup at the checkpoint—"

"Chekov, behind you!"

"Damn, I've been hit, Captain!"

"Use your shields, Sulu!"

"I have no auxiliary power left!"

"Watch out! More Zombies!"

"This game is so confusing!" Jim yelled with glee.

"How are you still winning, then?" Sulu shot back, obviously annoyed.

He used the controller to urge his spaceship to the right of the 3D sim in order to swoop in next to Sulu's. "Guess I'm still the Captain!"

"Oh you smug little--"

"Wait, Chekov's dead!"

"I am not!"

"Yet!"

"I thought he was on our team?"

"There's teams?"

"Nooooooooo—"

"Now you're dead!"

"The winner is: Captain Kirk."

Jim stepped away from the controller with a triumphant nod. "Yeah!"

"How did he do zat?"

The three emerged from their separate simulation cubicles with expressions that ranged from exasperation (Sulu) and an annoyed scowl (Chekov) to a huge grin (guess).

"Are you sure you didn't reprogram this thing?" Sulu grumbled. Jim punched him on the arm.

"Beginner's luck," he said, chuckling. It was actually more to do with the fact that the game didn't rely on the player having any actual piloting skills but more on strategy and, well, a bit of crazy.

"Dude, that was awesome!" Mara's brother Lucas had been running the simulator for them, and he stepped outside the bright control booth looking suitably impressed. Jim smiled at him and thought that Spock would have loved to criticise the total insanity of the game and then proceed to beat them all at it ruthlessly. "Thanks, Lucas."

After breakfast he'd run into his pilot and navigator and by silent and mutual agreement he and Spock had decided to go their separate ways until it was time to be back in the courtroom. Eating at separate tables had not spared Jim the sight of Spock's eyes fastening on his throat when he swallowed, or the low thrum of excitement his stupid libido seemed intent on maintaining after catching Spock's long, long fingers curling around his fork (his fork. Really. He was getting turned on by cutlery now).

Sulu and Chekov seemed to get over their crushing defeat quickly enough to demand a rematch, but Jim had to meet Moss an hour before the trial resumed and he was pushing the time already. He was in the middle of renegotiating for another day when suddenly his communicator crackled to life on his hip.

"Kirk!" A tinny female voice sounded among lots of background noise.

Jim froze, feeling a sudden chill crash over his body, muscles locked as though he was instinctually anticipating a blow to strike with her next words.

His instinct turned out to be right.

"No, dammit he has to know—Kirk! You need to—he's hurt—there's been an accident—"

The transmission ended with a burst of static.

"What…?" Chekov began softly, but Lucas had stepped toward Jim with a terrified expression.

"That was my sister," he blurted. "Why… what the hell is going on?"

There was a soft cracking, grinding noise and Jim looked down at his hand and faintly realised he was nearly crushing the little device.

"I don't know, but Spock is hurt," he said with absolute certainty.

"What?" Lucas yelled, probably louder than he'd intended, and strangely melodramatic in the quiet room. "How the hell would you—ugh. Look, call her back. Ask her if she's okay."

"Can't."

"Fine, then I'll do it—"

"You won't be able to, either."

He fired up the computer terminal in the control booth and started typing so fast his fingers were nearly a blur. Sulu was at his shoulder in an instant, squinting down at the screen.

"Why can't you just call her ba—"

"That sound at the end of the transmission was the communicator's circuits short-firing," Jim muttered. "Computer, locate crewwoman Dalle, Mara."

The seconds it took for the machine to process his request were hell. Jim could feel the absolute finality of his claim like a leaden weight pulling at his gut, heavy in the pit of his stomach that something had happened to him, just as he'd instantly known that when Mara said 'he' she'd meant Spock. He wasn't prepared… he couldn't… he just couldn't. No.

No.

A map of Deck 6 appeared on the screen with a glowing dot indicating where Mara was. The dot was moving, but it was inside the botany lab.

"Computer, locate crewman Spock."

When he saw the dot in the lab as well his mind went curiously blank. Not in a syrupy-sluggish way; just an expanse of white noise that hurled thoughts like phaser-shots darting through his brain, almost too fast for him to linger on.

"That's my sister who could be in danger. We need to—"

"Sulu, page security and get the Commodore on this if he isn't already, I'm going to the botany lab. Chekov, page the Sickbay and keep me informed."

Lucas half-heartedly tried to stop him; "But protocol during an accident…" but he trailed off by the time Jim had sprinted out of the room in lieu of following him at a run.

"Kirk, wait!"

It took them exactly four minutes to get from their Deck (number 12, at Rec Room C) to the labs on Deck 6. There was obviously a commotion going on and the turbolift network, despite being fast and efficient, had been busy.

Through Jim's mind flitted the thought that in a little while, once he'd made sure Spock was alive and all right and Jim didn't need to murder anybody today after all, he would find the time to be seriously pissed because apparently security in this base sucked. Big time. They might wanna look into it.

"Captain Kirk?" Jim ignored the Engineer who called his name and shouldered his way past the crowd of officers outside. He distantly noted they immediately gave him the space to come through; sympathy on every face as though his pain was visible, or should be.

There were four security officers blocking the entrance, but Jim raised his hand for a punch at the one closest to him and he stepped aside, wide-eyed. Huh. These guys didn't normally scare so easy.

"Spock?" he called out immediately, but his voice was swallowed up in the huge room with its tall ceiling.

"Mara!"

Lucas was still hot on his heels.

"Spock!"

"Kirk? What the hell are you doing here, you're due in court in an hour…!"

"Get out of my way, Ben, or I swear to God—"

That was all it took, the beginning of a threat and the look on Jim's face before Ben Finney was scrambling out of his path, him and another blue-clad scientist staring wide-eyed after Captain Pretty Boy yelling his first officer's name. Jim was pretty sure he didn't want to know what he looked like right now, even though he felt relatively calm. Maybe almost eerily so; maybe that was what people were reacting to.

Lucas confirmed this seconds later, while Jim was sprinting past two more security men who merely gaped after him without protest.

"Dude, I think you're freaking people out," he hissed as a maintenance tech scurried out of Jim's range (range of what, though?). "You look like a robot. Like a scary, masterminding, ruthless robot bent on revenge. Or something."

"That was weirdly specific. Go find your sister," Jim shot back. Once you got past the open space with different working stations, the actual greenhouse zone was almost maze-like and there were a lot of red-shirt officers hurrying along the cramped corridors and where was Spock, dammit where was he.

"You!" He stopped a security officer in her tracks and she turned to him, jaw set with a flicker of apprehension in her expression. Jim didn't care at that moment. "Where's Commander Spock?"

"Next row to the left, but you're not supposed to—"

He took off, leaving Lucas to ask about his sister.

He turned the corner, hearing lots of voices and suddenly there was a crowd of emergency medical staff around two stretchers and Spock, Spock was on one of them, eyes half-lidded and head lolling as a nurse felt the pulse on his neck. The sight made Jim stumble mid-step. What…? No.

"Spock…?"

x

Technically, if his heart burst from his chest and sprayed blood and gore everywhere it would make a terrible mess. So it was a good thing that that couldn't actually happen.

"Captain."

Jim had seen Spock in Sickbay six or seven times, maybe more, because you didn't hold a high-ranking position on the USS Enterprise without taking a couple of unscheduled trips down there. Space is pretty big. There are a lot of anomalies one can find in space. Space is, in fact, kind of huge.

But just like saying space is big was the understatement of the century, if one were to say Jim was 'worried' they would find the term sadly lacking. He'd left worry behind at a disturbingly fast speed and it wasn't even a speck in his metaphorical rear-view mirror right now.

"Idiot," he growled at his First Officer. Nope, he wasn't worried. He'd settled on fucking furious because the ringing in his ears didn't let him feel much else, and the part of him that was in charge of self-preservation knew it was probably for the best.

Spock blinked slowly, as though his eyelids were heavy and it required effort to do so. His chest rose and fell in quick, shallow breaths, and his colouring was sickly and wrong, with large dark bruises under his eyes and green blood-vessels standing out against his pale skin so clearly Jim was sure he could have traced them all the way to his heart.

Jim wanted to punch him for being so monumentally dumb and knew the feeling was fuelled by something far, far from hate.

"I don't know why I used to think you were smart. I can't believe I trusted you as my second in command when you can't even—you're fired."

Spock blinked again and the sight of him so fragile made Jim's hands shake a little by his sides. He felt torn open, raw and exposed for all to see and the worst of it all was that he didn't really care because Spock was obviously reckless and stupid and irresponsible all rolled into one and every time he was scolding or lecturing Jim for being too impulsive he was being a fucking hypocrite.

"It's funny because you're supposed to be this genius, right? So was it all a lie? All this time your evil master plan was to fool us all into believing you possess a modicum—yes I know what that word means, there's no need to look so fucking surprised—you possess some intelligence, but really when it comes down to not touching the mysterious plant you know nothing about you're just powerless to resist?" He hissed angrily. "You're so fucking fired."

There were two nurses at the foot of Spock's bed and doctor M'Benga (a tall, regal-looking dude a little older than McCoy) was fiddling with the datapad that had Spock's medical history on it, but Jim ignored them all for now, and they were doing a pretty decent job of ignoring him. He knew upsetting the patient was wrong but so far no one seemed about to stop him.

"You already said that," Spock whispered. He was obviously trying to sound calm and cool but his voice was thin and weak. Jim clenched his jaw and curled his hands into fists, as though he was readying for a fight. This wasn't supposed to be happening; Spock struggling to speak, it wasn't right. Spock had broken his wrist once and no one could tell until Uhura noticed the weird angle in which he was holding his hand four freakin' hours later.

"Jim…"

"I hate you," he snapped angrily, voice low and thick. Spock kept looking at him, unblinking for now, and in an effort to protect him from the sight Jim's fury surged so strongly that he could swear his vision was actually tinged with red.

I hate you for doing this to me.

"Jim—"

"No, don't talk, you'll make it worse."

"Jim, the floral specimen was killing Ensign Kalomi—"

"Shut up," he snapped, voice sharp with pain. He didn't care about the others covertly watching, didn't care about the stupid trial and in fact all he could think was 'Spock I think I'm scared because right now I couldn't care less about the girl you were trying to save, just you, only you.'

"I will not," Spock said. "Jim."

One of the Vulcan's hands tried to reach for his Captain but after a slight, trembling attempt it stayed on the mattress, too weak to even raise properly. It was with that little gesture that Jim's haze of anger finally lifted and once that was gone all he was left with was the paralysing fear that he could have lost Spock less than an hour ago and that wasn't… that wasn't acceptable to him.

"Jim."

Spock's fingers twitched in his direction again (stubborn idiot, trying to get himself killed and now couldn't just give up) and Jim nearly gave in and grabbed Spock's hand to cradle it in both of his own which, subtle much? No, not very. The room was private but there were those other people around, plus the door had just opened for McCoy to slip quietly inside and Jim knew Bones would never let him live it down. 

Yeah, he told himself. That was why he didn't do it.

"Jim, forgive me," Spock murmured, still with visible effort. "Your anger is most… unsettling."

Jim blinked rapidly and took a small step back. Without all that misdirected fury he felt a little suffocated and a lot lost.

"Your hair isn't even combed properly," he heard himself say.

It was completely random and kind of ridiculous, and one of the nurses who was checking Spock's IV tried to cover his snort with a cough and failed. Jim glared at him until the coughing fit became real.

"Most observant of you." After a tentative blink Spock's eyes warmed again and his whole body seemed to unwind a little. "I have not had the time."

Jim reached for Spock's head before he could change his mind and his fingers awkwardly arranged the messy strands into something resembling Spock's usually severe bowl-cut. He avoided the Vulcan's curious, assessing gaze the entire time, and stepped back a little when he was done, slightly embarrassed.

"That's better," Jim muttered, gaze to the floor. "Now get well, okay? And don't you ever do something like that again, dude. It was stupid and dangerous and stupid."

"You—"

"For emphasis," Jim interrupted, anticipating Spock's comment. "Because it was stupid. And the 'reckless hero' thing is my thing, not yours. You're the sane, rational part of this partnership. You're the one wearing the 'I'm with stupid' T-shirt."

"You have 'stupid' four times in the past eleven seconds. I believe your point has been sufficiently emphasised by now."

Two full sentences had Spock's eyelids drooping with exhaustion. Dr M'Benga had made Jim promise he'd only stay for five minutes and then let Spock have a long, much-needed sedated sleep, but the Vulcan was obviously fighting it.

"And you are anything but unintelligent, Captain, no matter how you act—"

The Vulcan's arm was twitching to try and reach for Jim again. "Hey," Jim said, carefully placing his index and middle finger on the back of Spock's hand to keep it on the bed. "Don't try to move."

Spock gave a hitched, surprised intake of breath at the contact and Jim choked down the desire to kiss his pliant, sleepy First Officer to within an inch of his life.

"Just rest for now."

Spock looked at Jim for a long moment and Jim mastered a little encouraging smile and a nod. After a slightly suspicious look and a little exhale that was adorably close to a huff of protest, Spock closed his eyes obediently.

Jim was kind of taken aback when he looked up and caught the look on the other nurse's face; her expression was positively pained with glee. It was a bit unnerving because he was sure she was an Enterprise nurse; he remembered that she was Bulgarian but spoke good Russian and she was the only person whom Chekov had let mother him.

"Um…"

"Oy, Jim," McCoy gave a little wave and motioned for Jim to follow him. Dr M'Benga winked at him and assured him Spock would be all right (the male nurse was rolling his eyes in the background the whole time), and so Jim did. He also didn't turn back to look, not once.

"What's up?"

McCoy led him out of the room and into the main Hospital Bay.

"Well, you stormed out of there with the stretcher and the Commodore wants you in on an emergency meeting. There's a briefing started ten minutes ago with him, the Chief of Security and some other important people I don't know."

Jim blinked, still feeling off-balance and almost strangely disoriented. In a distant corner of his brain he noted that while he'd always been more dependent on Spock than was normal, he didn't remember it getting quite this bad on the Enterprise. This feeling of leaving part of his… almost like a little thread of his mind stayed linked with Spock, that had never happened before.

"Yeah, okay. What room's it being held in?"

"Commodore's offices; the conference room."

Jim nodded. "Okay then. I'll let you know what's going on."

The doctor's expression became even more grim, if possible, and his tone dropped to a serious bass. "Jim, be careful."

"… It's like, two minutes away from here," Jim said incredulously, then rested a finger on his chin and pretended to think about it. "I think I can handle walking. I'm pretty sure. Although you're welcome to come with me and hold my hand."

McCoy sighed and looked back at the closed door behind which Spock was sleeping.

"You know that's not what I mean. Jim, someone wants you dead. I don't know if it's both of you or either of you but if they'd managed to kill Spock today you wouldn't—"

"I can take care of myself, Bones," Jim interrupted. "And who says Spock's accident was a murder attempt?" He wasn't actually asking that because he knew the answer, but he hadn't wanted to hear the rest of McCoy's statement.

The doctor snorted. "Spock may not go about it like you but that doesn't mean he's not a big damn hero cut from the same cloth and everyone knows it. You're both among the most famous people in the Federation, Jim, even if that's easy to forget when we're on the ship. It wouldn't be that hard to slip some water into the terrain of that Rigelian vine; Spock was working on the station next to it and anyone who'd been at the lab would know. The first person to walk by it would get attacked and drugged and die within seconds, anyone trying to help would suffer the same fate. That poison, it's not… I've dealt with it before, Jim, and the dose doesn't have to be large."

"Still seems like kind of a stretch. This murderer is either very impractical, very clumsy, or very, very scared of being caught. What if Spock hadn't been working today? Anyone could have died."

They shared a glance that told Jim his friend was also thinking about a fourth option: the murderer was so far gone that he or she didn't give a damn if other people died in the process.

"They could have figured out his schedule," McCoy said. "Anyone at that lab would know he was there all the time, right?"

"Yeah, I guess." Jim scratched the back of his neck and concentrated on staying where he was (and not striding back into Spock's room to yell at him some more, or maybe just to watch him sleep like a particularly creepy stalker). "The only reason Spock and the Kalomi girl are alive right now is that she was carrying a syringe with the antidote in her goddamn pocket."

"You don't think she…?"

Jim shook his head, remembering the blushing, stuttering young girl with her sweet crush on his First Officer. She now laid in a bed several rows away, a group of her friends and nurses talking in hushed voices around her sleeping form.

"I'll check, but I'm pretty sure Mara said it was protocol given the nature of her research."

"What about security footage?"

"Wiped. Not just clean, I mean wrecked. No one's getting any data from those circuits anytime soon." Jim scowled. "Listen Bones, I should probably go. I'll see you later for your testimony, right?"

"Yeah. Guess I can finally admit I've hated your guts all this time."

Jim managed a half-grin. "Must be a relief."

"The truth is out there at last."

"Yeah, yeah."

Before he could leave, however, McCoy grabbed his arm and pulled him in for a short, gruff hug. It was a bit awkward because they didn't really do that sort of thing, but the doctor grunted something like: "You look like you needed that, you pathetic fuck" and Jim rolled his eyes and took off at a light jog.

x

The entire meeting could be summed up thusly: Emerett was smart but an ass, it wouldn't be long before people started to notice that accidents followed Kirk and Spock like a plague, and Chief of Security Hayes hadn't narrowed down the list of suspects by a whole lot. Most of the red-shirts would be informed of the situation, however, and told to keep an eye out, because while it was important not to cause a mass panic, people's lives were at stake here, and clearly not just Jim and Spock's anymore.

Jim had had to grind his teeth in frustration about eighty percent of the time but he was secretly glad that they had seemed to take him seriously, not just as Captain of the Enterprise but as someone who actually had a valid opinion. So. There was that. He'd missed his meeting with Moss, of course, but the lawyer had sent him a PADD comm about looking alive and "don't even think about looking like a lovesick idiot who's missing his man or something equally ridiculous because that would be sad, and also terrible for your case. But mostly sad.'

He went back to his quarters to get dressed properly for the courtroom session that started in fifteen minutes (Spock's accident had merely delayed it, since Emerett argued that the Commander wasn't scheduled to speak until the next day and time was starting to be of the essence). Today was 'look at how all these people think Kirk and Spock are so great and work well together but not, you know, in that way, because Kirk and Spock are totally plantonic friends with absolutely nothing else going on at all, why do you ask?'-day. Also referred to in Jim's head as 'feelings, us? Possibly homosexual, anything-other-than-butch-and-manly-love feelings? Us? Puh-lease!' day.

So maybe it was 'time to lie'-day after all. And maybe Jim's avoidance tactics sucked. But some time in the aftermath of Spock's accident Jim had come to the conclusion that was no longer okay with throwing his hands up in desperation and complaining and worrying and being confused and afraid both of his own emotions and for Spock's life. He was done with that. He was done being toyed with, being scared, being almost-dead multiple times. He was James Tiberius Kirk. He was done.

They'd better watch the fuck out.

"Captain Kirk."

If Jim hadn't heard Spock raise his voice at least once (actually he was pretty sure it had just been that one time, which, impressive) he'd honestly believe Vulcans were incapable of yelling.

It wasn't Spock, though, who had called his name with that imperious calm. Spock was lying in a bed, too weak to raise a hand to touch Jim's arm (too weak to realise he didn't do things like touch Jim for reassurance ordinarily), and anyway he would have merely said 'Captain,' as though Jim was the only captain in the world and his name needed no clarification.

"Hey, Stavok."

The other Vulcan walked beside him and matched Jim's efficient pace, face as inscrutable as ever.

"Listen, I have to be in that courtroom in fifteen minutes so could you maybe do the cliffnotes version?" Jim asked politely. "We can talk later if you want."

Stavok eyed him for a moment. "Yes, very well. Do you have an estimate of time when it would be convenient for us to converse?"

Jim shrugged, internally cursing because he'd wanted to run back to Spock's bedside the second his time in court was over, but obviously telling a reporter that was stupid (especially since said reporter could find it out anyway if he gave another excuse).

"Not really. Where are you staying? Actually, do you have an office or something?"

They reached a turbolift and Jim paused. He was trying not to think about what Stavok might have to say to him that needed to happen in private and apparently took longer than five minutes (which meant that asking for an interview again was out).

"The press have been assigned rooms on Deck 10. You may find me there this evening."

"Okay then. I'll come by later."

"Very well." Stavok had a way of speaking that seemed to be suggesting he was doing Jim a huge favour by asking to see him. Jim resisted the urge to roll his eyes and just waved at the Vulcan before stepping into the turbolift.

x

Sadly, Scotty's testimony had been decided against, finally, because he was simply too busy to do it right now and Moss said they could do without, but after two hours of listening to Sulu and McCoy sing his praises and tell careful truths about his relationship with Spock, Jim was quite prepared to kiss both of them right on the mouth and declare his undying love for their badassness.

Jim had felt protective of his crew since the moment he was given the captaincy, even though back then he'd still felt like he had something to prove to everyone; a need to make them understand why he deserved it (even if it had taken quite a long time for him to believe it himself). But somehow in between missions and captain's log-entries he'd never realised to what extent his crew was protective of him. When Areel threatened to suggest anything negative about his integrity or his decisions his friends defended him wholeheartedly, even when she brought up specific mentions of unjustified commands.

"You weren't there, lady," said McCoy gruffly, adjusting his uncomfortable sparkly silver shirt collar and squirming just a little. "You don't know what it's like. And he ain't afraid to ask for advice from us, either. Check your list for any protests from the command-crew. There's not a single one."

"Correct," said the Veritas device.

Jim had to fight an incredulous grin at those words since the doctor had been the first to threaten with an official protest for more than half of the events on that list.

"He did the same for me once," said Sulu when it was his turn, face grave and serious. "Mr Spock has been in danger more times, so I guess it's only logical that the figures appear to show an unprecedented number of incidents, but that's just how it is. Kirk is a brilliant captain. The best. There's something to be said about knowing that, if he can, your Captain will delay departure for half an hour to make sure you're safe on board. Or leap from a drill a thousand feet in the air on the off chance that he can save your life."

"Correct."

It went really, really well. Moss looked to be positively beaming at the pair in a way he hadn't been for Kirk and Spock, but Jim couldn't exactly fault him for it since he and Spock had mostly managed to fall on top of each other in the middle of the courtroom and answered questions about love with ambiguous non-replies (and okay, so Jim had mostly done the falling/answering himself).

"Excellent work, gentlemen. Thank you very much," Moss was saying to Sulu and McCoy. Jim stood up from his chair as the session was called to an end. It wouldn't be too long, now, before the trial was over. One way or another, the next day was supposed to be Spock's appearance and after that came closing arguments.

"We should go," Sulu said. "I heard the reporters got wind of Spock's accident and it might be best if, you know, we'd left by the time they—"

Too late. When Emerett had gone and as people started milling about as usual, a group of camera-happy reporters poured into the courtroom. There weren't many when compared to the day of the Enterprise's hectic return to Starfleet Academy after the Nero mission, but Jim still felt crowded and uncomfortable the second they all converged on him.

"Captain Kirk!"

"There are rumours circulating—"

"Would you qualify your relationship with the Commander as official?"

"Captain Kirk, has Commander Spock been attacked?"

"Please, do you have a comment on the current regulation prohibiting undisclosed fraternisation—"

"Is it true that you and Commander Spock share quarters?"

"Do you have a comment on the reports of sightings that confirm an undisclosed liaison between Commander Spock and yourself—"

"What is Commander Spock's condition?"

"Have you been to see him already—"

"Hey, give the kid some room the breathe!" McCoy said, annoyed and waving his arms at the reporters as though he was swatting flies. There were no flies in outer space. It had been quite a while since Jim had been bothered by Earth flies. He couldn't honestly say he missed them.

Right, he was being accosted by about a dozen people with mini-cams and recording equipment.

"Spock's gonna be fine, I'm told," Jim said, raising his voice a little. When the barrage of questions started again he raised his hands apologetically. "Sorry guys, I've got some stuff to do." He grimaced. "I'd say maybe another time but, well, probably not."

He made his way through the throng, Sulu and McCoy right behind him, and they all strode quickly to leave the mess of blinking laser-flashes behind. Was it really necessary for his picture to be three-dimensional?

At the corridor outside, Chekov and Uhura had been waiting for them.

"Captain!" Chekov called, a relieved expression on his face. "I feared for your life when the Orion woman started stretching before the door opened."

Sulu gave the young, wide-eyed pilot a fond snort of laughter and reached out a hand to ruffle his hair which the young, no-longer-quite-so-wide-eyed pilot caught in his wrist in a practiced move and flung away, scowling.

"I cannot understand why people will not stop trying to pet me," Chekov said with a growl. Sadly, the effect was slightly ruined by him stomping his foot.

McCoy chuckled and shook his head. "How's Spock doin'?" he asked Uhura. Jim knew it was ridiculous to feel jealous of her because she'd gotten to spend the past couple of hours with him, so he smothered the burst of green-eyed emotion threatening to make an untimely appearance. He was cool. He was totally cool with all of this.

"Mostly sedated," Uhura said with a little shrug. From the set of her jaw, however, Jim could tell she'd been stressed as hell, and felt that much guiltier for the possessive impulses Spock seemed to elicit from him. "He woke up half an hour ago and calmly informed me that I should be supporting the Captain, who needs it. Because of course Spock has been poisoned, slipped into cardiac arrest three times in less than twenty-four hours, and is in need of a blood transfusion no one can give him, but Kirk will be sitting in a room listening to people talk."

The entire group's indignation was unspoken but palpable at Uhura's exasperated explanation.

"He looked terrible but M'Benga said he was making a pretty amazing recovery, which is wonderful, of course. He was certainly feeling well enough to give me attitude--you know how he gets, all superior and logical... anyway, he basically sent me away ten minutes ago to make sure I was here for you." It sounded more than a little accusing but one really couldn't blame her. "I swear, you two were fucking made for each other."

"Please don't say stuff like that," Jim said, his tone mostly light but with an undeniable undercurrent of something even he wasn't quite sure he wanted examined too closely. "Especially not with reporters only a few feet away with recording equipment."

Uhura's eyes flickered to the crowd down the corridor. "Shit. Sorry." Her mouth twisted. "I'm just—well, you know."

"It's been kinda crazy for all of us," McCoy offered. "We could go eat some dinner?"

"Actually you guys go ahead. I'm, uh, meeting someone."

A curious silence followed this statement, one Jim didn't understand.

"What?" he asked, eyes darting around the group.

"You're meeting someone?" Sulu asked, face carefully blank.

"…Yeah. I just said—"

"Not Spock," Uhura interrupted. Her eyes were suddenly flinty and distant. "You're not going to the hospital bay."

"No. I would've said I'm going to visit Spock if I was, wouldn't I?" Jim fought the urge to back away slowly or raise his hands protectively in front of himself as the members of his bridge crew all looked either pissed off or disappointed or both. Uhura, especially, was leaning towards one of the two with a frightening glower. "I mean, I was going to but then, well, I guess I'll explain tomorrow if things go well, but, uh—"

"Who're you meeting, Jim?" McCoy asked. He was among the mostly 'disappointed' faction.

"There's this—look, what's going on, guys?" he said finally. They were all still staring at him with those faces, and he felt confused and a little bit afraid without knowing why.

"Nothing," Chekov said. "We shall see you tomorrow for that sim rematch, yes?"

"Yeah, bright and early, I promise, but—"

"Go," Uhura said. "Go meet whoever and I'll go visit Spock."

Oh. Shit, okay, he was dumb as rocks.

"Hey, it's not like that!" he protested immediately, and then realized what he was saying. So what if it had been? What if he was meeting Mara for a date or—actually he'd never do that while Spock was in Sickbay, unnamed (for now) feelings or not, but still, for them to be looking at him like he was cheating on the guy or something… come on. "It's just something I gotta do and I'll go visit Spock later."

"You can't visit him later, he'll be asleep," Sulu pointed out.

"Fine, then, tomorrow. Look, this could be really important, okay?" His tone slid slightly into authoritative and he watched his four friends note the change and revert a little into being crewmembers. "You'd think you people would know me well enough by now to know I'd never do something like that at a time like this."

"Sorry," Uhura said, sounding sincere. "I guess you must have an important reason not to go."

"Yeah, I do," Jim said firmly. He wanted to make that very clear. "But look, don't worry about it. Please tell him from me that he's stupid?"

"Will do."

"Thanks. Okay then, I'll see you guys around. Thanks for coming to give me support, by the way." This last comment was aimed especially at Chekov and Uhura with a pointed nod. "I do appreciate it."

"You're welcome."

He gave them all a mock-salute and walked away to find the nearest turbolift.

He was in front of Stavok's door ten minutes later after having consulted the ship's locating system and seeing the dot of the reporter faintly glowing inside a room further along the deck. He hadn't finished typing the alert code into the door before it opened.

"Captain Kirk," Stavok greeted him with a nod. He didn't actually offer to invite Jim in and since the doorway was pretty small Jim found himself staying out in the corridor with his eyebrows raised.

"What's up, Stavok?"

The Vulcan's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, momentarily confused by Jim's wording, but Jim was grateful to catch that little tell of emotion that showed Stavok wasn't a robot.

"I asked you to meet me because I wish to discuss a serious problem with the computer location software," the Vulcan journalist said.

Jim blinked. "Excuse me?"

"I have detected a flaw withing the programming of the computer scan that would enable for it to be tampered with successfully."

Still, Jim was confused. "But why are you telling me this? I don't work here."

"This flaw could prove to be dangerous, Captain Kirk."

"…O-kay, and what do you expect me to do about it? I mean, I can alert security if you want, but it's not like they wouldn't've believed you if you'd told them—"

"I am aware of this." Stavok's face was blank, but maybe there was just a little hint of exasperation behind his words. "Captain Kirk, this flaw in the software would permit anyone able and willing to hack into it to change the settings of the scanner in order to overlook certain DNA patterns. If the hacker is creative enough, it would even allow for the creation of an avatar or a glitch pattern that would convince the security workers and other staff of the Starbase that a Human is not, in fact, where the scanner says he is."

There was a very long pause as the gears in Jim's head spun fast. Was Stavok really…? Nah, but it couldn't be. What reason could the guy possibly have for wanting to help them?

"Uh. I…"

"If one were to override the codes to the DNA filing system the firewall protecting the sequence identification software is easily surmountable and in need of repair and update."

"Okay. But…" Jim floundered for the appropriate response and Stavok just looked at him. "… Why, though?" he settled for finally. "Why are you telling me this?"

Stavok quirked an eyebrow, but it looked nothing like when Spock did it. "I am merely pointing out an existing problem with the security of the Base," he said, an unspoken 'of course' in his tone.

There was an old, old saying about looking gift-horses in the mouth and Jim knew it hadn't exactly turned out well for the guys who said 'wow, let's take this huge horse into our city since it's so obviously a gift, what could possibly go wrong when it's big enough to contain a small army?' but this would mean he finally got to be in a room with Spock without having to worry about how close they were standing or whether they had been alone for too long.

"Well, in that case, thank you," Jim said. Stavok gave him a pleased little nod, and Jim felt himself smile the first genuine smile since Spock's accident. "Thank you so much, I really—I mean," his face turned mock-serious. "We all really appreciate your concern for our safety."

"Very well. I trust you shall take the appropriate steps to ensure action is taken."

There was a second when Jim honestly doubted he had interpreted Stavok's hints successfully, because the guy looked so serious as he said this. But then he caught a glint of… not amusement, exactly, but almost satisfaction, that Jim had finally caught on.

"Sure thing. Thank you, Stavok. Really," he said again, letting his eyes show the weight of the gratitude behind it.

x

When he woke up the next morning with a jolt it was to the insistent sounds of his door buzzer code being repeatedly typed in. He had no idea who could possibly need to see him so urgently right at that moment but he shrugged on yesterday's black T-shirt from the floor so that he wouldn't be seen in just his underwear, in case the person outside happened to be one of the journalists.

He was surprised to open the door and find Uhura outside, but nothing had prepared him for the realization that the person standing next to her was Spock.

"What the hell?" Jim said, gaping at his first officer. "Why are you here? Why aren't you in the Hospital Bay? How did you let him do this?" This last question was directed accusingly at Uhura, who snorted.

"I'm not you," she snapped, and Jim flinched from the implication of those three simple syllables (why did the heaviest words come in groups of three?). "And I can't physically stop him, now, can I?"

Spock looked paler than usual, but his expression was otherwise perfectly normal. It was such a shocking change from yesterday's shallow breathing and unguarded eyes that Jim was a little thrown. If it weren't for the vivid memory it evoked he'd wonder whether he'd imagined the deathly sheen to the Vulcan's skin.

"You should be resting—"

"I requested an early discharge and doctor M'Benga granted it," Spock said patiently. "May we come in?"

Jim stepped aside and Uhura marched into the room, looking pretty angry. Spock walked in after her, clasping his hands behind his back, and the gesture was almost exactly the same as always, but having watched the man for so long (and with that extra quality to his scrutiny of late, too) Jim could tell it was more careful than usual, and Spock moved a bit slower, too.

"I believe the circumstances surrounding my incident signify an escalation in the killer's goal, and since our lives are in danger it would be illogical to prolong our stay here," Spock said, standing in the middle of Jim's room. Uhura had sat herself down on Jim's unmade bed and still seemed annoyed but, like Jim, was obviously keeping a careful eye on the guy in case he showed any signs of weakness.

"Therefore, an efficient end to the trial is the most desirable outcome, and I am the only person left to testify. If I am able to testify today the jury can hear closing arguments tomorrow and issue a verdict in two days."

It was frighteningly logical, of course, as all (well, most) of Spock's reasons were. But one day wouldn't make a huge difference and Jim said so.

"You need to get better, and no one's going to be impressed by your pokerface if you faint in the middle of answering a question."

"That will not happen," Spock said firmly.

"I'm sorry, are you a trained medical professional?" Uhura said loudly from her seat. "Last time I checked Leonard McCoy was the Chief Medical Officer, not you. Also, that's your Captain telling you to take one more day of rest, Spock. Right, Jim?"

She looked at him fiercely and Jim hurriedly nodded. "Right! I totally agree with Uhura, Spock, you need—"

"You are not in a position to offer medical advice either, Captain," Spock interrupted coolly. "Nor you, Nyota, as I have already attempted to explain."

Uhura rolled her eyes.

"Furthermore, Dr M'Benga, who has a decade of experience including a year-long internship on Vulcan and is therefore the person on this Base who can diagnose and treat me with the most accuracy, has agreed with my decision and discharged me."

"Okay, so we've established that no one in this room is licensed to practice medicine," Uhura said with exasperation. "And I'm sure doctor M'Benga is excellent, but it's unnecessary to request an early—"

"It is not unnecessary, I am going to testify this evening. Every moment we delay departure we put other's lives at risk. Captain, Ensign Kalomi's health is now severely deteriorated because of my interest in her research."

There was a muscle ticking in Spock's jaw that warned of stubbornness, and Jim had seen it before. He'd fondly named it the Ticking Muscle of Doom because it never failed in its evil purpose; namely, Spock would eventually get his way every time it ticked.

"All right, listen up both of you," he said finally. "First off, we should leave my room, because Spock and I aren't allowed to be alone together and while your presence is always awesome, Uhura, you're not exactly the person most fit to turn this situation into something innocent."

Uhura's eyes widened and flicked from Spock to Jim and back again, and then she gave a humorless laugh. Jim tried to ignore the blatant disbelief in her expression and stepped closer to Spock.

"Second, I can't really overrule M'Benga's decision so if he says you're good to go, I guess I'll have to trust him. However, if you so much as wince, Spock," his voice turned menacing. "I'll have your ass back on that bed faster than you can say 'illogical,' you hear me?"

"Yes, Captain."

Spock's eyes darted to Jim's outstretched hand pointing an accusing finger at him and then guiltily back up to Jim's face. Jim wasn't entirely sure why but he suddenly felt much more naked than he was (although he was, technically, a little bit naked).

"So we should all just go now."

Uhura coughed pointedly. "You're not wearing any pants, Captain. And as much as several people would probably appreciate it, I don't think flaunting that ass would win you many points with the jury."

Jim looked down. "... Right."

Spock looked at Uhura determinedly. "We should leave so that the Captain can change," he said. Uhura quirked an eyebrow and got a teasing glint in her eye that told Jim it was time for revenge. The Vulcan may have gotten his way but there were consequences to making Nyota Uhura worry and then ignoring her like Spock had.

"Oh, I don't know. I wouldn't mind watching the Captain change."

Jim grinned incredulously. "Perving on your superior officers, Lieutenant?" he asked with mock outrage.

Uhura stood up from the bed, smiling herself. "Maybe."

"Well, how dare you not tell me sooner?"

She opened her mouth to reply but was rudely interrupted by Spock. "We should leave, Lieutenant."

Uhura didn't look very surprised at not being addressed by her first name anymore.

"But Spock, the Captain wants me to stay and watch him—"

"No he does not."

Jim suddenly felt a bit deer-in-the-headlights-y. His natural reaction to flirtation was to flirt right back, but Spock was looking pretty tense by this point.

"Um," he said eloquently. He was ignored.

"The Captain needs privacy. Leave him alone."

Uhura's eyes narrowed and Jim took an instinctive step away from Spock at the same time as she took one move towards him, eyes fixed on her ex-boyfriend as though waiting for a reaction.

He didn't disappoint, apparently. The second Uhura moved near Jim Spock twitched, which was also a clear sign that idiot really must be in pain.

Jim was about to point this out but she took another step closer, and Spock's jaw snapped audibly shut. He looked at Uhura in a way that made Jim itch to step between them because…well, Spock didn't look like he'd almost died yesterday anymore. He looked powerful and threatening and otherworldly and tall.

"Leave," the Vulcan snarled.

Uhura flinched but only for a moment.

"Don't you dare order me around."

They glared at each other for a long time while Jim just kind of stood there, feeling stunned and confused and, why not, more than a little hot under the collar. He had no fucking clue what was happening.

"I—" he started to say, not sure what he intended to follow that with. But Spock spared him the need to think of something by speaking next, his voice completely devoid of inflection.

"My apologies. I shall see you in court, Captain." He nodded stiffly. "Nyota."

And then he was gone, and Uhura was letting out a long breath that was suspiciously like a sigh of relief, and Jim was still a little turned on but mostly very confused.

"What. The hell. Was that," he grunted.

Uhura let herself drop down on the bed again as though her legs had simply given up on holding her weight, all traces of anger gone. Instead, she looked exhausted.

"That was me being extremely childish, immature and stupid," she said firmly. "I'm really sorry." And, because she was Uhura, she added: "And I'm also getting really tired of fucking up all the time and then having to apologise for it. Maybe I should just try anticipating the mistake and then not, you know, making it."

"What the hell was that, Uhura?" Jim asked again.

"It's not my place to explain Vulcan tradition and ritual, Kirk. Either you look it up or you use that very big brain in that very big head of yours and figure it out. Or you do neither and live in blissful ignorance forever. Your choice."

"But you… you provoked him. I was there." This wasn't shaping up to be his brightest moment.

"I know. It was really stupid, but he makes me so mad sometimes I just… God, he's such an idiot. And I didn't exactly have to drag him to your room, you know, I just wanted you to talk some sense into him but Spock said you'd understand his side because even though you're super pretty and blonde you're still ten times smarter than me and okay, he didn't actually say that or even imply it but I know that's what he was thinking—"

"Whoa, hey, no, that's not—don't be ridiculous, Uhura. He knows you're smart as hell." Jim decided to ignore the blonde comment. "And you're telling me you know what that was about and you're not gonna explain?"

She sighed.

"That's exactly what I'm telling you. But look, Kirk, word of advice? He won't, uh, appreciate you flirting with other people in front of him. Obviously. And that's fucked up but like I said, it's to do with his culture and I probably shouldn't have... it's the opposite of smart, to mess with a Vulcan who—like that."

Jim was still reeling and confused and feeling the word 'Leave' ring in his ears as though his quarters were a cave and it had left echoes behind. Spock'd meant to stay when Uhura left, that much was obvious. What the hell had he been planning to do once he and Jim were left alone? Or was that not it; was he just defending his territory, was that was Uhura was implying? That because Jim was the weird exception to Vulcan rules (Spock couldn't repress his attraction for Jim, couldn't choose to ignore it even though he didn't have feelings for Jim, had been able to kiss Jim without it meaning anything because of the lack of aforementioned feelings) then that made him… what? Spock's to keep?

The thrill at this notion was wrong and Neanderthaloid and destructive and dumb, but the fucker was there.

"Kirk? I'm leaving."

"Yeah, okay." He tried to school his expression into something remotely resembling calm confidence, and the expression on Uhura's face didn't give him a clue whether he'd managed it. "See you around."

She got up off the bed and shot him a pointed look. "Maybe you should just talk to him."

"See you around, Uhura."

"Okay, okay, bye."

*

Four hours later…

He felt a little like all this time has been an implosion played in slow-motion, with him at the very center.

Obviously everything before had been leading up to this moment, this realisation right here, ever since noticing the fact that Spock was—realising he, uh, wanted Spock in that way, and then realising that Spock was the only one he wanted, and more than anyone he'd wanted before, and wanted him so much, in fact, that he felt like he was the only one Jim would ever want again.

Still. Love.

That was a big word. Or, well, it only had four letters but it sounded, you know, huge. Bigger than cardiomegalia, and that had thirteen letters and literally meant 'swollen heart.' Jim positively scoffed at big romantic declarations of love. He didn't believe in them, not when they were related to him. His standard response to hearing 'I love you' usually hovered between running away or expressing his stunned surprise in the form of a 'huh?' or a 'that's weird.' Yeah. That made for some pretty awkward conversations.

But now… well. He could feel it.

Oh, sure, it was cheesy as hell to say so, but he could feel it pumping through his arteries like adrenalin, as adrenalin, quickening his pulse and his breathing and spreading the ache in his body from his gut to the tips of his fingers.

Suddenly there was a ringing that snapped him out of his mental daze. Not just the ringing in Jim's head, he realised after a second; this was coming from the communicator in Spock's waist.

"Commander? It's Nathaniel Moss!"

They both froze and stayed silent, panting in synch.

"Remember you're due in court in ten minutes!"

Spock's hand carefully slid out from under Jim's shirt and he turned the communicator off, nose still puffing hot gusts of air right in the spot behind Jim's ear.

Jim blinked and bit his lip. Then he uncurled his fingers from their grip on Spock's hair and thoughtlessly smoothed it down.

"…Okay," he whispered shakily. "Okay. Now what?"

Chapter Text

"Maybe you should just talk to him."

Yes. Well.

The way Jim figured, they'd tried the not talking thing. For, like, a day and a half. And it had sucked. Spock had nearly died of it and taken some poor innocent girl with him.

He just... seeing Spock half-dead yesterday had torn something inside of him. Jim was almost sure that it had happened some time during those minutes of righteous fury by Spock's bedside. He'd been prepared to bottle stuff up, you see; to look the other way and basically do the mental equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and yelling 'lalalala can't hear you!'. But Spock's battered body; that boneless, pliant sort of exhaustion in it that wouldn't even let him lift his hand... he just didn't think he could pretend, and he wasn't so sure about it being a great idea anymore.

And in spite of all of the above, Jim would have still waited if it weren't for what happened that morning.

"Leave."

What the hell was wrong with Spock that he'd snarled at Uhura, of all people? This thing between them... he didn't even know what it was. And ignoring an unknown was a hell of a lot harder than shutting out the truth, Jim was certain.

He could do it, shut it out, whatever it was. He didn't doubt his capacity for barreling through whatever emotional brick wall came up next; he'd had a lifetime's worth of training, after all. Unrequited... whatever thing-he-was-totally-manfully-avoiding right now? Cakewalk. He could take anything; from Spock telling him that he'd sensed the depth of Jim's feelings (and would Jim please keep the mushier stuff in his own head, thank you very much) to a flat out rejection, to offering his help in the form of staying out of the way, if Spock would prefer rebuilding his mental shields or whatever it was that had weakened in relation to Jim.

But they needed to set things straight (so to speak), and do it soon. Because what couldn't happen was another incident like the one today, that much was clear. Not only was it bad for their friends, the people around them, but the trial. Spock's testimony was vital, and it was happening in no time and if they lost Jim would never see him again. Spock would be reassigned and Jim would be forced to pick someone to try and fill the space Spock occupied so neatly and efficiently (and, let us face it; pretty entertainingly whenever he bent over his console) and of course he would fail, and one can technically sit in his Captain's chair and brood for as long as he pleases but it wouldn't be very seemly.

So Stavok had just provided the perfect way, and Jim was a seize-your-moment kind of guy; even if this particular seizing was more of a 'seize the chance to rationally talk about theirfeelings' deal which, while being the responsible and mature and adult thing to do, still kind of freaked Jim out (because it was the responsible and mature thing to do, which meant Jim was the one being responsible and mature).

He took out his communicator and dialed a code.

"Captain," Spock replied almost immediately. His tinny voice out of the weak microphone rang a little in the large conference room that Jim had chosen for their conversation. Jim was sitting on the table that used up more than seventy percent of the space, his legs resting on the chair in front of him.

"Hi, Spock."

There was an awkward silence.

It had been easy to access the computer locator software from here and after checking there were no meetings planned, that was exactly what he'd done. Stavok had been perfectly right; it had taken Jim about half an hour to program the ghost-patterns that would confuse the program into thinking he and Spock were somewhere else (somewhere else that was far from each other). He just... didn't know how to tell Spock, how to phrase it exactly right. Because 'we can be alone together if you want' wasn't right at all. Neither was 'no one will know where we are for as long as it takes.'

"Leave," the Vulcan had snarled, possessive and angry and territorial.

Jim shivered a little, even though it wasn't cold inside the room. It was perfect body-temperature, like every room in the Starbase except for the labs and greenhouses.

"Um, so we should talk."

After a short pause Spock replied with a hint of apprehension in his tone. "I believed our agreement to extend until the end of our stay and the trial, Captain."

"That was before you scared Uhura this morning," Jim said. "What the hell was that?"

"I... am sorry." Spock's voice turned deep and soft. Jim ran a hand through his hair.

"She was frightened of you, do you get that?"

"I have already spoken with her—"

"And you're planning on testifying with that attitude?"

"I committed a grievous error. However, I am entirely capable of—"

"No, I don't trust your judgment on that so much, not unless you can convince me otherwise. Now. When we talk."

There was another pause.

"You wish to conduct this particular conversation via communicator?" Spock asked. He sounded clinical and businesslike, and Jim was pretty sure it was all a front.

"Nope. Meet me at the conference room in Deck 16."

He hung up before Spock could argue or point out the obvious flaw in Jim's plan.

x

"We cannot be seen together. This is reckless."

Spock's eyes were dark and his face was very pale in the bright lights, the silver collar of his dress-shirt for once looking a little too tight, like he was about to choke on it. And even though his words were perfectly true and he didn't know about Jim's plan, he had walked inside and let the door slide shut behind him. He trusted his Captain that much. Or maybe this irrational trust (this faith) came from friendship, Jim wasn't sure which, but it made his stomach flip either way.

"I took care of it," Jim said, jumping lightly off the table.

Spock quirked an eyebrow and looked him up and down, as though he was expecting his Captain to be hiding the secret behind his back or in a pocket (which, for the record, his dress-uniform for the trial didn't have pockets). "How?"

"It was thanks to Stavok, actually."

Spock's eyes narrowed. "Excuse me?"

"Well, it was Stavok's idea. I did the actual hacking of the thing. Look, that's not what's important right now."

Spock had looked like he was considering getting stubborn, or at the very least annoyed, over the whole 'Stavok' aspect of things, but when Jim said those last words he relented.

"Very well, I agree."

The Vulcan walked into the room until he stood not far from where Jim was leaning against the table. As he got closer, Jim noted a slight green flush on Spock's cheeks that looked more feverish than healthy, and surprised himself by wanting to plant a silly, chaste kiss on Spock's nose.

The urge was harmless, a stray thought like the many others he'd already had regarding Spock before. But for some reason the randomness was what alerted him; the way he would have bestowed the gesture like a familiar, ordinary thing. The way he wanted to do it and to be allowed to do it and to be expected to—

It was in that moment right there that he realized with the steady, unwavering certainty of the man who knows he is doomed that despite the warnings, the blaring signs he'd had more than enough time to interpret; the clues, the total idiocy of it, the impossibility of it, the way it would ruin what little stability they had left--despite everything...

He'd managed to fall in love with Spock anyway.

"Uh."

The soft syllable spilled from his lips unconsciously, an involuntary sound that had started out as an exhale and gotten caught in his choked throat.

Spock heard him, of course.

"Captain? Is something wrong?"

Where to begin with that one.

Oh God, I'm in love with you, he thought, panicky and shocked.

"I... no. I don't... um..." he trailed off.

Holy shit. Holy fucking shit, he'd done it. There was no way he could fuck this up any more, he was in love with Spock. Not that he had any other experience as a frame of reference, because he'd never felt anything as terrifying and huge as this, but... there was a sort of heaviness in his bones, a sort of abrupt certainty.

"Are you feeling okay?" he said, speaking mainly to stop his head from spinning. The flush hadn't left Spock's face. "You look kind of… sick."

"I feel no pain, Captain."

They both regarded each other warily, uncertain and uneven-footed, which Jim noted sadly was par for the course of late.

"You sure?"

Spock was lying. Jim was perfectly aware of this, because if there was one emotion he thought was universal to all Vulcans (and it was definitely the one emotion they couldn't suppress successfully at all) that was pride.

Maybe teasing would help? A joking atmosphere to stifle the current thrumming under Jim's skin?

He grinned slyly and stepped forward. "No pain at all, huh? And yet if I were to poke you, would you not wince?"

Spock hadn’t read Shakespeare but he was smart enough to know Jim’s eccentricites were meant to be harmless.

“If I were to...” But he stopped. Two seconds of forgetting himself and he’d somehow managed to invade Spock’s personal space already. There was safety in space, in distance, what would it take to carve a reminder into the back of his eyelids?

I think I love you, he thought, wonderingly.

"Forget it. Sorry."

Jim hastily backed away until he felt the edge of the table against the back of his thighs again. Businesslike it was, then. No jokes. Bad Kirk. No flirting for you.

"Listen, Spock, about this morning... are you completely sure it won't happen again?"

Spock blinked.

"I trust you," Jim said before his first officer could respond. And I think I love youI'm, like, really kind of sure. "But this is serious. Dangerous, I mean, especially if you won't tell me what it is and I can't really get a grip on the situation."

For a very long moment Spock just looked at him, his eyes dark and calculating but with an edge of... anger?

"No," he said finally.

Jim swallowed. "No?"

"No, I am not completely sure that a similar circumstance will not occur again," Spock said, voice smoky and low. "In fact, it is entirely possible that it will. It is not something I can control to the fullest of my ability."

"Oh." Jim's pulse was throbbing in his wrists, hands clenched into fists because he didn't want to make an idiot of himself by reaching forward and maybe... tugging. "...Why?"

"I have told you before, yet you might as well be blind and deaf when it comes to these matters. I know that you are not unintelligent, and yet."

Jim raised his eyebrows, surprised at the abrupt change of tone. "Excuse me?"

"Anger is difficult to contain around you, Jim. Especially in situations like the one this morning, when I was—"

"I knew it!" Jim interrupted accusingly, body heating in a rush. "I knew you were in pain!"

"Pain?" Spock would have scoffed if he weren't, well, Spock. "It was not because of pain."

"Right, of course. What was it then?"

"Are you truly ignorant?" Spock asked, head tilting ever-so-slightly with genuine confusion. Irritation and exasperation were also involved, or at least as far as Jim could tell.

"Look, enough with the 'Jim is dumb' jokes, okay?" Jim grit his teeth, starting to get properly annoyed. He slumped against the table. "No, I have no fucking clue what you're talking about, just tell me already. Uhura looked freaked and she wouldn't tell me and I... I deserve to know. Tell me."

Spock sat down on the chair conveniently positioned behind him, hands coming to rest on his thighs in a deliberate way that inexplicably made Jim think he wasn't the only one restraining himself from reaching out.

"I had never intended for you to know," Spock said, every syllable leaving his mouth carefully, delicately as though the words might shatter any second.

"Know what?" Jim asked, taking a step closer and unconsciously leaning down.

Spock looked away, taking a deep breath. He didn’t answer.

"Spock," Jim said, soft as he could. "Spock, what's wrong?"

This was it. This was the moment, the culmination, the conclusion. When all those little signs, and the lack of sleep, and the lapses and the moments when Spock's usual disciplined restraint slipped... when it all finally came together in one, simple, understandable explanation.

... If only Spock would come out and actually say it.

"Spock. I'm your friend, right? Tell me what's wrong."

Jim got up and moved until he stood right in front of the Vulcan, brow creased with compassion (and he didn't see Spock's knuckles whiten as his hands spasmed at their sudden proximity, bunching up the black material of his pants; he was too busy tracking the tiny giveaway signs of Spock's face).

"What were you about to say, before?"

Spock hadn't looked up yet. "When?" he asked, sharp.

"You said you found it hard to contain your anger especially in situations like this morning, when you were... what? If not in pain, what?"

Spock clenched his jaw. Jim looked down at him and saw, with weirdly detached horror, as his own index finger gently reached toward Spock and tilted his chin up to face him.

"Answer me." He'd meant it as a suggestion, or maybe an encouraging comment, but it came out all twisted; a combination of his Captain's voice and rough throat turning two words into a dirty command.

He didn't lower his hand, either; that one burning point of contact between them feeling like a white-hot brand.

Spock's eyes had snapped up to meet his. His pupils were saucer-wide, eating up at the irises and making him look drugged. Except, when he replied, his voice was under rigid control.

"I was challenged."

Jim waited, but Spock glared defiantly at him and didn't add anything to clarify his statement.

"You were challenged. By Uhura."

"It is to do with the vestiges of rituals and traditions lost thousands of years ago, you cannot—"

"Don't."

"You were not meant to find out," Spock repeated. Jim crooked his finger so his nail dug into Spock's neck, and he was angry again.

"Why?" he growled.

"Because it is my cultural shame to bear. Because you cannot help me fight it, as I must do that alone. Because this information will in no way aid our—"

"Why?"

Spock clenched his jaw. "I did not wish to burden you with the knowledge of the things I have not been able to eradicate from my own mind."

And suddenly, crushingly, brutally... Jim knew.

"Is it because you want me, Spock?"

Spock sucked in a breath through clenched teeth and looked away from him.

Jim was still reeling from the revelation that had struck him like an upper-cut to the jaw.

"Is it because... because it's only you who can have me?" he said, feeling almost dazed with it.

He wasn't sure how to react to this knowledge; that Spock's attraction came with Vulcan side-effects, that it meant Spock didn't want anyone else's hands on Jim's skin in a way that went beyond the vague idea of 'Spock being proprietary' Jim had considered as an explanation before... Fuck, it was hot, and he wasn't sure how he was supposed to... okay, wait, he might not know how he should be reacting to this but he knew how he was reacting to it.

He loved it. James Kirk fucking reveled in the attention, starved for it as he was even though Spock's attention had been his for the taking from day one. But then, when had Jim learned to say 'enough' to Spock? He'd always want more. He'd wanted Spock to think of him as more than a friend and that wish had been granted. Now, having heard the roar of his emotions creeping behind that thought Jim was left stunned and maybe in love... and no longer satisfied with just Spock's physical desire, was he? Now he wanted Spock to feel the same way, too. Greedy, greedy Kirk.

"Is it?" he choked, overwhelmed.

And that was when his knees gave out and he found himself in Spock's lap.

“Fuck,” he swore, eyes wide as saucers. He couldn't get up. Maybe if he’d been more with it he’d have thought to be afraid; that his limbs felt weak and sluggish and incapable of lifting him up, away.

Spock had immediately pulled his hands away and they were now gripping the chair, fingers digging (literally digging) into the armrests, creating grooves in the metal.

"Was I right?" Suddenly nothing mattered but hearing the confirmation from Spock's very own lips. "Was I right, Spock?"

The chair creaked slightly ominously when Jim adjusted his position and it was a truly terrible idea to move right now, so he stopped. Having nowhere to hold onto and keep his balance, Jim laid his hands flat on Spock's smooth chest.

"I won't be mad if you tell me, okay?" he murmured. He hadn’t felt quite this drunk in a long time. "You already know I want you, you felt that, right? What did it feel like, when you touched me? You know I'm fucking gagging for it, but I just... I have to know if you're all messed up because you want it too, okay? I have to know."

Spock was staring up at him as though he couldn't quite believe what was happening, which seemed pretty fair since Jim couldn't either, but he was too far gone to do much about it.

I'd give you anything you wanted. I don't know why I didn't see it sooner but I would have given you anything. I love you. Anything, Jim thought. It was reckless, when the tiniest movement might bring skin-to-skin contact and risk Spock picking up his thoughts, but...

"Tell me."

"Jim," Spock whispered, a plea and a prayer all at once. Jim's hips twitched slightly at the sound and even that fraction of movement, that little bit of friction, had him getting hard in point two seconds flat. Oh God, it was too much, too many things were happening at the same time and he was so fucking weak when it came to Spock anyway, always had been.

"Do you want me."

Jim shifted again and Spock tensed even more, flecks of fear in his expression as Jim swore mentally and stopped moving because holy shit, the teasing little brushes of fabric were worse than nothing.

"Spock, they're gonna take you away from me if we fuck this up, okay? And I don't want—more than anything I want you to stay with me, please, just... please just tell me—"

Suddenly there was a confusing whirl of movement, the dizzying feeling of falling as the world spun so fast colours blurred together and the next thing Jim knew he was sprawled flat on his back on the table like a free-for-all buffet and Spock was on top of him, pinning his wrists down. A soft but noticeable rumble seemed to be coming from the back of Spock's throat; something suspiciously like a growl.

"What are you doing?" Spock said, his voice a low biting sound. Jim had no answer for him, not a proper one. “Why do you insist on digging when you know that whatever you unearth will only bring more complications?”

"Please," he groaned, struggled to free his hands even though he didn't know what they'd do if released. He did know that he'd have no control over them.

He was also dimly aware of the fact that he sounded like he was asking permission to take his next breath.

"Enough. I am not immune, I am not inanimate, which I have concluded would be necessary in order to be able to resist you."

Jim stopped struggling for a moment, caught in Spock's stern tone and the actual words coming out of that mouth.

"Since we first met it has become abundantly clear that your perception of your own merits is dangerously sub-par. You do not understand what others see when they see you. You do not see yourself clearly." Spock leaned closer, eyes slightly narrowed in a way that was almost accusing but not quite, intent in a way that was almost angry but not quite. "For all your apparent aloof arrogance you cannot understand... you are truly ignorant of how entirely fascinating you are," Spock said.

Jim gulped and stayed silent, feeling frozen and caught.

"And I swear to you, from the moment we met I have been struggling to ignore you. Yet you see how my attempts have failed. I did try, but I was unsuccessful because it is impossible, Jim. Ignoring you is impossible. I would frequently anger you, I am aware of this, and frustrate you and perhaps confuse you, but I could not stay away. Of course I want you. I am weak when it comes to you."

"Spock—"

"Having to see you every day, having to see... you are desired by many. Do you know this? You must know the feelings you elicit when you parade yourself in front of other creatures. Their blatant lust for you… particularly the Humans. Your inability to conceal anything from your facial expressions that makes it so obvious." Ironically, Spock was doing a terrible job of concealing his own expressions just then, anger clear on his face; sharpening his cheekbones and slanting his eyebrows, tightening his mouth.

At that description, however, Jim was starting to feel his own anger unfurl within the twisty mess of emotions making his blood hum.

"I don't parade myself in front of—"

"I have been forced to endure the static of lustful thoughts being hurled through the air when you walk by; unable to stop them wanting you by claiming you as my own. Knowing I have no claim to you,” his grip on Jim’s wrists tightened at that, strength for emphasis, a pained confession. “Knowing I have no right to feel any of this, and yet once again at the mercy of my emotions. Because of you.”

“That’s not my fault,” Jim said flatly. “I didn’t know. I don't... what the fuck, Spock, I never wanted to... provoke you or anything like that, Jesus Christ. I didn’t think I could. I didn’t think you’d care—"

"You were wrong," Spock retorted. His bangs hung over his eyes and darkened them, darkened his whole face. "Because I want you more than I have ever wanted anything in my life, James."

Jim's hips gave a stuttering little thrust up at that. Fuck, Spock had never used his full name before. And Spock wanted him. Spock had said that he wanted him, literally in all those words. Twice.

"Spock, I'm, I'm begging you here—"

"Begging for what?" Spock asked, a catch in his voice. Jim would swear he felt it in the base of his spine, that little hitch of breath.

"For you to let me go, of course," he gritted finally.

In one fluid motion Spock was off of him and abruptly Jim was cold, lying there on the table with his arms by his sides.

He sat up and watched Spock watch him warily.

"Yes,” Spock said finally.

“What?”

“In answer to your question. Yes, you were right. I get angry if anyone dares to presume that they can have you," the Vulcan admitted. But he didn't look angry anymore. “As if it were remotely within my jurisdiction to police who has a right to lay seige on your heart. As if it were anyone’s but yours.”

Jim's stomach gave a hot little jolt at the words and he wanted to slap himself for his reaction. But Spock could have said his body. Spock knew Humans associated the heart with emotion; this was no mistake.

“And you are correct, of course, in station that it is not your fault. None of this is. I apologize for the irrationality of that claim also.” He let out a sharp breath. "I am trying to control myself and it is proving more difficult than I had anticipated, but I will perservere. I did not want you to know this because it is my problem, my personal failure; an unwanted inheritance of my father's race that does not fare well when combined with my more... Human flaws. All I ask of you is that you continue to stay away from me."

Jim nearly laughed out loud and blurted: "So this is probably a bad time to mention that I'm pretty sure I've fallen in love with you. Am falling in love with you. To be honest, this is my first time so, uh, being new and all makes this stuff confusing, 'cause, you see, I feel like I'm still falling and I'm not sure how it's supposed to work?"

But then of course he didn't. Because that would have been bad on a level of epic.

"So you're all messed up because your attraction to me makes you wanna punch other people who get close to me?” He couldn’t help but add: “Even though you still don't feel anything more?"

It had been a test, but the results were inconclusive because Spock went ahead and punched through the projected outcomes. For some reason (that Jim would understand in a few short moments), that simple clarification was what drove Spock over the edge.

In another of those insanely fast moves he grabbed Jim's ankles and pulled until Jim was on the very edge of the table, Spock between the splayed V of his thighs, and with a low grunt Spock yanked Jim by the collar of his shirt and gave him a hard, bruising kiss.

Something clicked into place inside of Jim when Spock's spit-slick lips opened and the Vulcan's tongue entwined with his, something solid that he hadn’t felt before when their lives were in the balance and frantic instincts had taken over. Because this was just as desperate and needy and unexpected, and for some reason he still felt like he might die any second… but it felt heavier somehow; huge, momentous, something epic opening up inside of him and devouring everything Spock was giving him, then greedily begging for more.

Even though you still don’t feel anything more?

This felt like more. This felt like so much more.

Jim locked his legs around that slim waist and groaned when he felt his hard-on brush Spock's; a jolt that travelled straight to the base of his spine and arrowing electrically up to the base of his skull… only to spark his brain back to his senses a few seconds later.

"Shit, Spock, wait—" he slurred against Spock's mouth, pulling away for a second. He felt drunk, or high, or a terrible combination of both. Spock hmm'd and kissed him again, which was causing these little shocky jolts wherever their skins touched and multiplying every lick of pleasure exponentially so that it took another long moment of losing himself in the way Spock tasted… until he remembered where they were again, and what his name was.

"Spock, what the hell?" he gasped, shoving at the Vulcan's chest with as much strength as he could muster under the circumstances (which, let's face it… wasn't much). He needed to think, dammit.

"You really believe a mere unexplained physical attraction is enough to drive me to this? My control is not so poor that a bodily reaction, even an allegedly mysterious one, would do what you do to me."

Spock stopped his whispered little speech to kiss him again, deep and dirty and hot as hell, and Jim couldn't help a little 'uh' groan at the back of his throat before shoving again.

"What do you—"

"You are being ridiculously obtuse, Jim, if these are the lengths you will go to not to see the truth. I do not care that you do not feel the same. If you cannot value yourself enough that you never even considered the possibility that my emotions were heavily involved in this, then you must be shown."

The fact that Spock was speaking right against his lips, nose brushing Jim's and steaming hot breath mixing with Jim's own, was making the Captain's thought-processes work a little bit slower than usual. Which was why it took him a good ten seconds to actually understand any of what Spock had said.

"…Wait, what?"

Spock pulled away and Jim suddenly realised his legs were still breaking several regulations, so he quickly let them fall and sat back, trying for some more of that thought-clarifying distance. The noticeable bulge in the front of his pants was even more obvious now, but there was nothing he could do about it. Um. Nothing remotely appropriate, anyway.

"What are you saying?"

Spock looked at him and there it was, suddenly. That expression Jim had only gotten to glimpse incredibly briefly and so tenuously he'd either dismissed it or passed it off as exhaustion.

Spock looked horribly, soul-crushingly sad.

"If you will allow me to show you," he said. “I believe you will find my feelings easier to believe this way.”

And then he was raising his hand toward Jim's face in a gesture Jim had only received once before; please, allow me spoken off-hand, with a familiarity that he didn't understand yet, it will be easier, and whoa whoa, what are you doing? because hey, crazy old guy in a cave here claiming he was Spock and there was a universe where he liked Jim.

And then; our minds, one and together.

"May I?"

Long fingers hovered just above Jim's skin, tentative and almost shy, and still that mind-numbing sense of loss permeated the air between them, cloying it with a sort of profound wretchedness Jim wanted to eradicate with all his might.

"Yeah." Jim nodded firmly, trying to broadcast confidence because he couldn't stand that feeling coming from his friend. "Do it."

It happened fast; Spock curled his other hand around Jim's hip as if to steady them and then pushed

Jim dimly heard himself gasp but he couldn't see anymore, had been sucked into another place; a vast and seemingly never-ending expanse of midnight, and although he is blind in this world he can feel the enveloping warmth of Spock everywhere and he is safer than he's ever been.

He's in Spock's head, in his mind, and he keeps getting these little jolts of emotion, like glimpses that slip through Spock's defences, when blanketing calm is what Jim assumes Spock is trying to project.

Am I reading your thoughts?

No. You are gaining impressions of those thoughts I wish you to feel.

…And that includes the fact that you're obsessed with my lips, does it?

One of the flashes of feeling has revealed the churning, gut-clenching claw of pure want Spock associates with Jim's body and it has left him breathless; a weak joke the best the Captain can manage because… because it might just be physical or it might not but either way he's wanted so fucking much

Idiot. You are stupid, you are precious and wanted but a stupid idiot.

Hurt. It hurts to feel Spock think that.

Jim. T'hy'la, Jim, look deeper.

But he doesn't have to search, for Spock allows him to find it immediately, to see—

Oh. That's… oh.

It's hard to comprehend, at first. Because… he is wanted so far beyond physical desire that it stuns him, breaks him, tears him apart and puts him back together differently, not better or worse but certainly not the same as before, because… he has never known want like this, want so profound and so terribly clouded in a haze of sadness that it seems to wreck a sob out of him. He feels the meld weaken and senses the hard surface of the table under him and the warmth of Spock's limbs around him and the pain, Jesus, so much of it; despair that stings and bites and yawns, hopeless and endless and effortless but why, oh why does it hurt so much he's pulled under again, and now he knows why; it's because the bond will forever remain broken because Jim cannot want him back, certainly not like this, when the enormity of his feelings frightens Spock himself, forces him to try and fight, day and night without rest trying to kill something that will not die, so perhaps he will be forced to learn to live with this pain forever—

Spock! You call me the idiot? I know I'm in your mind but aren't you in mine, too? Isn't this just a meeting of both—our minds, one and together—Spock, can't you taste how much I love you too—

Incredulity, disbelief, Jim must never find out, enormous too-blue eyes must never be troubled by this knowledge, this burden that is Spock's undoing, so obvious that he is being convicted for his crimes, being court-martialed for the emotions he was never supposed to have—

You… you cannot feel the same, Jim. How can you…?

His blood sings and boils and licks at the insides of his arteries and veins with a fire Spock has never been unable to control before. He likes Nyota and he senses he is not enough for her but he does not fully understand until later, when the revelation strikes deadly and ruthless and final; the way he burns for his Captain, burns in a manner that he should be able to stop but cannot… Jim teases without knowing it, provokes without being aware of it, tests and tests and tests Spock's restraint to breaking points and then pushes again, all the while oblivious, unknowing. He is not at fault for this. Spock realised soon enough that Jim was a beautiful creature, but he had not known this hunger before in his whole life.

I can't believe you love me. I can't fucking believe it, you love me? You feel all of these—

When he smiles, when he laughs, when he is serious and contained and in command, when he jokes and when he never cries, when he is incredibly intelligent and when he hides that intelligence under brash and brawn, when he helps others, when he helps Spock without knowing that he is also hurting Spock by being so good. When he is sick and Spock is paralysed by fear, when he is injured and Spock will kill anyone who threatens his Captain, when he inspires loyalty and when he infuses bravery, when he proves once again how deserving he is of the trust of his crew, when he is stupid and blind and so, so deaf to the pitiful cries of Spock's lonely mind longing for Jim's bright, beautiful—

Spock I—I… you don't know? How can you not know?

Of all the devil-may-care stunts he's pulled in his life, Jim has never, ever been closer to the feeling of jumping off of a cliff.

"I'm in love with you, too."

He'd said this aloud. He could see the room again, this large empty room like so many others but where things had shifted and been changed so completely.

"Spock," Jim said, and grabbed the hand Spock was still resting on his hip to twine their fingers. He felt a surge of something like adrenalin at the contact and realized he was panting for breath. "Spock, I'm in love with—"

He was unable to finish this sentence because Spock was kissing him again, another deep, frantic kiss with probing tongue and slick lips and dizzying suction and Jesus fucking Christ Spock loved him.

Jim keened softly at the back of his throat and ground their hips together, Spock's fingers no longer on his face but there was still a lingering connection, a deep current between them amplified by every inch of skin-to-skin contact.

Spock slid the hand that had started the meld under Jim's shirt and raked his nails down his back, making Jim shudder and bury his fingers in Spock's short hair to tug, as though there was any way for them to be closer, dirty clash of teeth and tongues already desperate, surrounded and surrounding as he was, legs locked around Spock's waist again.

He felt a little like all this time has been an implosion played in slow-motion, with him at the very center.

And now… well. He could feel it. Four letters but such a huge word; love clogging his throat and seeping from his skin loud enough that Spock must hear.

Suddenly there was a ringing that snapped him out of his mental daze. Not just the ringing in Jim's head, he realised after a second; this was coming from the communicator in Spock's waist.

"Commander? It's Nathaniel Moss!"

They both froze and stayed silent, drawing away slightly and panting in synch.

"Remember you're due in court in ten minutes!"

Spock's hand carefully slid out from under Jim's shirt and he turned the communicator off, nose still puffing hot gusts of breath right in the spot behind Jim's ear.

Jim blinked and bit his swollen lower lip. Then he uncurled his fingers from their grip on Spock's hair and thoughtlessly smoothed it down.

"…Okay," he whispered shakily. "Okay. Now what?"

Spock looked at him with lust-glazed black eyes and Jim gulped. But, luckily, after a few moments of careful breathing and schooling his features back to their usual outward appearance of calm, he pulled away.

"I can't believe… shit."

They looked at each other for a very long moment, and it was stuffed with such choked happiness that having time suddenly ripped away from them to revel in it seemed like the cruellest thing.

"So you're a hundred percent set on the 'being my first officer' thing?" Jim asked shakily, raking a hand through his hair and then attempting to flatten it.

Spock's eyes were cautious and distant when he replied.

"I am afraid so. I enjoy my current position too much."

Jim snorted. "I'm skipping that one because it's too easy."

"Much like you, then, according to rumour."

Jim gaped at him.

"You bastard," he said, incredulously. Spock looked smug and playful, which was a very attractive combination on him, and so not good for Jim's libido right now. "For the last time, a bit of promiscuity does not a negative trait make, and all I've done for the past year is get real friendly with my right hand!"

He slid off the table with a grimace and tried to psychically will his blood back to his upstairs brain. "I always figured you weren’t interested in the male gender, by the way," he added.

Spock quirked an eyebrow and neatly stepped away from his Captain, the words 'avoid temptation' unspoken but obvious.

"Straight as a particularly linear ruler," Jim muttered, adjusting his shirt and feeling the phantom ache of Spock's scratches already. God, it felt so good. “I know Vulcans are among the few humanoid species that still acknowledge male and female gender as distinct.”

The Vulcan's mouth twitched with amusement. "Mistakenly so. Although I must admit I was not entirely aware of the appeal of a Human male until I was forced to accept that you are, in fact... pleasing to the eye."

"Why thank you, Spock," Jim said with a sudden grin, blindingly wide. He couldn't believe he was actually this happy. It felt rather surreal. They had slipped back into the usual banter with an ease that was ridiculous. A click, an adjustment and everything was perfect.

"You are welcome," Spock said, a touch sarcastic.

"So when exactly did you realize... I'm sorry, when exactly were you forced to accept the fact that I'm hot?"

Spock's eyes were glinting with amusement, and something warm and soft was threatening to curl up in Jim's chest and take up residence in there.

"I believe it was not an extremely remarkable incident."

"Tell me," Jim said, suddenly dying to know.

"We should leave now, the trial will resume shortly."

"Ten minutes is time, we're on the same Deck. Come on, tell me."

"You seem to enjoy giving me orders," Spock noted, eyebrow raised and not answering the question.

"'Course I do, and apparently you enjoy ignoring them and doing whatever the hell you want, so I guess that proves we're soulmates." He said it as a joke but there was a suddenly weird change in the air of the room and Jim tensed. "Plus there is no way we can enter the courtroom together and in this state. At least, I can't, because unlike some other people, my pulse isn't voluntary. You can go first in five minutes and I'll follow you later, okay? So, you were telling me about the time I made you gay."

Spock's eyes briefly flicked up at the ceiling. The eyeroll was imminent.

"We were off duty and you... were eating."

"I was eating."

"... A sandwich."

"You realized you were less than straight because I was eating a sandwich."

Spock actually seemed to be blushing by this point. It was almost too good for Jim to take. Almost. He was pretty sure he could take that delicate green flush of skin twenty-four seven for the rest of his life. Um.

"You... are fond of mustard."

"I stopped making sex-noises in the mess hall after Bones nearly punched me in the face, and that was the second week of our mission."

"I... yes. Well. Precisely."

The blush had spread to the tips of Spock's ears. Oh God how could one being be this adorable? How could so much happiness be contained inside of Jim and not just explode out of him like a grenade?

"Shit. Seriously? That long?" When Spock didn't answer Jim's grin got wider. "That is so romantic," he said gleefully. "You realized you were gay for me because I love mustard more than sex?"

"Is there a particular moment when you became aware of the allure of the male form?" Spock had pursed his lips, but Jim knew it was because he was fighting a smile.

"Well, unlike you, Mr Straight-Until-Proven-Mustard, I've always been... bendy." Jim raised his eyebrows suggestively in case there was any doubt about his double-entendre.

"And subtle," Spock added drily. Jim laughed.

"Yup. Actually, at first it was more because, well, I figured I'm an open guy and I've done it with people of other species, so why the hell not try just people of the other sex?"

"Your entire line of reasoning for this matter was 'why not?'"

Jim shrugged. "...Yeah."

"And how old were you at the time of this realization?" Spock asked, a note of distaste now evident in his voice. Jim scowled at him.

"Hey, I've always been premature."

"Hopefully not in all aspects of your life."

"Oy!"

Having run out of excuses to joke around lightly, they both went abruptly quiet and just looked at each other.

"So… our timing is top notch, huh?"

Spock huffed a little. "Indeed."

"What…?" Jim swallowed, reality trickling back. "What do we do?"

"I do not know."

There was a helpless, rather floundering pause as Jim considered the impossibility of never kissing Spock again.

"But I am due in court in eight minutes, Jim."

"Right. Okay," he racked his brains for an idea, a suggestion, anything. "I… okay, you should go and we can just… try and keep cool until the trial is over?"

"A reasonable goal," Spock said. His tone was impossible to dissect.

"Yeah, reasonable," Jim echoed, pained. "Great. So we're both agreed on, you know... this isn't gonna happen again." He gestured vaguely between them.

"Agreed," said Spock. "And we are not to discuss anything related to it until we have left the Starbase..."

"Until literally a second after we've left the starbase." Jim nodded with a little smile. It was impossible not to smile when Spock wanted him back and for a second the Vulcan looked like he was about to return the gesture; eyes all warm and tempting, but then he stiffened and turned away.

"It will be difficult."

"Hell yes. But... worth it?"

It came out like a question, which was totally lame and pathetic, but this was all new, all unknown and uncharted territory, and Jim was never the kind of guy to tentatively edge into anything, but emotions were involved now. Emotions and Spock, his best... Spock.

He'd immediately looked down like a coward, so he didn't have any warning when two fingers propped his chin up and warm lips met his.

Spock tasted like flames and felt like fire singeing Jim's fingertips.

It was delicious and intoxicating, and although it started out sweet and chaste (...ish) Jim was soon tugging Spock's shirt collar again, unable to help himself, needy and still hard and horny and not caring very much about stupid universal constants like time and space.

"Jim," Spock broke off the second Jim ground their hips together again and immediately grabbed his wrists.

"You have a thing about this, don't you?" Jim said, still a little breathlessly, trying to free his hands.

"My apologies. I had meant only to prove... I will wait, Jim, and yes, you are worth it. I would wait decades, centuries, until the very end of my life and were it possible I would wait after that as well."

Jim gulped in air and couldn't speak.

"...However, that would be illogical because in death brain synapses are not possible, therefore consciousness itself ceases to—"

Jim laughed, the tight heat running down his spine easing a little with this return of the Spock he knew and... yeah.

"Okay. Okay, you made your point."

"It would be convenient if you were to... moderate your responses to our interactions, however. As a mutually beneficial—"

"Moderate my...? You're the one who kissed me."

"Yes. Kissed you," Spock said pointedly.

So Jim was maybe wrapped around the guy like a pretzel. Okay. Point went to Spock on this one.

"Sorry about that." He drew away and cleared his throat decisively. "But you have a point, with the no touching thing. Might be best."

"Yes. Please endeavour to remember it."

He laughed a little at the very earnest tone Spock was using because, come on. He could control himself.

But Spock clearly wasn't convinced, and he wasn't leaving. Did he honestly think Jim couldn't go three days without tackling him to the floor and gnawing at his hipbone? A voice in his head chose that moment to remind him of Spock’s... inexperience. A chance for them to explore what he liked together, to figure out how Spock liked his cock to be sucked; hard and with a hint of teeth or spit-slick and messy and—focus, Kirk.

Spock merely looked at him with a touch of fond exasperation and elaborated.

"Jim, I am merely attempting to propose a temporary solution to this... issue—"

"You were going to say 'problem', weren't you?"

"—and to facilitate—"

"Like I'm unable to not have sex with you, right?"

"That is not what I—"

"Like I wouldn't be able to stop picturing you naked?"

"Jim, please—"

"Like I'm such an impulse-driven blob of urges that if I see you I won't be able to resist?"

"I—"

"I am insulted," Jim stated, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling. "I feel wronged. Offended. Positively betrayed. I feel—"

"Is 'scorned' the word you are searching for, perhaps?" Spock said with laughing eyes. Jim snorted, but he was grinning again because lightness had been what he was aiming for with his antics.

"So, what about you? Can you handle it?"

This made Spock pause, Jim suspected incredulously.

"Yeah, ever think that maybe it could happen the other way around?"

Spock swallowed, but gave no other sign of discomfort. "I considered the possibility, however, I have been adept in the study of emotional and physiological control since childhood."

"So you're saying it doesn't affect you at all to imagine me naked?"

Okay, okay, now he was just messing with the guy. But in Jim's defense Spock looked amazing when he was clearly trying (very hard, the poor sweetheart) not to think of Jim naked.

"I will be late," Spock said, voice a touch strained and looking anywhere but at him. Jim grinned brighter, surprised and pleased by this development.

"Yeah okay. See you in there."

"Yes."

...Spock still wasn't leaving.

"Spock?"

"I will see you shortly, Captain." He stood there for a few moments, obviously struggling with himself even though he gave no outward appearance of it. "I would ask..." he began, slowly.

"Yeah?"

"I would ask that you..." he stopped. "I will be late. We will discuss this once the trial is over."

Jim knew he could have pushed it—might have even gotten Spock to say what he was thinking. But they really would be late and that wasn't good, and he let it go.

"Okay."

It felt a little bit definite, like saying goodbye for a long time when they'd see each other again in a minute, literally. But still, before he could change his mind Jim pressed his lips to Spock's jaw.

"Been wanting to do that for ages," he said shakily, rubbing the back of his neck and feeling self-conscious.

Spock looked at him blankly, then gave a curt nod. "There are very many things I have been wanting to do to you as well," he said, in a tone that was almost buisnesslike, and Jim may or may not have choked on his own saliva in an attempt to avoid bursting out laughing hysterically.

"Okay then! Bye!" he coughed. The corner of Spock's mouth twitched again.

"Goodbye, Captain."

Chapter Text

When he was right outside the door to the courtroom, Jim's communicator beeped. There was a message on it from Mr Moss, and it said win them over and he's yours.

Jim snorted. Of course the lawyer knew exactly which buttons to push.

Unsubtle bastard.

x

"Mr Spock, I am not asking for a justification, I am asking for a reasoned, logical explanation for your actions—"

"Justification and explanation are synonymous terms if—"

"Let's not go into semantics right now."

Spock raised an eyebrow and pointedly looked at the Veritas device; turned off but still very conspicuously present. He'd been doing brilliantly so far and it was making Mr Moss positively glow with relief. It was also making Jim want to kiss him even more than usual, but that couldn't be helped.

"Semantics are vitally important, Miss Shaw."

Areel didn't look flustered, which Jim reluctantly gave her credit for because if anyone could toe the line between self-righteousness and arrogance without actively projecting either of the two, well, that was Spock for you.

Spock who minutes ago had let Jim into his mind and shown him that he loved him, but whatever. Not like that was, you know, life changing or anything. Jim wasn't freaking out. Jim wasn't even thinking about it. Jim wasn't in love with his First Officer or anything desperately stupid like that.

"Captain Kirk was apprehended by a faction at Fereni Moon and you ordered the Enterprise's weapons loaded, Mr Spock. How can you possibly use semantics to get out of this?"

No, she wasn't flustered, but her tone was cold with anger.

"Our transporter was disabled and the ship's phasers were the only means of—"

"Those phasers are designed for combat in deep space, Commander, not to threaten the population of a peaceful planet—"

"Have you included the medical report among the information of this case?" Spock interrupted curtly.

Areel was two steps ahead of him.

"The injuries sustained by Captain Kirk during his captivity have nothing to do with—"

"Ten broken distal phalanges, two third-degree burns, multiple lacerations and contusions—"

"Commander Spock." Areel drew herself up to her full height, which wasn't much. "I am aware of the trauma Captain Kirk endured. But I am asking you why you armed your ship and threatened the population of a peaceful—"

"I took a calculated risk by threatening to eliminate the members of a violent organization that beat and severely injured Captain Kirk," Spock replied calmly. He managed not to sound too patronizing when he rephrased the attorney's words but there was an air of self-assurance in him that made his words sound like fact. "I armed the phasers because they had sufficient technology to block our transporter capabilities and therefore could in all probability perform a basic scan of the power-distribution of the Enterprise."

Jim remembered this mission. One of their latest; a few weeks before Tersal and the huge mess that had been. Thankfully he'd been bloody and unconscious for most of Fereni, but there had been a few dark hours of thinking he really would die with no more glory than an animal that had fallen into a hunter's trap and was deemed too skinny to eat.

It hadn't been long after this mission that Spock and Uhura broke up, if he recalled correctly. Not that it had been related, Jim was sure.

"The precision required to only harm the beings that had put your Captain’s life in danger is not compatible with the design of the starship Enterprise's phasers," Areel argued.

Spock nodded once. "That is correct, however it was not my intention to fire them."

"Really? Because the acting Captain's log entry you submitted says something slightly different." Areel typed something into her datapad and started to read, loudly and clearly; "Captain Kirk has been retrieved and I shall be resuming my regular duties soon... here it is. Mr Scott was ordered to activate the phasers in order to simulate battle-ready conditions. The phasers were not discharged due to insufficiently precise targeting capabilities, which could cause potential damage of several ecosystems and threaten the Captain's life. The civilian population in this area of the Fereni desert is non-existent."

Spock looked impassive at hearing his own words. Distant and unaffected. But somehow, not cold. Something about him felt... charged. Confident. This was the final day and they could win, the nightmare could be over and then...

Well, one crisis at a time might be best, for now. 'Then' could come later. Jim would wait. He hadn't said so aloud, not like Spock (he couldn't talk poetic for shit), but for this he would wait a lifetime, two, three, different planets and different universes, it didn't matter.

"You don't even mention the captors," Areel said sharply, bringing Jim back to the situation at hand. Nothing had been won yet. "Not a word. Were they not at risk from the phasers too? Did they cease to be living beings the moment they threatened the Captain's life?"

"If they had been the sole party at risk from the phasers it would have been logical to eliminate the threat."

"Okay, yes, extreme situations and all that, but we have laws for a reason, Commander, and preserving life so those laws can be executed—"

"Their safety was not my primary concern. The Captain was being tortured. Surely I am not required to be emotionally compromised by him in order to wish to see that situation changed as soon as possible."

Areel gave a little huff of breath and walked over to her table, where she deposited the datapad in her arms and took another one.

Turning to follow her movements Jim caught a glimpse of his friends sitting in the fifth row; McCoy, Uhura, Sulu and even Scotty had made it. And wouldn’t you know it, that was Chekov next to his Chief Engineer. They must have sneaked him in. Jim fought a smile, secretly proud of his crew undermining the Commodore's authority.

"Very well. In this case I suppose Captain Kirk was under extreme duress and the situation called for drastic interference. Please justify for me, then, Commander, your actions during the search and exploration of Pirita II?"

Spock didn't reply immediately. "... What, precisely, do you find difficult to understand?"

"Well, the last remaining member of the species Hortatium canon evidencia was killed by Security Officer Groff under your instructions, correct?"

"Yes."

"And it hadn't captured and tortured Captain Kirk or, indeed, any other crewmember."

"It had murdered six of the local villagers."

Areel pursed her lips. "And it hadn't captured and tortured Captain Kirk or, indeed, any other crewmember," she repeated, like a conclusion. "It had killed in self-defense previously, but it had not harmed a hair on Captain Kirk's head, despite the fact that he was unfortunately trapped in its lair because of a landslide."

Spock blinked and waited patiently for her to finish, his face betraying nothing.

"You are on record ordering the creature not be harmed under any circumstances, despite the Captain's previous order to kill it if safe capture could not be ensured, and yet you immediately belied your own order to wipe out an entire species because it was in the same room as James Kirk."

"That is not the reason why I ordered its death."

"Well, you've yet to offer a valid one, Commander."

"Vulcans do not lie," Spock said calmly.

Areel narrowed her eyes. "What about cannot, Mr Spock? And may I remind the court that Mr Spock is only Vulcan on his father's side, his mother was Human."

Moss's tight grip on Jim's shoulder was the only thing that kept him from jumping to his feet and making a scene. How dare she...? It was supposed to be their little in-joke, their secret, that of course Spock was half-Vulcan so when he said "Vulcans do not feel emotion" it didn't really mean he wasn't happy, just that he was repressing it.

And the mention of Amanda had been a step too far.

"Forgive my bluntness, Commander, but we have no way of testing whether you are telling the truth."

"If you would permit me to—"

For a few moments no one in the room could understand why Spock had stopped talking.

The silence was expectant. And starting to draw out. Areel raised a haughty eyebrow and opened her mouth to say something...

And then Jim heard it too; a soft, perfectly innocent whirring coming from the stand, and then the light from the Veritas device blinked on.

"What—"

"Activaction code correct."

People stared.

No one had said anything.

"Scanning defendant's answers for veracity only. Defendant is—" it made a very weird soud Jim was sure he couldn't reproduce for the life of him "—Spock, Starfleet Commander, Science Officer and First Officer of the Starship Enterprise. Defendant located."

After a short pause, it whirred again and clicked.

"Proceed."

There was dead quiet for maybe half a beat before Commodore Emerett banged his gavel pre-emptively.

"Silence!"

Everyone was staring at the device, including Spock.

"There must have been some sort of technical error. Someone please page Maintenance?"

Right. Of course. The Commodore's words served to break the incredulous, tense atmosphere because they made perfect sense. Spock was Vulcan, the Veritas device didn't work on him, and even though it should theoretically be able to detect an inconclusive scan on it's own, this one had obviously malfunctioned.

"Have you been scanned before, Mr Spock?" Emerett asked calmly.

"No. I am Vulcan, Commodore, it is believed my species is among those immune."

"Correct."

The word rang in Jim's ears like a gunshot. The device was working. It was... how the hell had this happened?

Moss stood up. "Since this is such a clear case of equipment faliure may I suggest a recess while Maintenance deactivates Veritas?"

"I can do it," Jim said with a shrug. "It's not hard, I could—"

"Thank you, Captain Kirk, but you lack the necessary tools and furthermore you are the defendant, you aren't allowed to interfere in procedure." Commodore Emerett pursed his lips testily. "We shall convene in thirty minutes, and I want Commander Spock, Captain Kirk, Mr Moss and Miss Shaw in my office."

"What?" Jim turned to his lawyer and lowered his voice, trying to keep the worry out of it. "Why does he want us in his office?"

Moss looked grim. It wasn't a huge deviation from his usual expression, but something about the set of his jaw made Jim's eyes widen.

"This is bad, right?"

"It's... not good."

"Shit."

x

The four of them waited a full five minutes in strict silence while Emerett organized Maintenance and made a few more comm calls of a suspicious nature. His office was the same one Jim had already been in before, during the first meeting with all the senior officers to discuss the fact that people kept trying to kill him and Spock all the time. It was large but sparsely decorated; bare walls and two chairs besides the one behind a boring beige desk, as though whoever worked there barely spent any time in it, or at least considered personalizing the place to be beneath him. Emerett certainly fit either type.

Areel sat on one of the chairs with a PADD in her arms, and Moss sat next to her with his notebook (Jim suspected the paper pages might be a comfort thing). Jim and Spock were standing at opposite walls and not looking at each other in a very deliberate way for self-evident reasons.

Finally, the Commodore entered the room, his stomach preceding him slightly; the ghastly golden-green garment Jim was wearing too clashing rather horribly with his ruddy complexion.

"Good evening," he said distractedly, immediately walking to his desk and checking two datapads while simultaneously opening the computer. "I've made a few consultations and would like to do a little experiment while we wait."

Areel nodded and Moss frowned. They both looked like they knew what was about to happen and Jim could more or less guess, but he clung to the hope that it was his pessimistic side talking again. Because it had been proven wrong so many times before.

"Mr Spock."

"Yes, sir."

"Your mother was Human."

The statement was a bit random and Spock looked cautious when he replied. "Yes, sir."

"And you've never been scanned by a Veritas device before?"

"No, sir. I am Vulcan—"

"You're half-Vulcan."

Jim flinched a little. Spock looked evenly back at the Commodore, but it was ugly to hear this, to be reminded of Spock's mother's life like this, of her death like this. Spock very rarely spoke of the mission that had brought him and Jim together, that first crazy time where so many things went wrong simultaneously and they still, somehow, managed to save the Earth... and it was partly because of his allegedly shameful emotional behavior, but mostly because of the obvious. His planet. His mother.

"Yes. However, my physiology has proven to be practically entirely Vulcan."

Emerett sighed, but before he could start insulting Spock's culture again Jim stepped forward.

"Look, I think we all know what you're going to suggest next and I'm happy to be the one to say shove it."

Moss' jaw dropped but Jim ignored him, ignored Emerett's look of indignation. He couldn't care less about some guy's bruised ego right now.

"The device has clearly been tampered with. It was programmed to self-activate and bypass a security code, it scanned Commander Spock without any sort of express consent on his part previously, and it failed at doing so successfully because it didn't recognize it's own inability to scan his answer correctly, since Spock is Vulcan and therefore immune."

"Mind your tone, Captain Kirk," Emerett said, raising his voice in warning.

"Someone's sabotaging equipment and you want to use it!" Jim exploded. "My tone should be the least of our worries right now! Are you seriously considering—"

"How stupid do you think I am?" The Commodore interrupted angrily. "I said we'll do an experiment. I have with me another Veritas device in perfect working condition and if Mr Spock is truly immune then it will tell us so. But if he isn't, I'm sorry, I'm going to have to allow it."

"Then I'd like to ask for a deferral to give me time to discuss this development with my clients," Moss said firmly.

Before Emerett could answer Areel had risen to her feet. "Excuse me? This 'development'?" The air-finger quotes were implied in her tone. Jim glared at her. "This changes nothing. Was Mr Spock planning on lying at any point during the proceedings?"

"Of course not, but it benefits the prosecution, we've had no time to—"

Again, before Emerett could answer Areel spoke: "I repeat, this changes nothing, or at least should change nothing. The fact that Mr Spock is no longer capable of getting away with lying on the stand and under military oath to tell the truth doesn't benefit the prosecution."

"It does when the machine scanning his answers isn't reliable—"

"He's not going to take the test!" Jim snapped.

Emerett slammed a hand on his desk. "Yes he is or I am holding him in contempt, Captain Kirk, so either mind your tone or—"

"Enough."

Spock's deep voice somehow got them all to quiet down without shouting.

"I am willing to take the test," he said coolly. Jim's eyes shot to his but Spock was looking at the Commodore. "However I would like to note that if someone was capable of breaking into the courtroom to reprogram the device there I find no reason for them not to have done so with the remaining ones in this Starbase."

"There are several steps we can take to make sure it's in working condition, Commander," Emerett said. "A simple preliminary test will reveal all, and I can assure you my offices are well-locked—"

"Kindly spare me your assurances." Spock's tone could have cut diamond. "I presume the courtroom was well-locked also, and yet."

Emerett looked like he was thinking of yelling some more but finally he relented. "Very well."

He sat on his chair and rummaged under the desk for a few moments. Areel was still standing with the datapad in her hands, and while she had the grace not to look triumphant, there was a calculating gleam in her eye that was making Jim very nervous.

"Here we go."

The Commodore produced a black case which he proceeded to open in front of them, and carefully took out the PADD–sized Veritas device.

"Gregory John Emerett, code seventy-three twenty-four twelve ninety-eight."

Whirr-click. And then: "ConfirmedProceed."

"Scan Commander Spock's answers for veracity only."

"Commander Spock located."

There was a low thrum, another whirr, another click. If it couldn't scan Spock's answers reliably it should say 'Inconclusive, subject not viable for—'

"Proceed."

Damn it all to hell. Oh God, shit.

"Well."

This was Areel, and Jim hoped the next thing that came out of her mouth wasn't a comment half as smug as she looked because he was going to fucking lose it.

She could ask Spock anything, now. Anything, and if she asked the right thing it would all go horribly, terribly wrong.

But instead she turned to Mr Moss.

"You've studied the mechanisms in depth, Mr Moss, I've read a few of your papers. Do you think it's possible that the fact that Commander Spock is half-Human makes him vulnerable to the device?"

Spock's expression hadn't changed, and still gave nothing away. But there was something about the way he stared into nothingness, something so empty...

"You have to understand how it works."

"Everyone in this room knows how it works, Mr Moss," Jim said, wrenching his gaze away from his First Officer.

"Yes, but there are too many misconceptions. In the twenty and early twenty-first centuries Humans used various types of lie-detectors that would measure pulse, pupil dilation, blood-pressure, the works. But they weren't perfectly reliable as lie detectors. Lying is not the only thing that can cause those things, nerves can too, among other—anyway, it wasn't an exact science. The only way to measure a true lie is factoring all those symptoms in with brain-activity, a sort of cross-referencing, if you will, and then establishing a pattern that will enable the machine to identify it if it surfaces again."

Jim already knew most of this, and he was sure the others did too.

"Vulcan brain chemistry is so drastically different from Human that a scan will always be inconclusive. We simply haven't developed the technology capable of such a scan. They don't even have the same type of neuron synapses, and the telepathy alone can... but if Mr Spock's physiology has somehow enabled the device to find a pattern, then... yes. Yes, it has managed to scan his answers reliably."

x

They managed to convince the Commodore to allow a day's delay, but tomorrow morning Spock's answers would be tested with the Veritas device.

When the little group left the Commodore's office Areel took off immediately with only a quick glance at the both of them, but Moss had them linger in the corridor.

"Let me guess, we get to spend the next few hours talking about our feelings to death," Jim said with mock cheer. There were undoubtedly quite a few things he'd hate more than doing than this, but at the moment he was having a hard time coming up with anything beyond 'exploding eyeballs,' for some reason.

"No."

"...No?"

Moss didn't know, of course, what had happened a few hours ago. No one knew, since Jim had double-checked the security cameras before and the locator program had been successfully fooled. But it was too late, now. What could they possibly say or do to change the truth?

"When she asks you if you're in love with Captain Kirk tomorrow, you'll tell the truth, won't you Mr Spock?" The lawyer said.

Spock didn't look at all taken aback by the blunt question, but he also didn't look at Jim. "Yes."

"And the truth is that you are in love with him, isn't it?"

Jim wanted to punch the guy for a fleeting, furious moment, and then he wanted to yell at him. What the hell would have happened here if Spock hadn't let Jim see the truth beforehand?

"Hey! What gives you the right—"

"Look, I have no time for—"

"Yes."

Spock's face was still blank but Jim could sense his anger. This had to be humiliating for him; this whole thing was insulting.

"All right. I don't think everything's lost," Moss said with a sigh. He'd only briefly glanced at Jim and taken in the Captain's lack of surprise at Spock's reply in stride, like it was something he'd been expecting (which he probably had).

"Well, Mr Spock is the one who comes across as slightly more sane, at least, and your reputation certainly helps add to that, Commander—"

"Gee, thanks."

"—and we can argue that you're better equipped to separate your feelings from your duties and responsibilities as First Officer... look, I need to work on this myself, now. But I won't lie to you either; this is bad. On levels I hadn't really... I wasn't counting on it getting this bad. Just give me... I need to work out a lot of things. You two stay put in your respective quarters and let me contact a few journalists."

"Journalists? I thought you said no interviews," Jim pointed out. It was all crashing down around their ears, he didn't have time for reporters right now. He wanted to talk to Spock alone and he wanted to find a way out because there would be one, and screw the higher-ups who didn't like him, they needed to put their heads together and plan.

"No interviews, I promise," Moss said placatingly. "But in spite of anything happening inside the courtroom, public opinion has shifted almost exclusively in your favor. I'm told there's even been formal complaints on your behalf from both the Science Station and Main Engineering, and that's just inside our little Starbase. Out there the rest of the Federation is in a state of downright indignation, apparently."

Jim raised his eyebrows; this was what happened when you avoided checking the nets and no one informed them. It was oddly touching.

"To be honest, I don't think this latest development will change that; if anything, it gives your characters an even more tragic angle and the press love those. The Human press, at least," he added with a glance at Spock. "You are heroes, don't forget that."

"Public opinion cannot change a verdict—" Spock started to say, eyes full of skepticism.

"But it's not as useless as you might think. Trust me, we can work with that, too. For now I want you to do as I say and try not to, you know, do anything else that's stupid and makes my job harder. I have plenty of work to do for today as it is."

Jim gave him a curt nod and walked off without another word, not having forgiven the lawyer for just shoving the truth out there into the light like that.

He didn't look back to check Spock was following him, but he knew it must be so.

x

In the end they really did go to their separate quarters, but with an agreement to open the connecting door after fifteen minutes.

Jim worked at the wiring while he mulled over the events of today, and couldn't for the life of him come up with any satisfactory conclusions. The flare of disbelieving joy that had exploded so bright and full of promise and maybe even hope still lit him up inside whenever he thought of Spock, still filled him with incredulous happiness, but underlying it lay the creeping fear that it couldn't be allowed, so much goodness for Jim. It couldn't last, it was going to get taken away from him, was already starting to seem like a dream.

He knew being a Captain was what he was. Hell, he'd only been one for little more than a year and it barely felt like he'd gotten to graze the surface; there was potential in him, he knew this too, more of it that he had yet to unleash, more things he wanted to prove, and he knew it would crush him to give it up. He knew Spock wouldn't let him, as he also knew he wouldn't let Spock even consider resigning from Starfleet... they wouldn't be them anymore without their jobs.

But even before realizing that he, James Tiberius Kirk, loved a man he wasn't allowed have, the niggling worry had taken up residence in his psyche that he, James Tiberius Kirk, wouldn't be James Tiberius Kirk without Spock.

So it was a lose-lose-lose on all counts (that extra 'lose' there just because Jim felt it was fitting).

The problem was, see, that he hadn't given up yet. He couldn't give up (although he still had no idea how the hell they'd find a way around this with only his iron determination and give-'em-hell attitude to power through).

For the last time; screw no-win scenarios, seriously.

He was snapped out of his thoughts when there was an unexpected spark in the wiring and then a thrum, and finally it was done. Because of his previous tinkering with the system this second time had been a bit easier.

He heard the door open and his pulse immediately picked up, throbbing as though his blood had thickened to the consistency of glue in the last point two seconds.

Nothing could happen, nothing was going to happen and dammit he knew that, he honestly did, but the reason why nothing could happen was what made him incapable of controlling his breathing, because the reason was relevant, the reason was, in fact, key here, because Spock wanted. Spock also wanted, he just couldn't.

"Hey, Spock," He tossed casually over his shoulder. It sounded forced, too strained, or maybe too casual; either way it felt fake. "Miss me…?" He trailed off when he turned around and caught sight of his First Officer.

Spock was sitting at his desk wearing a shirt Jim had never seen on him before, probably because it wasn't regulation. It was silky looking and a lighter blue than his uniform and it looked more like a robe; the neck open on a V over Spock's chest. The smooth skin over his collarbones dipped down to the lean muscle of his chest. It was practically begging Jim to slide the material over Spock's bare shoulders and expose his throat, like opening a present, siren-song of undress me, please, I'm inviting you to.

Jesus, this was bad. He couldn't think, he was getting hard from just looking and, okay, maybe imagining a little, but this was not good. He needed to calm down, to not react quite as excitedly as he was reacting now. What was wrong with him? This wasn't normal, it never happened like this.

"Captain," Spock said as a greeting. He, too, looked tense and strung-taut. Like he was feeling this sudden buzzing of the air just like Jim. Well, at least Jim was only wearing his black undershirt and a pair of comfortable dark-grey sweat-pants (thankfully loose enough to conceal inappropriate reactions for the moment), not some come fuck me satiny nightmare of a thing that would haunt his Captain for many long nights to come, pun totally intended dammit.

"Hey."

He walked over to stand a few feet from the doorway and resolved to stay fucking put and not end up like the last time they'd tried to talk through the invisible door.

"Why are you wearing that?" he blurted, trying not to sound indignant.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "These are the starfleet-issue sleeping garments, Jim."

"… Seriously?"

"Yes. Have you never…" Spock swallowed, Adam's apple bobbing before he continued. "… have you never worn them?"

Oh. Oops.

"Uh… no."

There was a long, excruciatingly awkward silence.

"So what's up... buddy?" Jim said, and cringed. Unfortunately nothing even remotely more intelligent occurred to him, since his head was now basically a litany of swear-words, alternated every now and then with a 'Hot damn.'

Had the universe learnt nothing by this point? You want James T. Kirk not to want to bone his First Officer? Don't hide him behind a great big 'off-limits, trespassers will be shot (survivors will be shot again)' sign. That is a Bad Idea.

"There is a chance we will lose," Spock said, blunt and without preamble.

Instead of quelling the coil of heat running down Jim's spine, Spock's words sent a jolt of urgency through him, a reminder that they were running out of time.

"Yeah, I know." He crossed his arms over his chest and exhaled. "There's gotta be something we can do. Some way of… I don't know. Something."

"Miss Shaw is not unintelligent. She will ask the question."

"It doesn't all revolve around—Moss is good. He can argue back, you heard him. There's plenty of angles we haven't done yet. And hey, public support is always good."

"A victory at this point seems unlikely, Jim."

Spock stood up and walked to stand in front of him, and one of the sleeves of the blue garment was a bit too long for his arm, the tips of tapered pale fingers peeking out from under it, just an endearing detail Jim tried to focus on so he'd stop it with the 'last night to live' mentality, snap out of this state.

"I'm not giving up," he said firmly. "And I can sense your guilt from here, Spock, cut it out."

Spock looked up at him from under long black lashes. "You cannot deny that this is my fault."

"What's your fault? That the device works? You can't control that, okay? It's… none of this is your fault. If I'd, I don't know, freaked out less when you were gone we wouldn't be here in the first pl—"

"Do not turn this into your own burden to bear," Spock said immediately.

They both looked at each other for a long moment.

"It's not a contest," Jim offered weakly.

"No."

Seconds ticked by and still the nervous scratchy thrum to do something was twisting Jim up inside.

"Look, what's gonna happen tomorrow is gonna happen, but nothing… you'll always be yourself, Spock," he heard himself say, suddenly wanting to make Spock understand so many things in such little time. "You… I can't let you think less of yourself because some machine happens to—you're you. You're not Human and maybe you're not a hundred percent Vulcan either but you're Spock. It makes you unique, okay? And believe me, I get how crap the 'you're a special snowflake' argument is because no one has heard it more than me, but sometimes it's just the truth. You're the guy I… more than… you have to believe me, okay? Whatever happens, you're the one I… the only one…"

He felt his momentum stutter to a stop as the foreign, unfamiliar words crowded and clogged in his throat.

"You're the one I'd choose over everybody else," he said finally, hoarse voice and in a weird sort of rush. He felt like a high-school kid confessing a crush, which was weird because he'd never actually gotten to experience that when he was a teenager. "And if a list of evidence isn't enough for you then I'll find more ways to prove it, but we'll deal with tomorrow when it comes and I don't want you going to sleep feeling guilty for being who you are, because I—I love who you are. Who you are is… amazing to me."

Well. Things really didn't get much more embarassing than that, so Jim was going to shut up now before his unexpectedly squishy side took over completely.

Spock was staring at him and looking a little dumbfounded. For once, the Vulcan was utterly thrown, and it actually felt pretty good to be the cause of that.

Then, without a word, Spock moved toward the door and stopped right at the edge. He lifted his hand in a strange gesture, not like the ta'al greeting at all; his middle and index fingers were extended and his thumb was folded over the other two fingers.

"Come," he said.

Jim went immediately, also stopping just short of the limit. He copied the gesture thoughtlessly.

"What…?"

"This is a secret," Spock said, and his voice was deep and throaty and sin.

Jim shivered. Spock sounded like he was sharing something he wasn't supposed to, speaking low so they wouldn't be overheard because they really shouldn't be doing this.

"What does it mean?" Jim asked, whispering.

Spock touched the tips of their fingers and a shudder of pleasure rippled through them both.

Jim had felt this before, when their hands touched at other times, but never really wondered what it meant. Touching Spock had always made him feel things he didn't necessarily understand at first.

"What is it?"

The pads of his fingers brushed and caressed and moved down towards Spock's palm, and Spock was breathing unevenly, but his lips twitched in what was almost, almost… the closest Jim had ever seen to a smile.

"A kiss."

x

"Hey, Spock?"

"Yes, Jim?"

"You think you could tone it down a notch?"

Spock's brow furrowed slightly. "Excuse me?"

"You think you could... I don't know, make this a bit easier on me and look slightly less than really, very ridiculously hot? If you’d be so kind?"

He'd intended the completely innapropriate comment to shake Spock out of the mood the Vulcan seemed to be in, but it didn't work for long. Spock managed to transmit to Jim both surprise and incredulity at the words, or at least he did at first, and then he sort of slotted back into the impassive expression that undoubtedly contained a considerable amount of deep inner turmoil. He still seemed much better than yesterday, but the situation was precariously balanced. Everything felt breakable today, somehow.

People were milling about when they entered the courtroom because they were half an hour early, but Uhura and McCoy were already there, as was Moss, sitting at the defense's desk.

"Spock," Uhura gasped when she saw him, and shouldered her way to the pair before throwing her arms around Jim. "Are you okay?"

"Do not concern yourself over me, Nyota."

Jim staggered slightly from the weight before hesitantly patting her on the back. "Uh... not that I don't appreciate this, really, but what the hell?"

"I had a sudden urge to hug him, but I can't. So."

"So you're hugging me by proxy. That's great, I feel so loved."

She laughed against his neck and pulled away, then led them both to stand in a little huddle next to the bench where she and McCoy would be sitting. It was slightly less crowded towards the front rows, since the jury pew and the judge's seat weren't filled yet.

"I'm sorry," she said once the four had settled in a sort of circle. But she was looking at Spock contritely when she apologized.

Jim looked from her downcast eyes to the suspiciously tense set of Spock's jaw and shook his head. "No way did you just apologies to Spock for hugging me," he said, realization dawning. "No way, Uhura!"

"Look, I'm the one who studied what little information on Vulcan culture is available, okay?" She snapped at him. "It's idiotic and neanderthal-esque but I already told you it was a bad idea for me to touch you."

"Then don't hug me!"

"I couldn't hug Spock, come on!"

"Did you have to hug—wait, what am I saying, this is all Spock's fault—"

Jim rounded on Spock, but Spock was looking at Uhura.

"You told the Captain?"

"Hey, don't blame this on her," Jim interjected quickly. "You're the one who went all caveman yesterday morning, we've established that that wasn't cool." It was hot, but not, you know, appropriate. "And for your information she didn't tell me anything—"

"Don't defend my honour, Kirk, I can take care of myself—"

"I apologized repeatedly."

"Yes, but I still want to remind everyone here present it is not okay to get mad just because I sometimes get groped by random members of my crew—"

"People touch you all the time, Kirk, I think Spock just—"

"Will all of you shut up?"

Ironically, it was McCoy's loud drawl that drew more glances from the surrounding officers than the other three's frantic discussion had.

"Thank you. Now, someone explain to me what the hell's going on?"

The doctor was glaring at them.

Jim made a conscious effort to lower his voice. "Spock apparently doesn't like it when people touch me," he said.

McCoy stared at him for a very long moment.

"...That's it?"

Jim started. "What?"

"That's not news to me, kid."

"Don't call me kid, old ma—what do you mean that's not news to you?"

"I do your medical check-ups, remember? You've never thought it was weird that lately he kept happening to show up to take you away right in the middle?"

"I ask him to do that. I hate medical check-ups."

"Oh. Well, he was still smug about it. I could tell. And since when are you perceptive enough to realize...?"

McCoy's gaze travelled to Spock, who was being very quiet. Then it skidded back to Jim.

Then back to Spock.

Then back to Jim.

Then back to Spock.

Then... back to Jim.

"Something's different," he said. "What have you... what's happened?"

Jim felt himself flushing a little, and this stupid, inappropriate, completely irrational grin kept tugging at the corner of his mouth.

He and Spock both looked pointedly away from each other and Uhura took a step back.

"Oh my God..."

"Don't say it—"

"Oh my God did you finally—"

"Be quiet, Lieutenant!"

"Oh my—shit. You could not have timed this any worse."

Jim rubbed the back of his neck and looked up at her with a grimace. "You think?"

Uhura smiled and looked like she was considering hugging him again, but a quick glance at Spock had her stepping back. Jim rolled his eyes at his first officer.

"You are quite free to touch the Captain, Lieutenant," Spock said formally. But something about the way he said it wasn't inviting at all, and Uhura could obviously tell because she snorted and shook her head.

"She doesn't need your permission, Spock, everyone's completely missing the point—"

"Jim...?"

This was McCoy. Jim turned to look at his best friend, unsure as to what he expected to find in his face.

"Yeah."

"You okay?"

Jim gulped. "Uh... you're kinda putting me on the spot here, Bones."

"But what're you gonna do?" The doctor looked worried in his own gruff way, and to Jim's relief... he really did just look worried, nothing else, no dissapointment or mistrust, just genuine concern on Jim's behalf. It was kind of nice.

"We heard rumours about the Veritas device...?" Uhura said, also with a worried look, but hers was directed at Spock. "That it worked for you. That they're gonna use it. Everyone's talking, all over the base it's like you two are the only topic of—is it true?"

Jim heaved a helpless breath but it was Spock who answered.

"Yes. It is true. I am susceptible to—"

"Hey."

The Vulcan briefly met Jim's stern gaze and amended; "My scans were conclusive. It works on my replies."

When he looked back at them Jim noted both McCoy and Uhura had weirdly similar expressions. And the expressions were suspiciously amused.

"What?" he said, slightly defensive.

McCoy coughed. It was one of those really bad fake ones.

"So you two are definitely, uh—" Jim immediately made an abortive motion with his hand, but it only served to make the doctor smile wider. "Sorry, right. It's just that you're acting exactly the same as before... I'll have to postpone the teasing, then?"

"Yes you'll have to postpone the teasing." When McCoy's expression threatened to turn solemn instead Jim immediately raised a hand in protest. "You'll have to postpone any sort of reaction whatsoever until we've resolved all of this, okay? Also, someone's trying to kill us. We're busy."

"Well, apparently not so busy that you can't—"

"Captain Kirk! Commander Spock!"

Jim spun around and caught Mr Moss' eye. The lawyer was on his feet and calling them over.

"Right. We should be..."

"Yeah."

Before Jim could take off, however, he found his hand gripped by Uhura's, who dismissively waved Spock on. "He's right behind you, give us a moment."
Spock nodded and kept walking, and Uhura rounded on Jim with a vehemence that made McCoy silently slip away to find his seat. Traitor.

"What's up, Lieu—"

"The thing with the not liking people who touch you, he can't help that, among other stuff which I'm sure he'll explain properly once you get a chance and some time to talk," she said quickly, and so low that Jim had to strain to catch it all. It was probably the exact volume so that Spock didn't overhear. "Obviously since he can't control it he doesn't like it, so cut him some slack. It's instinctive, draws back to the pre-Surakian societies when bondmates were chosen through bloodshed and sacrifice."

"Whoa, Uhura, what the hell do you think—"

"Don't act dumb with me," she whispered, pulling him toward her. Her eyes were huge and earnest up close. "Don't try to make light of... I've been watching you both for a while now, and it doesn't take anywhere near my level of intellect to figure out how deep this thing of yours goes. For both of you."

At the word 'both' her fingers tightened almost imperceptively.

"Do you think I'd be wary of him without good reason? I mean, I'm not scared, but I'm not stupid, Kirk. Logic really does go only so far, and you understand what this means, right? He was with me for months and you never noticed anything like this because he never..." her expression clouded and Jim felt it tug at his gut. It was subtle but it was there; an echo of pain she hadn't been able to cut off in time, not quickly enough for her well-trained Captain to miss it. "Anyway, you know what this means so don't forget it."

Yes, Jim knew what that meant. It wasn't hard to connect the dots, and in this case there were only three. Dots.

Number one were Spock's words, hell, his feelings during the mind-meld. Number two was his strange inability to rein things in with his usual ease if they were about Jim. And number three, well...

Bondmates, Uhura had said.

Jim hadn't studied the culture like she had, but he'd heard things. Vulcan culture was secretive, closed-off and even now (or perhaps especially now) Vulcans remained tight-lipped about their customs. But Jim had heard of bondmates, of course he had. It was another big word. Nine letters.

‘Overwhelming’ had twelve.

"Captain?"

"Yeah. Sorry. It's just that... everything's happening at once," he said.

"Hey. You don't get to complain about this," Uhura snapped, suddenly almost angry, and there was no trace of that pain from before but Jim knew it must be lurking under her sharp words. "Don't you dare complain about this, Kirk, this is a good thing, an amazing thing, and you're the bastard lucky enough to—"

"I know! I'd never... I know."

"Good."

She stepped away from him and looked around. People were starting to take their seats.

"Okay. You can go now."

Jim offered her a tentative smile. "I... thanks. I think."

She smiled back at him. "Hurt him and I'll maim you."

"I ever hurt him and I'll do it myself. But you should feel free to help out. Get creative."

"I will, believe me."

"And that's why I like you, Lieutenant."

He waved goodbye and joined Spock and Moss at the table. Areel was already on the opposite one, pouring over her PADD while her two assistants argued next to her.

"Did Lieutenant Uhura...?"

"It's not important. You okay?"

Spock looked like his usual self, which honestly didn't tell Jim much.

"Do not concern—"

"Hey. Don't," he said gently. "We'll figure it out, okay? We'll be all right."

"You insist on disregarding all probable scenarios, Captain," Spock murmured. It sounded oddly fond, like he was calling Jim out on an endearing quirk.

"Hey, I never claimed to be entirely sane."

"Stop talking, both of you," Moss hissed out of the corner of his mouth. "Face forward. Look heroic."

"I always look—"

"And shut up."

Fifteen long, silent minutes later, Commodore Emerett entered the room followed by the twelve members of the jury, every single one of which gave Jim and Spock a quick glance before sitting down.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I ask that all communicators and electronic devices be turned off and, as we all know, no recording equipment save the official log is allowed in this courtroom."

It was the same spiel he said every single time, but several people still had to bustle around for their comms and turn them off.

"This court is now in session."

He clanged the gavel and then looked at Areel.

"Miss Shaw, you may resume your questioning of the defendant Spock, who I now call to the stand."

"Thank you, your honour."

It occurred to Jim that no one ever said Spock's full name because it was impossible to pronounce, at least for Humans, yet the Veritas device had been able to.

Spock stood up and walked over to the stand, climbed the two steps and took his seat.

"Due to a recent development, Commander Spock's answers will from this point on be submitted and monitored for accuracy by the Veritas device. Are you aware and in agreement of this change, Commander?"

"I am, sir."

"Then you may proceed, Miss Shaw."

Areel walked over to stand in front of Spock with her body tilted non-too-subtly towards the jury.

"Good morning, Mr Spock." She didn't wait for an answer before continuing, which was probably for the best because all Spock had done was blink. "Yesterday we discussed a few of the many, many cases on the evidence list, but today I'd like to help the jury understand how a seemingly perfectly logical man such as yourself came to be in this position."

Spock raised a sceptical eyebrow but other than that gave no sign of acknowledgement.

"Forgive me, Commander, as I am aware of the fact that this is not a comfortable question by any means, and especially in your culture, but… it seems I have no choice." Her eyes glowed with regret. Jim grit his teeth. "Nineteen months ago, the terrorist Nero destroyed planet Vulcan and while captaining the USS Enterprise you experienced… understand that I am making this point in order to prove that it is possible, you experienced an emotional outburst, correct?"

The details of what had happened on that bridge and the reasons behind Spock relinquishing command had never been released.

"I removed myself from command," Spock said. His expression had gone positively mask-like.

"Correct," said the Veritas device.

"Yes, but for what reason?" Areel pressed.

"A personal reason, Miss Shaw."

"Correct."

"Forgive me, Commander, but emotional compromise ceases to be a personal reason when it is impeding your ability to command, and it was logged in the official ship's registry as the cause for your—"

"Emotional compromise is not automatically equivalent to an emotional outburst," Spock interrupted. He sounded vaguely patronising, and it worked.

"Correct."

"I suppose not. But this does mean that you cannot deny the fact that, despite your father's cultural heritage, it is possible for you to become emotionally compromised."

"I cannot deny it."

"Correct."

"Yet you deny being emotionally compromised by your Captain and failing to recognise it?"

"Yes."

"Correct."

"You believe that the evidence is somehow faulty and that your full potential as a Starfleet officer is currently being realized under Captain Kirk's command, and would not benefit from a transfer to another starship?"

"Yes."

"Correct."

"Why don't want to be transferred to another starship, Commander?"

Uh oh. Areel looked determined now, and she was on a roll.

"I have accustomed myself to the working environment and the crew of the Enterprise."

"Correct."

"And that's the only reason, is it?"

Spock paused almost imperceptively before answering. "No."

"Correct."

"Is it to do with Captain Kirk?"

"Captain Kirk is certainly a factor. His an intelligent and talented commanding officer, as well as my friend."

"Correct."

"I see. So you would qualify your relationship as purely platonic friendship, is that it?"

"It has been a platonic friendship for the past eighteen months."

"Correct."

"And you regard your Captain as merely a friend, with no romantic interest whatsoever in the man?"

Spock was indescipherable in that second before he answered.

"...No."

"Correct."

The silence in the courtroom thickened and crackled at that. Jim had the irrational thought that if he listened really closely he could hear the collective indrawn breath.

"No?"

The members of the jury were now regarding Spock with open curiosity, and Jim couldn't risk turning around but he knew the crowd would be staring raptly as well.

He braced himself for what was coming.

"Commander Spock..." Areel paused delicately, then folded her hands behind her back. "Are you in love with Captain Kirk?"

"Objection! This again?" Moss said, jumping to his feet.

Commodore Emerett banged the gavel as Areel rounded on the lawyer.

"He just said his regard for the Captain—"

"Silence!" Emerett called. "Objection overruled, Mr Moss, the question is a relevant follow-up."

"Commander Spock's emotions are not relevant when they don't pertain to the charges—"

"Except that they do. I'm sorry, counsel, but I'm allowing it."

Moss sat back down reluctantly and Areel turned back to Spock.

"Commander Spock, are you in love with Captain Kirk?"

Spock looked at her evenly.

"This question does not mean the same to me as it does to you because you are Human, and I am not," he said.

"Correct."

"...Excuse me?"

"The concept you are predicating my answer upon is not aknowledged in my culture because it does not exist."

"Correct."

Areel raised her eyebrows. "Are you telling me that the concept of 'love' doesn't exist in your culture, Mr Spock?"

"'Being in love' has Human connotations, Miss Shaw."

"Correct."

"I'm sorry, but—"

"Please allow me to explain. Just as an Orion would not attatch the same meaning to the word 'love' as a Human, neither would a Vulcan. And in the case of 'being in love' there is no equivalent meaning."

"Correct."

Areel was silent for a long moment and Jim felt an irrational flare of hope in his chest that Spock had done it, he'd managed to get around it because he was just that smart and awesome.

But Areel was smart, too.

"Very well then. I apologise if my question was badly phrased and especially if I unknowingly insulted you in any way, Commander, I don't mean any disrespect."

Spock gave her a nod.

"However, you said you regard your Captain as something other than just a friend. Do you deny the nature of this regard as being romantic?"

"...No."

"Correct."

A frenzy of muttering and whispers broke out at that, and Emerett had to ask for silence yet again.

"So you do feel something for James Kirk that goes beyond friendship."

"Yes."

"Correct."

"And... again, forgive me, but you said 'being in love' isn't really a concept in Vulcan culture, but love is, it just has different connotations. Is there anything that will help us understand what, exactly, you feel for Captain Kirk?"

"Objection! This is completely unnecessary," Moss protested loudly.

"Overruled, Mr Moss," Emerett said, without taking his eyes off of Spock. "Answer the question, Commander."

"Please clarify your question," Spock said.

"Well, what do you call liking Captain Kirk romantically, if not being in love with him?"

"Objection! This is—"

"Overruled, Mr Moss."

Spock's eyes flickered to Jim, who had absolutely no idea what his expression must look like.

"Pardon me, but I would appreciate further clarification—"

"Do you love him, Commander," Areel said flatly, like a statement instead of an actual question. "If you won't answer to being in love with him, then answer to loving him not just as a friend or as a brother but as one does a partner and a lover."

Jim felt a fist wrap around his windpipe and squeeze, as though his emotions had become this tangible, physical thing. Spock looked like Spock, which was composed and polite and meticulously put-together, but Jim knew better than that.

And the Vulcan couldn't lie. There was no escaping this truth.

"Yes," Spock said finally. "Yes, I love him."

"Correct."

And then the room erupted into motion, and people weren't even making the effort to whisper, and it was loud and chaotic and scandalised, the jury members were muttering among themselves, someone had actually gasped aloud, Emerett could be heard ordering peace and quiet and failing rather pathetically, Areel looked triumphant and in the middle of it all Spock sat there quietly, still composed and polite and meticulously put-together...

But at that moment it felt like they'd already lost.

x

"Jim?"

"Just a second!"

Exactly one second later, the door to Jim's quarters swished open. Jim whirled around.

"Hey! What part of 'just a second' sounded like 'please come in right now' to you?"

Spock stared at him for a very long moment. "You said to wait one second. I waited one second."

Jim was wearing nothing but boxer-briefs.

For once, though, Spock looked unperturbed by the sight. He merely walked inside and sat down neatly on Jim's desk chair.

"We must consider the very likely probability that we are going to lose, Jim," he said tonelessly. The door had shut behind him and they shouldn't be alone in the room, so Jim winced and quickly walked around Spock over to his computer terminal, tossing the clothes he'd been about to put on in favour of getting this done as soon as possible. It would be a bit trickier but he needed to hack into the location program from here.

"Hey, I'm not giving up. There's still closing arguments, and Moss is good, and we're famous heroes, remember?"

"They believe lives are at stake," Spock replied, still in that tone. "If lives are at stake, fame is of little importance."

He paused thoughtfully, then looked up at Jim.

"We never discussed whether they might be right."

The words were designed to sting like a punch but Jim knew better. Spock was hurting right now, and maybe spoiling for a fight. He might really think they would lose, but he'd never doubt that they were meant to work together.

"We never discussed it because there's never been any doubt, Spock. You can't believe it. You don't."

Spock was in pain, and it was up to Jim to change that. No matter how desperate things might seem right now. No matter how badly Jim wanted reassurance for himself.

After a beat of silence came Spock's curious voice. "What are you doing?"

"You forgot we're not allowed to be alone together in my room. Thank God there's no video feed or we'd be in some seriously deep shit by now."

Jim motioned vaguely at his state of undress and felt Spock's eyes take it in, as though he'd only just noticed.

"...Oh."

"Yeah. So I'm doing a little hacking."

Suddenly he felt Spock lean in behind him, the heat emmanating from his body warming Jim's back like a furnace and forcing him to become hyper-aware of their relative positions.

"Perhaps I may be of assistance."

Without the normal pause for granted permission, Spock's arm came around Jim's shoulders to reach the tactile screen, which almost made the latter jump in surprise.

"Yeah, go ahead."

His long fingers seemed to move with forced deliberation, and Jim had the strange thought that Spock had begun the gesture unconsciously, realised mid-way that it was amazingly unlike him to allow so much contact, and then decided he might as well finish it because of the unwritten rule somwhere about Vulcans not being allowed to hesitate.

After a few quick commands and two failed password-protection encryptions they had done it.

"See?" Jim said gently, cocking his head. "We make a great team."

Spock pulled away immediately and marched over to the other end of the (admittedly pretty small) room, to sit at the edge of Jim's bed.

"That may be so. We will still be separated for the rest of our—"

"Don't. It's not... we can't think like that now, Spock."

"Tomorrow might be our last day working together. If we are assigned different starships the odds of seeing each other more than once every two point five years are zero point—"

"I don't care about odds," Jim said fiercely. "I don't care, Spock, we'll find a way out of this. Nothing's been lost yet."

"Be realistic, Jim."

"They can't," he cried, angry and exhasperated and resolute. "They won't. I'll stop them if I have to, I promise, but I won't let them do this."

But the feeling was back. The feeling from last night, the 'last chance' thrum of nerves, the 'now or never' instinct calling out for him to do something about Spock sitting in his bed, to turn it into Spock lying in his bed—

"There is nothing you can do," his first officer said gently.

Jim belatedly realized that he was literally seconds away from mauling Spock, and took a cautious step back just in case that would help even a little bit.

It did not.

"Look, maybe you should go," he heard himself say, and blindly reached for his discarded clothes.

Spock blinked up at him from Jim's bed but he didn't move from Jim's bed, where Jim slept and now Spock was sitting like he was used to inhabiting a space in Jim's bed.

The bed. That currently belonged to Jim.

"You should go, Spock," he repeated, stepping into his pants. He wasn't sure why he was getting dressed since it was late at night, Spock was hopefully leaving and he'd been about to go to bed (the bed that Spock was currently sitting on), but it felt like something to do.

"This may be the last night I spend near you."

Jim froze.

"What?" He whispered, as though he might have misheard.

"I do not wish to waste this time sleeping."

"Then what..." he sounded like he had a sore throat. "What do you...? I mean, obviously we can talk if you—"

Spock quirked an eyebrow. He looked entertained.

"Of course." He stood up. "Of course I would spend time talking to you if that was what you wanted."

Last chance, last night, last time, last moment, last moment, Kirk...

"I..." Jim licked his lips. Spock just looked at him, almost expectant. "It's not over, though," he protested. "I won't let them win."

It sounded like a lie.

"But you will let me stay with you? This night?"

"Let you...?" Jim wanted to scoff or maybe roll his eyes. "You have no idea."

Something dark and dangerous lurked behind Spock's gaze when he stepped forward and curled his fingers around Jim's wrist.

"I have some idea, Captain."

Jim drew in a shaky, hot breath. "Hey. Just so we're clear, this isn't me conceding defeat, okay? We'll win. I still believe that."

"I trust you," Spock said. His eyes flashed in the dim light. "I trust you and an illogical part of me believes you when you declare an impossible victory over seemingly insurmountable odds because it is you who orders it so, and it would not be the first time you have achieved something like this. But I know that I may lose you and it is the cruelest thing I can imagine. Losing you."

He was really very close.

"Is that why you keep grabbing me?" Jim breathed, tugging feebly at Spock's grip. And he heard the rustle of cloth before he realised he'd dropped his shirt to the floor.

"Yes."

Long fingers tightened around his wrist.

 

 

Chapter Text

You know when you've been hearing that something is so amazing for so long, and you build your hopes up impossibly high and expect so much of it--too much of it, that you end up rather epically disappointed?

Well, it was nothing like that.

x

Long fingers tightened around his wrist, and Jim’s throat barely choked off a gasp. It couldn’t have been more than a light echo of a sound, too low for Human ears for sure, and easily disregarded if need be. But Spock… Spock's eyes locked with his and his grip became even more constricting, in a way that was edging towards painful and yet made Jim's breathing hitch erratically.

Ben... hadn't been lying about the 'liking it a little rough' part. Not that Spock knew, but Christ. It kind of felt like he did.

"What…? Spock," he tried to clear his throat. "What do you want from me?"

Spock cocked his head slightly and the motion was fast and alien, strange in a way that was almost feline.

"You already know. Do not feign an innocence you do not possess."

It was that voice again. That voice Spock never used for anything else, the secret tone that was just for Jim.

Jim huffed a breath, helpless and so turned on it was painful. "Spock, you—"

And then Spock was kissing him.

There didn't seem to be an actual moment in between those two actions; one second Jim was speaking and the next Spock's tongue was licking its way inside his mouth and his teeth were gently nipping at Jim's lower lip and oh, yes, yes Jim could spend all night doing this, the last night—

Okay, so the thing was… Jim had thought about this.

Jim had, in fact, thought about this often.

And, well, he'd had it all planned out, see.

It was one of his good plans, too. They'd take it slow. It probably wasn't going to be mind-blowingly good but it would still be perfect. He'd be gentle. He, James Tiberius Kirk, was going to treat Spock right, as if Jim really was a sweet, wholesome farmboy from Iowa in bed (which, for the record, he was anything but). This was Spock's first time, after all.

Spock, however, didn't seem to understand the plan, and if he did, he obviously wasn't very keen on it.

Nor did he seem very virginal at the moment, either.

"Spock, you—" he didn't want to sound accusing, exactly, but that was where his tone was undeniably headed right now. "You're absolutely sure you've never done this before, right?"

Spock arched an eyebrow even as his deft, long (Christ, so long) fingers pulled at Jim's hair and arms and wrists and wait, Spock only had two hands right? Damn, the guy was like an octopus, or those humanoids from Juno III with all the… appendages.

"I am quite positive, Jim," Spock replied drily, nosing his way down Jim's clavicle. "I believe I might have noticed if I'd had you writhing under me before today."

"Fuck," Jim said eloquently.

Something suspiciously like a soft chuckle sounded right by Jim's ear, but it was so low Jim figured he was imagining stuff.

The next thing he knew, he was being manhandled onto the edge of the bed and kindly divested of his recently-donned pants within seconds. He landed on his ass with a startled grunt and was confused for a long moment because he was practically naked again and unsure as to how, exactly, that had happened. He'd also been hard for what felt like the past year but that insistent throb would have to wait a little more.

"Spock, whoa there, Spock hang on—"

Spock had sunk his fingers in Jim's hair again and then Jim was being kissed within an inch of his life, how was Spock so good at this, Jesus—

"I, hey, S—Spock!" he spluttered, planting a firm hand on Spock's chest and pushing. Spock stopped kissing him long enough to start biting and mouthing at his jaw, then going lower. "What the—uh, what are you—unh... wait."

Spock stopped. Properly. Jim may have whined a little in protest before realising he'd asked for this.

"I…"

The heat coming off Spock's skin was engulfing him, and he wanted more.

"Yes, Jim?"

"I can't believe I'm about to say this, but... this is potentially a very bad idea. You... you know that, right? You're not... emotionally compromised?"

For a long moment neither of them moved, foreheads pressed together and nose-to-nose, breathing fast, yes, even Spock, and every time Jim moved a little to suck air into his lungs his bottom lip brushed Spock's upper one and it was all he could do not to bridge that small gap and go for it again.

Spock wasn't answering.

"Spock?"

That was it, then. Spock had come to his senses and was about to suggest they stop this before it was too—

Five points of gentle pressure against his cheek and temple.

The world doesn't fade, this time. Everything is still here and he still feels it all as keenly as he did moments ago, maybe even more strongly than before now that he feels as Spock feels too.

This time is different.

Spock?

He thinks the word and doesn't move his lips. His lips are still brushing over Spock's skin almost absent-mindedly.

The last time you looked into my mind I let you see how much I want you, Jim.

I... recall.

There had been a claw-it had felt like a claw because it raked through Spock, Jim had felt—

No, Jim. You saw. Saw, but did not feel. You never felt it.

Jim is intriguedarousedafraidinlove

And now?

Now you will know.

There is not even a moment's pause to gather himself, to attempt some sort of bracing defense.

It takes him over. Instantly Jim is drowned, suffocated and charred to nothingness by the wave of heat, blistering and aching worse than an open wound. Jim knows famine, knows it like few people do, and this is very different from the need for food, different in a way that is perhaps better because even in the wanting there is some sort of sadistic pleasure, but it is still all-consuming.

It gets a bit better every time Jim groans thanks to something Spock has done and Spock cannot wait to make that noise happen again—

It is manageable because I have learned to manage it and it is bearable because I have had to bear it, but an unfulfilled bond—

Unfulfilled, yes, God yes that is exactly what Jim feels right now, brutally, cruelly, achingly unfulfilled—

--is what causes this and you must never doubt that it exists. Tonight is not a temporary weakness, not a momentary loss of control.

Intermixed with this latest confession there are arrows of fear. It does not escape Jim—even in this state; this awful, starvinghungrycraving state—that Spock is afraid he is showing too much, revealing too much and he will overwhelm, overpower, frighten, confuse.

The flood stops. With surgical precision Spock cuts it off and Jim is left gasping, limbs trembling ever so slightly and clutching at Spock's shirt in fistfuls to hold on to something.

It does not mean you are in any way... uncertainty, hesitation, fear again... beholden to me. I do not suffer. Manageable and bearable, my mind after my intended died left alone and unfulfilled, yes, but for you, t'hy'la, for you I wait patiently. I show you this not to ask anything of you, but to reassure.

Prove, demonstrate, this is evidence, empirical evidence. The Captain will test hypothesis and sometimes work with only a few guesses and luck but he likes it when Spock brings him tangible results. And now he cannot deny it cannot confuse it with anything other than what it is, he cannot doubt Spock's desire any longer if he sees and feels it all.

Jim sighs against his Vulcan's soft, warm-smelling skin. Spock may be unsure but Jim is smiling.

Spock, for God's sake. Seriously, just—

"Tell me you use the smart part of your brain to think when it's ship's business because with these convoluted reasoning skills we're all doom—mh!"

Spock kissed him again, deep, one of those kisses that stole your breath in the never-want-to-resurface-again, will-die-if-you-stop way. Jim could get used to being interrupted like this.

He closed his eyes tight and kissed back, decided that yes this was going to happen and maybe it had been destined to happen from day one even as Jim scoffed at words like 'destiny,' but maybe it was the most inevitable thing in the universe, and he was starting to grow a bit oxygen-deprived but he didn't care about other things his body needed, the other things that weren't Spock, like air.

Spock's hand slid from his cheek to his hair for purchase and Jim hissed, which made Spock's grip tighten and pleasure shoot through Jim with the spike of pain and it was like one of those tail-spinning starships crashing into the atmosphere only to explode into heat and light and plummet even faster. It was vertigo-inducing, gut-clenchingly intense. And only building.

"Been wanting…" he slurred into Spock's mouth when they finally managed to draw apart to breathe. "Been wanting to do this…" The hand in his hair clenched hard again and Jim's breath caught. "For fucking ever, Spock, I can't believe you ever thought I wouldn't feel—"

Jim cut himself off with a startled grunt when he felt Spock's other hand slide up to tangle in the hair at the nape of his neck and tug, baring his throat and then there was hot, wet suction on the exposed skin and a fever-hot caress as Spock's other hand slid down between his pecs and towards his stomach

But... wait, Spock was kneeling on the floor and Jim was sitting on the bed and this wasn't right because his first officer still had clothes and there were parts of Jim that weren't touching Spock's skin and that wasn't acceptable. Jim was going to indicate this in some way (verbally or... non-verbally) but a second after the thought went through his mind there was a sudden flurry of confusing movement and the next thing he knew, Jim found himself lying on the bed with his head perfectly resting on the hard pillow and Spock straddling his hips. Spock was also (finally) shirtless, and his boots had thumped to the floor.

"Whoa." Jim looked up at Spock through narrowed eyes. "Are you reading my mind?"

"No," Spock said. "I get impressions, however. I can stop it, if you wish."

"Don't be ridiculous."

Jim thought about Spock's fingers as loudly and explicitly as he could until Spock's eyes widened fractionally and he offered his whole hand, palm up and perfectly steady, to Jim.

"Stop this," Jim said with a smirk, and sucked Spock's index finger into his mouth. He didn't care if he hadn't exactly made a whole lot of sense, especially not when he looked up just in time to catch Spock's long-lashed eyelids drooping, seemingly involuntarily, and his lips part in a silent cry.

Jim took advantage of that to unbutton Spock's pants while he suckled harder, whirling his tongue around Spock’s finger and teasing it with his teeth. Spock's hips rocked downwards, making Jim hum against the digit.

At the slight vibration of his throat, Spock's entire body shivered and his neck tilted backwards, just for a moment. But then his eyes snapped open, ink-black pupils blown wide as saucers, and his tone was deceptively clear and firm. "Jim."

Jim's eyes widened innocently and pulled back a bit only to slide down again.

"Hm?"

"Too much," Spock said, this time his voice wobbling a bit hoarsely. There was no awed fear in his eyes like Jim remembered feeling his first time, but then again this was Spock, so there was a very good chance that it wouldn't show either way. "I... please stop."

Jim did so immediately. Spock briefly pulled away to discard his pants and he then was back and kissing Jim again with both hands at either side of his face, intent and deep and dizzying, but it wasn't kissing like it had been before because there was something... something was happening, something different—

A hunger that wasn't his bled through their skins where they touched and Jim moaned into Spock's mouth, felt his nerves light up like live wires, felt the hot throb of want as his spine liquefied and started to trickle down his cock, or so it seemed.

"That's... cheating, you fucker," he rasped, batting Spock's hands away even as another wave of it (familiar, now, since the meld) made him shudder. He locked a leg around Spock's and tugged at the Vulcan's shoulder as hard as he could so they flipped, and now Jim was on top and Spock was sprawled on the bed.

He was under no illusions that Spock couldn't always overpower him, but it felt good to handle the man for once. Jim bit Spock's shoulder and ground their hips together and Spock made that noise again, the deep purring rumble in his chest that was near a growl but still not quite (a sound Jim was almost completely sure Humans couldn't produce).

They were about the same height but of slightly different build; Spock had always been leaner, all sinew and slender lines where Jim was a bit more stocky with well-defined muscles. Jim took a frantic moment to map out those differences; to taste the pale ridge of Spock's sharp hipbone, up the perfectly flat expanse of Spock's stomach, over his sternum right in the middle of his chest, leaving a trail of saliva in his wake, all of it too fast because the urgency was building. He was a touch too desperate for it and he could tell that Spock was too.

When he reached Spock's nipple and bit down softly Spock buried his fingers in Jim's hair again and pulled him up for a kiss, then some other confusing things happened and gravity was involved and Jim was under Spock again, looking up and panting a little harder.

Spock's right hand had landed on his hip and curled around the edge of Jim's boxer-briefs. In a tortuously slow move, he began sliding them down, the cloth itself a teasing brush against Jim's sensitive skin. Jim tried to hold still at first (he did, honestly) but he nearly bit through his lower lip with the effort.

"Okay, now you're just being mean—“

"Be quiet," Spock ordered, and pulled until he'd exposed Jim's leaking cock. Jim shuddered again at the sensation of cool air instead of trapping fabric, and lifted his hips so that Spock could get rid of the boxers altogether, but of course that move made him buck up right into the hard bulge in Spock's own underwear and the friction was heaven.

"Unh," was punched out of his chest.

Spock got it past his ankles and finally tossed the clothing... somewhere that Jim couldn't care less about, and then one of his hands wrapped around Jim's length and pumped.

Jim nearly cried out in shock, because he hadn't been expecting that (needing? yes, expecting? no). Spock's eyes glinted with satisfaction and an edge of fierce relish, apparently at the fact that Jim was as happy with being in command here as he was with just taking it.

To be perfectly honest, Jim was surprised at himself. He was the confident, experienced once here. He was the playboy who'd actually done this before, several times, with a plethora of varied peoples. And it felt like Spock was playing him like a fucking instrument, testing out the things he liked the way he liked them best on the first damn try, and also holy hell.

"Do you have...?" Spock started to ask, but then his voice sort of faded from Jim's range of hearing because he was talking at the same time as he squeezed too-hard which was also just-hard-enough and Jim became pretty certain that he couldn't understand the Standard language anymore.

"Huh?" Jim managed, and imagined crowds cheering at his accomplishment.

"Do you have the things we need," Spock repeated. Oh. The... the things. The very relevant things like condoms and lube that Jim seemed to have completely forgotten about. Awesome.

"I... uh, you..."

"I am perfectly knowledgeable of the mechanics, Jim," Spock said, with a hint of condescension.

"Oh." Jim's train of thought was abruptly derailed. "Jesus, did you research—you researched it, didn't you?"

"Adolescent Vulcans are assigned these subjects, among others, for study. We are a very self-taught race…"

And suddenly the image of a young Spock in his late teens reading about sex and maybe feeling his pulse quicken, not knowing why, maybe blushing a little and being most annoyed by this inexplicable reaction… hot damn.

He blindly reached up and tugged Spock down for a kiss, then used the distraction to work away at Spock's underwear, the last clothing item standing. ...So to speak. Spock helped until it, too, had landed somewhere irrelevant. The rub of skin on skin nearly made Jim's eyes roll to the back of his head.

"Fuck it," he slurred against Spock's lips. "I'm clean and I wanna... gotta feel you, I just—“

“That is not a logical reason to bypass—“

“If you’re volunteering to get up and rifle through my drawers be my guest, but you know I wouldn’t say I’m clean if I hadn’t passed the Starfleet checkup a couple of weeks ago.”

Spock raked his hands down the sides of Jim's torso, growling softly at the back of his throat in obvious approval.

“I am to lose arguments with you even in the bedroom, then.”

“I’m leaving the choice totally up to you, buddy. But... correct me if I’m wrong, but...” he huffed, starting to sweat as Spock’s Vulcan body-heat radiated over him. “I think the skin-to-skin thing—“ this he illustrated with a caress of Spock’s back with his open palm. “—is important to you, right?”

Spock levelled him with a look that made Jim falter.

“What?”

“Fascinating.”

“... What’s so fascinating.”

Spock didn’t answer but he did draw his hand back down until his fingertips were between Jim’s legs. Jim just spread his thighs for it and let him. He should be the one in control here but he... if Spock wanted to be the one to take charge in order to try things out for himself then Jim was going to let him touch and tease and test as much as he wanted—prod and taste and-and stretch him open—

It started slow but after Jim’s completely unsurprising impatience manifested in a flick of Spock’s bicep, Spock pushed the entire digit in. The finger felt impossibly hot even from his insides. It also burned and ached but precome and spit had made it a relatively better slide. None of it was easy or smooth but Jim fucking loved it, found himself arching his back for more of it, silently asking for deeper; another.

Spock added a second finger and the little half-strangled moan that Jim didn't quite manage to cut-off in time made the Vulcan pause.

"You enjoy this. You… want this."

Jim almost said 'duh', but this was Spock's first time, after all. Saying 'duh' in the middle of it maybe wasn't the definition of tactful. So instead Jim 'hmm'd non-committally, because Spock's voice held both surprise and woder, as though he was complimenting Jim but the reason for the praise itself intrigued him. And it was so fucking hot that if Jim tried to actually speak he might say something very, painfully embarrassing.

"I-I wish to hear more."

This time Jim couldn't hold back a teensy, tiny whimper at the unapologetic sincerity in Spock's tone. He sounded like he was seconds away from adding an 'if you'd please be so kind.' Why was that hot? Jim would perhaps never know, but in that moment he didn't very much care, either.

"Do be sure to let me know as… vocally as you like."

Two fingers all the way in, past both knuckles, and Jim was too-full and it still wasn't enough.

"Have you been thinking about me in exactly this way for a long time, Jim?"

Spock's nose nuzzled his neck and Jim's breath hitched embarrassingly. He didn't quite understand what was going on here, how he'd let the situation get to this point. What was Spock doing to him?

"Answer me," Spock ordered suddenly.

"Jesus."

Spock pulled back to look at him, their noses brushing.

"Naming the prophet of an old religion, Jim? Most illogical."

Spock's pupils were so dilated by desire that they made him look drugged with it. Jim wanted to affectionately say 'junkie' or possibly make a terribly bad joke about how Spock was 'addicted to his love' but all he could master at the moment was a low, unintelligible sound, because higher brain-function right then? Not so much.

Spock twisted his fingers and slid deeper, then out, then added a third. It was too fast, too soon, finally, it was perfect, he knew exactly what Jim needed—

Jim grabbed Spock's head by his hair and wrenched it down so he was talking into Spock's pointed ear.

"You can tell exactly what I want because I'm fucking telling you, can't you?" he snarled, realization a molten heat in the pit of his belly. "You're not technically reading my mind but those impressions you get are pretty damn specific, aren't they?"

"Yes," Spock replied, unapologetic. He kissed Jim again. "Our connection is strong, and your mind is powerful. As is your body."

"I knew it," Jim declared triumphantly, even as he kissed the fingers of Spock's free hand with his own, a Vulcan kiss, caressing and moving them so his nails scraped Spock's fingerpads. Spock's eyes closed for a moment, as though he was steeling himself against something. Jim had a feeling he knew exactly what Spock was having a bit of trouble with, but it was only fair to get his revenge.

"Well, that's real great and all, but I'm thinking some reciprocation is in order. Otherwise it ain't fair that you get all of the cards."

Spock's eyes snapped open and the fingers of the Vulcan's... not-free hand slipped out of Jim. Jim made an unhappy little noise at the back of his throat—he was abruptly empty and hollow and unfulfilled again, goddamn he wanted those back there or better yet, Spock's large, thick—and Spock used both arms to prop himself up over his Captain. They both knew what Jim had just thought but Jim mock-glared defiantly anyway and Spock quirked an eyebrow, aiming for aloof. Except his face was too readable now that their skins were touching all over and they were naked in so many ways, and Jim had just gotten too damn good at it. Spock was happy. Amused and delighted and proud and happy.

"I know you can do it, Spock."

"Very well."

He closed his eyes for a moment, a dark fan of eyelashes over his cheeks that made Jim's stomach clench in fierce vindication. How many people got to see Spock with his eyes closed like this?

And then the floodgates opened and Jim sucked in a sharp breath.

"Oh."

His vision blurred for a few moments and he gave a full-body shudder, toes curling and jaw clenching in a desperate effort not to come from the overwhelming telepathic stimuli. Spock didn't help one bit because he went back to his previously abandoned task of teasing Jim to death one-handed, two fingers in and out and scissoring to open him up.

"S-Spock."

Spock was watching his fingers sink into Jim's hole and out again with a level of fascination that would have made Jim extremely self-conscious if he were capable of it at this point, but he was too preoccupied with feeling what Spock was feeling. He could even catch moments of what Spock was thinking, snatches like: so tight, so warm, so very, very beautiful and ready for me, and elevated heart-rate, the sound of Jim's pulse frantic and demanding, and must do this well, do this right, must protect and please and must temper my strength, must not break Jim no matter how prettily he is asking for it without him even knowing...

But that was only part of it. Another part, the part of Spock that wasn't quite so rational right now, was barely coherent with lust. No words Jim recognized, some he thought might be Vulcan but didn't understand, and mostly dominated by a sort of roaring whirl of that hunger he'd let Jim feel before.

Jim arched his back again and clenched his stomach, hips twitching with the effort of holding back. He had seconds. This was going to be excruciatingly fast.

"Are you waiting for my permission?" he groaned. He'd had enough with the talking. Enough with the foreplay, just fucking enough. He was barely keeping it together and the thick mix of his and Spock's emotions felt like it was permeating the air between them, dense like syrup and honey. This was happening now.

“Spock?” he huffed, impatient.

There was a very suspicious silence, and he looked up at Spock's face (this took a couple of seconds because even trying to focus his vision felt like a substantial effort right now). The Vulcan's eyes were burning-coal black.

"Are you waiting for me to beg?"

His voice broke on that last word but Spock had cocked his head to the side and was regarding Jim with animal eyes.

"I won't," Jim growled; a warning. "I will not—"

Spock kept looking at him, still quiet, still with that considering gaze, all caged heat for now... and then he moved one finger just so and ripped an urgent gasp from Jim's throat—the next thing Jim knew he was shoving his hips down to chase it, eyes screwed shut with need.

"Fine! Jesus, fuck, do it, please, just do it!"

Spock did.

He gently drew his fingers out of Jim’s hole and that made everything a million times worse but—c’mon c’mon but then he sat back and Jim was instantly on him, knees at either side of Spock’s lap, trembling with want and sweaty and clumsy but past self-consciousness at this point—there will be time for so much more, later, there will, I promise you they won't tear you away from me because it isn't possible, I promise you—

Spock lifted him up bodily by gripping under the meat of his ass and yes finally—Jim sank down onto him, yes. Spock was bigger than the average human but not so much that it was painful, just a lot to take in. Jim gasped raggedly and dug his nails into Spock's shoulders, finally.

Finally, finally, finally.

He didn't realize he was whispering the words like a fevered prayer until Spock kissed him, and then started to move, every thrust punching a low sound from Jim. He wouldn't even need a hand on himself for this, Jim thought dazedly, wouldn't even need Spock to reach down and get him off, he'd come untouched. When they started to go faster and lost those last vestiges of control they gave up on kissing, panting into each other's mouths instead, and teeth clacked and thighs burned and then Spock's hips shot up and hit Jim just right so that he actually cried out. So Spock did it again, the exact same angle and as much strength, did it again and again, relentless and not letting up even a little and Jim felt it building inside them both, or perhaps more accurately rushing towards them like an impending tide, Spock's pale skin and kiss-swollen lips and strange and beautiful slanting eyebrows right in front of him, Spock in him, beside him and under him and over him and all around him because that was where he belonged.

The release was a blinding rush of stars.

Never had something felt like this; both his and Spock's feelings a whirl that was no longer contained in a single nervous system and for as long as it lasted Jim couldn't distinguish where he ended and Spock began, his body awash with liquid heat and his brain a pleasure-clogged, impossibly good explosion of dopamine and endorphins and amazingness.

Jim came down from the high slowly, gingerly almost, feeling like his bones were rubber and his blood was sparking with leftover energy, little shocky jolts making him shiver.

Spock's eyes were still closed, his face titled up toward Jim's, jaw slack and relaxed in a way Jim had never seen before, eyelashes clumped together with sweat and splotches of green color on his high cheekbones. He looked blissed out, and gorgeous, and Jim's.

"Whoa," he managed, barely vocalizing. Even that was too much effort. His skin felt overly sensitive everywhere, in a way that hadn't happened before when he'd had sex with other beings who weren't touch-telepaths. Anything that brushed against him made his muscles jump underneath, tingly and too much.

"I..."

Spock blinked his eyes open and stared up at him, for the first time looking like he was at a loss for words. The intensity of the shallow meld had faded somewhat and catching Spock's thoughts was impossible, but the general goodness and rightness between them was unshakable.

"You okay?" Jim asked gently.

Spock nodded. "Very."

Jim grinned at him and shifted a little, drawing his body's attention sudden and unmistakably back to the place where they were still joined. Spock tensed a little and held him closer so that their bare chests were pressed together and, curiously, so that Jim couldn't pull away just yet.

"You're very okay?" Jim teased.

The corner of Spock's mouth lifted. Jim's heart stopped.

"Very okay, Jim."

Jim wondered whether amongst his many allergies and medical conditions he'd actually been ignoring a lifelong severe asthma because he couldn't fucking breathe.

x

They never got around to the deep and meaningful 'what does this mean?' discussions about the potential bond. Instead, they slept.

The next day Jim woke with Spock curled up next to him and spent a full five minutes convinced that this was a dream, and last night had been a dream, too, and it was all just one too-good too-damn-real dream that was not true, because he was clearly dreaming.

Then it hit him.

"Spock," he whispered.

Spock's eyes opened immediately and Jim wondered whether he'd been faking sleep, but a moment after that the Vulcan blinked a little at him in confusion, and he realized it was just that Spock was essentially the lightest sleeper in history.

"Jim."

He stared at him for a very long moment, the lunged forward and kissed Jim, morning breath and all (oh who cared), immediately shifting so his body was a comfortable, if kinda heavy, weight on top of Jim's.

"I... m-morning," he managed to mumble against Spock's lips before Spock's tongue licked its way inside his mouth. Jim gave in for a couple of seconds and then pressed a hand to the center of Spock's toned chest and pushed, which was apparently the way to go when you wanted to talk to Spock but he wasn't listening because he was kissing you.

The more you know, thought Jim (although this totally wasn't knowledge Jim would be sharing anytime soon, and by that he really meant he was never going to tell anyone ever because he wasn't planning on anyone needing to use it. Ever).

"What time is it?"

"I estimate... around o' nine-hundred hours, thirty-two minutes and fifty seconds."

"Around fifty seconds?"

Spock pursed his lips.

"Not anymore."

Jim grinned and sat up in the too-small bed. They'd fallen asleep on top of the covers, gloriously naked. Gloriously.

"We're supposed to be in court at ten-thirty for closing statements and the verdict is this evening."

"Yes."

They looked at each other; Spock still lying elegantly with his head on the pillow and Jim sitting, but with their legs tangled together.

"Be realistic, Captain."

Spock may well be naked, heavy-lidded still and with his hair looking less-than-pristine for once, but he was speaking in his I-am-being-a-serious-Starfleet-officer-now-Jim voice. It... sort of worked, somehow. Jim made a mental note to ask Spock how the hell he pulled that stuff off.

"Let's not," Jim said firmly. "Not until we know for sure, and even then there's appeals and stuff we can do, okay?"

"Very well."

A few hours ago Spock had said those exact words about something entirely different. Jim felt a light warm shiver of pleasure ripple through him, and let himself lie back down so that he was nose-to-nose with Spock again, breathing the same air. Breathing each other.

"We should probably talk about what this means and stuff," he said, softly, after a little pause.

Spock nodded. "Yes, but there is no time now."

"Right. Yeah. We should get dressed and then, you know. Go."

"Indeed. I must return to my quarters."

They were both still, quite, quite naked.

Jim wondered whether offering Spock a crash course on blow-jobs by giving him one in the shower would be a bit much. Spock had a thing about punctuality. And being late to your own last day in court was possibly one of the worst ideas ever.

It would have to be a very quick blow-job, then—

"It would be helpful if you were to consider these thoughts in a few minutes after we are in separate rooms and I have had a chance to meditate and rebuild my mental shields, Captain. As well as avoiding them while we are touching in public, as a general rule."

Jim didn't even have the decency to blush; instead he grinned and stretched languorously in the cramped space (which happened to make him rub against Spock in all manner of interesting places, not that he'd done that on purpose, of course).

"You're free to meditate while I shower and stuff, but I'm going to take a wild guess and say this is the first time you've slept a full night in ages."

Spock's jaw was clenched stiffly and he looked rather exasperated.

"You are right, and you are also not helping."

"Sorry," Jim said sheepishly.

Spock gave him a feather-light kiss on the temple, and Jim considered the fact that while the intimacy thing was totally new, he was actually sort of used to being this close to the man because, even way before, even unconsciously, he'd always stood too close to Spock. He reached out slowly to trace the tip of one of Spock's ears carefully with the pad of his index finger and felt his whole body hum with satisfaction, as though he was softening around the edges for as long as they touched.

Spock looked back at him, intent but quiet, and perfectly still.

"I..." Jim began, then stopped. Then tried again. "I, uh." But words... words like these, he wasn't good at. Give him an evil villain and he could twist words around until the guy believed Jim had an all-powerful weapon in his ship that could destroy half a planet. Give him a pretty girl, a pretty boy, and he could charm his way into his or her pants without so much as breaking a sweat (... actually, that was a poor choice of words). As long as things stayed on the surface, Jim was the master.

"Look, clearly I suck at this," he said finally, a bit shakily. "Just... gimme."

He took Spock's hand and pressed it to his temple, and closed his eyes.

I didn't know this before, he thought. He could feel how Spock's mind was there but it wasn't intrusive, just a light touch, a light presence. More similar to the second meld. I've had better years and worse years and there's been a couple I'd just rather forget entirely, but life sort of taught me to be weary of things that feel... easy. Things aren't... things in my life have always been kind of hard.

Tarsus IV, long days alone at his computer looking up how things flew in space where there was no air, Sam leaving, momma crying and saying 'I don't know' when Jimmy asked her why, his nineteenth birthday, being twelve and driving driving driving until the cliff was the horizon and the drop was the end of the world and everything bad would just go away—

'Weary' was kind of an understatement, in fact, but. Anyway, some stuff sucked and some stuff wasn't so bad but my point is that I have issues and all that crap, and I thought the whole soulmate, only-one-for-me thing was roughly equivalent to Santa.

Bitterness and scorn and contempt and total indifference to the concept, contradicting feelings all resulting in a 'that is so weird' response to those three words.

But apparently sometimes, just sometimes, too much of a good thing is a great thing. And I love you.

A new feeling. It's dangerously similar to hope, but it cannot be ignored.

I figure whatever happens today, you should know that.

When he opened his eyes Spock was staring at him, a little bit aghast.

"Wow, I didn't know you could look like that," Jim said with a cheeky grin. It barely faltered, too.

"Like... what?" Spock croaked, carefully taking back his hand and tucking it in the little space between them.

"Nothing." Jim felt himself flush, and suddenly couldn't meet Spock's eyes. Which was stupid, because they'd had sex last night. Talk about intimacy issues. "Sorry, we should totally go or we'll be late!"

He rolled away and stood up, ignoring those pesky emotion thingamajigs and instead relishing the ache this action caused. Yes, of course he was sore, but he felt better in his own skin than he had in a very long time. That feeling he'd gotten two days ago, when he realized Spock wanted him back, like something inside him had slid into place, was stronger than ever.

"And I may not have an antique tub but this sonic has a water setting and you're welcome to join me anytime," he tossed over his shoulder lightly. His face still felt a bit hot (Spock had the capacity to make him blush. How hilarious was that?).

"I shall be meditating in my quarters," Spock called after him.

"Okay. I'll wait for you in here, okay? We can go together. If you want, I mean."

He heard the rustle of messy sheets and the footsteps and stopped, but didn't turn around.

Spock nearly picked him up off the floor when he crashed into Jim, he held him so tight. They were both perfectly silent, Spock panting hotly against the back of Jim's neck and making his whole body tingle and wake up.

Then he stepped back.

"That would be acceptable."

Jim did turn around then and extended two fingers to give Spock a Vulcan kiss, which Spock reciprocated, only he did so while giving Jim a Human one, all lazy tongue and soft slick perfection.

"Okay. We really shouldn't be late," Jim said when Spock pulled away, both of them breathing with a little difficulty. He considered adding something like 'well, if this was the only night we got, I'm glad it ended this way,' but it wouldn't really be true. He was pretty sure they were bonded now, or something close to it, and putting time and distance between them would kill his mind with the pain.

Not to mention what it would do to his heart.

x

Oh, and one other thing.

James T. Kirk was not okay with admitting defeat before the verdict was out.

In this case, literally.

x

Closing arguments were considered incredibly important to the judicial process. Both the defense and the prosecution were supposed to give a concise argument before the judge and jury as a sort of summation of the evidence and events of the trial, without being allowed to introduce new aspects about the case.

Nathaniel Moss worked alone as a Starfleet attorney and didn't have a second chair, so he did the entire closing argument himself.

Areel Shaw did have a second chair, and a third (the man and woman Jim had seen with her before) but she, too, chose to give the whole speech.

It was probably a bit much to say that it ranked as one of the worst hours of Jim's life, but it came pretty fucking close.

Traditionally, the prosecution went first.

"... have been very lucky so far." She walked with her arms neatly folded, and the red uniform she wore hugged her body comfortably, made her look professional and intelligent. But nothing she wore or did to her short hair could erase how young she was, Jim thought grimly. And if that could serve them in any way, well, every little helped.

"This list provides enough examples that we have reviewed already, such as the incidents at Pirita II, Haden IV or the Fereni Moon. Both officers repeatedly infringed section 6.2. On multiple occasions the designated commanding officer was either unclear or the Chief Engineer Mr Scott, who, while undoubtedly qualified, has not been trained for command. On more than one occasion Doctor McCoy, Mr Scott and Mr Sulu were off-planet and then eighteen-year-old Pavel Chekov had the conn. The conn of the Starship USS Enterprise, Federation flagship," she added. Jim did not like the way she said this. Chekov's brain could cartwheel around Areel Shaw's, and Scotty was perfectly capable of minding the store while Jim and Spock were on-planet.

"It is true that not every one of them is a protocol violation; on Tersal II it was with less then two seconds' margin but Captain Kirk did not, technically, breach any regulations that would warrant a Court Martial had this been an isolated incident. Of course, we all know this was anything but a single occasion." Areel glanced at Moss with contempt. "No crew-members have died because of it, the defense argues."

She paused dramatically, eyes narrowed and indignant.

"No crew-members have died yet."

An elderly woman in the jury frowned slightly, but Jim couldn't tell if it was in annoyance or because she agreed with Areel's words.

"If that is supposed to be an argument in favor of Captain Kirk and Commander Spock, then it is an incredibly poor one. Luck has saved them so far, yes, and what happens when that luck runs out? Are we supposed to wait around for a serious incident that costs lives? Nobody's talking about charging these two decorated heroes with accidental manslaughter or reckless endangerment because no crew-members have died yet. Instead we move in favor of a transfer. A simple transfer."

Simple. Jim clenched his hand into a fist. There was nothing simple about a transfer ordained per court martial that would go on both their permanent records.

"All the signs lead to emotional compromise, and Starfleet Command has charged these officers with it for a reason. Commander Spock was forced to confess that he does see his Captain as more than a friend. More than that, he confessed to loving the Captain as one does a partner."

Spock's eyes were flinty-black and his face impassive, as Jim had expected. But he still seethed at Areel for saying these things to the whole room.

"Changing this situation seems an obvious necessity if we are to prevent more incidents. The prosecution rests."

She walked calmly to her seat and Moss stood up next.

"Out of the cases on the so-called Evidence List there are only two that Starfleet Command considered 'failed' in their objective. We have repeatedly proven the success rate of this Captain and his command team is unmatched and while, granted, he is not as experienced as some, there is a reason why James Tiberius Kirk is the youngest Captain in history. Give him time to prove himself, to gain that experience, and he will rise to even further heights of greatness."

Jim rubbed the back of his neck and ducked his head. Heroically.

"Commander Spock's record is spotless, and aside from Captain Kirk, he has served under Admiral Pike back when he was Captain. Coincidentally, the Admiral declared himself against this trial and its entire implication in a recent interview with Universal News—“

"Objection, evidence not presented during the trial," Areel called immediately.

"Sustained," Emerett said.

"My apologies. But focusing on little-picture bureaucratic details is an incredibly easy way of ignoring the bigger picture. And the fact that we have been able to perfectly explain why these circumstances occurred every time it was asked seems relevant to note as well, does it not? There is no overall pattern of mistakes; simply a lot of missions in a list that has been nitpicked and examined for the sole purpose of painting two Starfleet officers into a very particular shade of a certain light."

Moss pushed his glasses up his nose and continued.

"There is no regulation stating Commander Spock was not allowed to accompany Captain Kirk on 'away missions.' With Commander Spock being the most qualified officer for field scientific research, it would, in fact, seem to be the logical option."

A couple of people of the jury smiled at that.

"As to 'luck,' I am astounded by the amount of 'luck' these two officers would seem to have, then. To boast a ninety-two percent success rate with their alleged state of emotional compromise it seems that they would need an extraordinary amount of luck, would it not?" The irony dropped from his tone. "Let's be serious, please. It can't be a coincidence. The odds are astronomical for it to have to be a coincidence every time things go right. These are intelligent men. Brave men. Efficient and hard-working men, who have time and time again proven their belief in the Federation's ideals."

Jim wasn't so sure about the Federation's ideals part but he could see what Moss was trying to do.

"Now."

He turned to Spock and Kirk for a moment, face set.

"Commander Spock's 'confession.'"

The silence in the courtroom became ten times more deliberate.

"Prying into an officer's private life when there is no relevance to the case at hand is more than an insult, it's illegal. Forcing a Vulcan to disclose his emotions..." Moss paused, as though the thought was too horrifying to contemplate. "...well. As if Mr Spock's people haven't had to suffer enough these past few years, he was interrogated in front of Captain Kirk."

Another pause, this time to let the information sink in. A couple of mutterings in the crowd behind them told Jim it had had the desired effect.

"Obviously the Commander is a professional, and he endured it stoically, yes, but we must not forget ourselves. And his answer changed nothing. Accusing a Vulcan of succumbing to his emotions—his answer changed nothing." Geez, even the self-correction thingy had been on purpose, Jim was sure of it. "And not only is an undisclosed relationship not among the charges, but Captain Kirk already declared via Veritas that he does not reciprocate the sentiment."

The urge to grab Spock's hand and kiss it had never been so strong. Jim grit his teeth.

"And the best part is that even if these two men were to enter a relationship..."

Jim's eyes snapped up to the lawyer. What? They had never talked about this with Moss, never discussed this angle. What the hell was he doing?

"...it still wouldn't affect their results, their missions, or their work life, since, while unofficially frowned upon, relationships between crew-members are not in any way forbidden as long as they have been disclosed to the appropriate parties. We do not go to trial or court martial our officers for things that are unofficially frowned upon, I think. I'm pretty sure."

Another ripple of amusement in the crowd. The jury members' poker faces, however, were rather impressively effective. Maybe they had gotten tips from Spock.

"The sanction that accompanies a forced transfer would permanently mark two pristine records that simply do not deserve it. Furthermore, the pair's successes have been a direct result of their working together, and it would be negligent of us to attempt to separate them.

"Every mission is different and when you have a team of Starfleet officers seeking out new lifeforms and new civilizations, predicting which regulations must be implemented to face extraordinary, never-before-seen situations becomes nigh impossible. Therefore, we the defense move for a dismissal of all charges, since negligence is the last thing these men can be accused of, and wanton misconduct is no more than an appalling slight to their tireless dedication and service."

He gave one last, final nod, as though satisfied that his point had gotten through, and turned back to their desk.

"The defense rests."

x

"Moss was fantastic," Uhura said, respect clear in her voice.

"I agree." This was Sulu, from the other end of the table. They were in one of the larger mess halls and it was crowded and noisy as usual, and Jim could remember with perfect clarity the day he'd stumbled inside covered in grease and Spock had broken a freakin' chair. "And you two haven't been keeping track of the nets, but we have. Support is almost totally yours, guys, I promise."

There were nods all around, and then McCoy put a heavy hand on Jim's shoulder.

Jim winced a little and shifted in his seat uncomfortably, last night's activities a very fresh memory. The look in Spock's eyes when he caught this movement was eerily similar to the one he'd had when he saw Jim wearing his uniform, but Jim was trying hard not to think about that too much.

"There are some things I wish I didn't know about you, James Tiberius Kirk, but you're my friend. My best friend." McCoy's voice was way past thick with emotion and well into overdone.

Jim cringed, because he knew what was coming next.

"Not just a fine young Captain, but fine-looking, too... and dammit, Jim, that article on Starstruck Tonight had us all damn near in tears."

The article was called 'A Forbidden Cosmic Love' and it was an extremely... colorful account of their torrid love-affair (which had, according to the reporter, been going on for over a year now) that was going around the Starbase's intra-departmental instant-message comms at frighteningly close to warp speed.

There was a chorus of laughs and catcalls from the others at its mention (as there had been every five minutes), with the notable exceptions of Jim, who rolled his eyes and grinned, and Spock, who looked at Jim and smiled with his eyes.

"Are we ever going to hear the end of that?"

"No way!" Chekov said, still laughing. "It was wery romantic!"

Only McCoy and Uhura knew the truth about what was really going on between Jim and Spock, though, and even then all they knew was what Jim had implied yesterday before Spock's testimony. But much as it pained Jim to keep it from the rest of his friends, he and Spock had silently agreed that for now it was the best thing to do.

"You've got friends in Engineering here, Captain, I told ye," Mr Scott said, nodding.

"And the command staff!"

"And the pilots, Keptin!"

"The science department too, of course, Mr Spock!"

"People can tell what's really goin' on, what with the bureaucracy an' all... this was an exercise to scare you, no more than that," Scotty said. "Show you who has the power, maybe? Either way, after today it will be over."

No one seemed to be doubting that they could very well lose.

Jim looked around the friendly faces, the encouraging gestures... yes, seemed was the key word here. He knew he had their support, for better or worse, and they were trying to show him that in their own way, everyone pretending victory was within reach. But nothing had been won yet, and they had everything to lose.

"I appreciate this, you guys," Jim said, seriously. He glanced at Spock. "We both do."

Nurse Chapel smiled widely from beside Uhura. "We're only inviting you to lunch, Captain, try to sound less choked up about it!"

Uhura grinned at her. "Who said anything about inviting them to lunch, Christine?"

"I thought that was the consensus!"

"I don't think I got any credits on me, lass!"

"Come on, I am quite sure we can out of all of us together-"

"Since when do we pay for lunch at a Starfleet facility?"

Jim's eyes met Spock's opposite him over the table and he smiled again. He knew that in an hour there was a chance that he'd regret not spending this time alone with Spock, but doubted it.

His crew, his ship, and his First Officer. He loved them all.

And he was planning on getting to keep them all, too.

Chapter Text

"Offending you was not my intention, Doctor McCoy."

"Yeah, right."

"If you inferred some other meaning from an accurately-phrased statement of unambiguous intent it is not my—"

"It is so your damn intention, Spock—"

"You know, guys, this isn't exactly my idea of fun," Jim interrupted casually.

"This isn't anyone's idea of fun, Jim." McCoy snorted.

The hour for the verdict had been delayed a little and they were killing time until court resumed by hanging out in the main hall of the science station, before the greenhouse-like area of floral specimens began; the three of them around one of the large tables where many other science officers looked hard at work. It had, unsurprisingly, been Spock's suggestion (well... Spock had said he was going to ensure his work was properly completed since they were leaving tomorrow and Jim had heard that for the plea for help that it was).

So far Spock had managed to insult the CMO several times in admirable succession, McCoy was getting increasingly irritated and grumbling a lot, and Jim was ignoring them both by pouring over his datapad and working on prepping to warp out. Ideally he'd be doing this by checking on his baby himself, but the Enterprise was still comfortably docked and he had no time to get there and back. Didn't do much to dampen the anticipation of seeing her again and getting the hell out of here. So instead he was working through his trusted people; sending comms to get Scotty to prepare take-off procedures, keeping in contact with his Chief Security Officer and helping coordinate his crew's return to the ship by tomorrow morning, assigning first shifts and departure schedules, and quadruple-checking that the Enterprise was in perfect condition to resume her voyage and be assigned a new mission by morning...

With or without her first officer.

If the court ruled against the defense, Spock would have to stay here and await instruction from the Admiralty. Not that they would, Jim thought stubbornly.

"You are most welcome to leave, doctor. And I never claimed this activity was to be 'fun,'" Spock said, not taking his eyes off of the micro-sample analysis results he seemed very interested in.

"Of course you didn't, that would betray your secret oath to never have fun ever, right? Green-blooded—"

"Bones."

"Jim, I assure you Dr McCoy's repetitive and unimaginative insults do not—"

"Mr Spock?" a breathless female voice asked.

Jim looked up to find Leila Kalomi standing a few feet from their table, now fully recuperated since the accident, with a datapad clutched tightly in her grip.

Spock blinked at her. "Yes, Ensign?"

"I, ah, I was just wondering..." Jim's brain immediately went to alert at those words. "I-I was just, I heard you're leaving tomorrow, and, um, I just wanted to say..."

Poor thing. She was sweet, undoubtedly, and didn't know that she didn't stand a chance. Someone should tell her that it was pointless. Someone should make it clear to her that it was no use.

"Yes, Ensign?"

Spock was looking at her expressionlessly but McCoy didn't even have the decency for that; he was clearly amused by the display.

"I greatly admire your work and even during your short stay here you've helped so much," she said in a tremulous rush. Her eyes glittered with hero-worship, and her blonde hair fell in elegant waves to her shoulders in a way that was probably against regulations inside a science lab. Jim felt a twinge of annoyance at just how unfairly pretty she looked, but it was instantly drowned in pity when he heard her next words. "I was just wondering whether you might be available to talk sometime later today, about the project, I mean, if you're not too busy of course, I-I was just hoping you might..."

Spock set down the fine silver tongs that he'd been using to secure his sample, face unreadable in a way he'd only ever tried to look like with Jim a handful of times. Either he was closing off a very powerful emotional reaction or he wasn't sure how to react, and Jim was betting on the latter in this case.

"I thank you, Ensign Kalomi, yet I regret that that will not be possible," he said calmly, and yes, maybe a touch perplexed. "Until the verdict is issued I cannot be sure that I shall be leaving tomorrow, in which case preparations must be made for my departure. If I am to stay then that too shall require a considerable amount of work. My apologies."

Jim took that moment to appreciate the fact that no one in his crew had even thought to mention to him the fact that it would probably be smart to have someone ready as a back-up first officer.

"Oh. Of course. I'm so sorry, I never wanted to presume... of course you must be so busy, I'm sorry." She immediately ducked her head and started to shuffle away, blushing furiously. Spock stared at her retreating figure, now pretty obviously confused.

Jim leapt up from his chair and went after her.

"Jim?"

"You two can bicker without me, I'll be back in a sec."

She had rounded two corners, but he saw her enter a small greenhouse-like enclosure with tinted glass that was tucked at the very end of a long corridor three rows down and two across from where Spock had almost died. Jim followed her inside.

The room was tiny and lined with identical fluorescent-blue anemone-like plants that pulsed every few seconds. The sudden change in lighting made him blink a little to adjust his vision after the fake sunlight from the main lab, but he was glad to note that they were alone.

"Hey, Leila, you got a moment?"

Leila turned, startled. In spite of the darkness, the plants cast an intermittent blueish glow over her features. "Captain Kirk," she said nervously. "Can I help you? If you're looking for Mara, I think she's been meaning to talk to you since the accident—"

"No, that's not... I mean, I'll call her later. Thanks."

Jim bit the inside of his cheek for a second, trying to phrase his next few words carefully.

"Look, Leila, I know this isn't any of my business, but you seem like a really sweet kid."

She started. "Excuse me?"

"It's about Spock." He couldn't really see it in this light but Jim was sure her blush had returned full force, and she almost seemed to wince. "Feel free to tell me to go to hell for asking you this, but you like Spock, right?"

She stared at him for a very long moment, and finally gave a single, slightly terrified nod.

"Right. Well, I just wanted to..." To what?

To warn you, help you, make you understand, I've been where you are and apparently since I can relate to your situation it has given me a whole new point of view on the whole heartbreak deal, and I now know that that shit fucking hurts. So watch out, sweet girl, don't let this crush go any further, because I can't imagine what it must be like to know for certain that Spock will never love you back.

"... Uh, when he seems so serious, it's not that he doesn't... Spock is Vulcan. You know he doesn't mean—sometimes he doesn't completely get Humans. There's a very real chance he didn't realize you were, you know. Asking him about anything other than what you literally suggested. And, well, even if he stays behind, he... Spock—"

"Oh yes, I know that," she interrupted quickly, eyes wide as though she desperately didn't want him to say the words. "Everyone knows, he said it in the courtroom didn't he? He had to admit that he loves you. That was awful, especially since, I mean, you'd already said that you didn't... you don't, do you?" She didn't wait for him to answer. "Anyway, don't worry. I-I totally get it. Thanks for, you know, being kind about—"

His communicator beeped.

"Sorry," Jim said with a grimace. But an hour before the verdict, he wasn't about to ignore this call. He flipped it open. "Kirk here."

"Captain Kirk, this is Commodore Emerett. Come immediately to my offices."

Before Jim could get in a word the comm was cut off.

"Listen, Leila... I'm so sorry, but I've got to go."

"Of course!" She waved him away. "Good luck. I hope everything's all right. It was nice of you to worry about me."

"Thanks. And it's no problem, I just... well, bye."

He strode out of the little room and was immediately blinded by the light outside, but kept walking determinedly toward the entrance, where Spock was. After a few paces he started to run, trying not to let himself think.

They met halfway; he rounded a corner and there Spock was, going to find him.

"Commodore Emerett—"

"Yeah, me too—"

A shared nod and they were off, McCoy in tow with a concerned frown.

"What the hell's going on, Jim?"

"I have no idea."

The wide double-doors to the lab swished open and shut behind them, Spock's discarded station left untouched, his experiments unfinished.

"Did he say anything to you?"

"No. There was no clarification."

Jim fought the urge to break into a sprint again and instead walked as fast as his legs let him to the nearest turbolift.

"Do you think it's about the trial?" McCoy asked once they were inside.

"I hope so," Jim replied. Spock just stared firmly ahead.

"The hell do you mean, you hope so?"

He turned to face his friend. "If it's not about the trial it's about the person who's trying to kill us, and something tells me that wasn't a celebratory, you're-got-nothing-to-worry-about 'come immediately to my offices.' So yeah, I hope it's about the damn trial."

It took them less than five minutes to get there, and Jim tried to watch for signs of alert; Yeomen running around, maybe, or some sort of sixth-sense feel of danger, but he saw nothing out of the ordinary. Officers walking around, some talking casually, some serious and alone.

The three of them came to a halt before the Commodore's door and it swished open automatically.

The room was full of people, and suddenly there was actvity around them everywhere. Emerett sat at his desk, but beside him stood both Chief of Security Hayes and his deputy, Lieutenant D'Ko-Han, an emerald-skinned Orion woman with long brown curls and startling black eyes. Then there was the Head of Maintenance, the Chief Engineer, three more security officers Jim recognized, Chief Science Officer Wells, another couple of people he'd never seen before and... Mara Dalle.

"Captain Kirk."

Jim strode over to the Commodore's desk immediately, ignoring everyone else in the room for the time being.

"What's going on?" he demanded, pitching his voice over the background chatter.

"There's been a threat." The Commodore looked at him, hard, and Jim bit back a swear-word. Not the trial, then.

"Via?"

"Comm transmission, directly to my terminal."

"I'm assuming someone in here is working on tracing the hack?"

"Of course."

"So what kind of threat are we talking about here?"

Emerett didn't mince words. "I was ordered to kill you, Captain Kirk. To kill you and Commander Spock within the end of the day. Midnight."

"Midnight, really? Wow, the dramatic flair would be a touch more impressive if we had an actual sun and Earth-long days weren't—"

"Did you just hear what I said? They want you two dead."

"Yes, I was expecting that," Jim said, the forced casual tone of his voice and flip comments having caused several disapproving stares. "That's not a threat, that's the demand part. What was the threat?"

"Sabotage of hatches T-6 to W-4."

Shit. Shit. Specific, precise, clearly well planned, and absolutely deadly.

"You use the standard alpha-numerical assignations?" he asked, praying he was wrong.

"Yes."

It took Jim less than three seconds to do the math in his head.

"How's this place equipped on backup gravity generators? Life support?"

"Standard procedure, Kirk, but there must be some way to hack into the automatic backup mechanism—"

"No need to hack into the automatic system if you can fool the sensors, and hacking the sensors is a piece of cake compared to sabotage of the scale that it would take to compromise the hatch system. So yeah, no help from there, not in time, too dangerous."

Hatches A to R were auxiliary. Hatches S to Z were placed traditionally along decks around the Main power line to ensure stability and control over the life support systems. They weren't actual hatches; more like computer terminals that electronically communicated with the outside, feeding information to the gravity generators and environmental systems to keep them going and adjust their settings if necessary.

T-6 to W-4 were placed, according to Jim's quick calculations, as close to the Starbase's hotspots as possible, and distorting their feeds or even somehow causing them to stop functioning would mean death; certain and cold and black, death in space, silent like nothing else was.

"The entire Starbase will be incompatible with humanoid life," Spock said, voicing Jim's thoughts.

"Yes." Emerett motioned for someone behind them and Jim turned to see Mara Dalle, face pale and jaw set. "Tell them what you told me, Lieutenant."

"I was... look, I know a girl in engineering who told me the power-surge in Rec Room F might have been... not an accident." Her eyes darted to the side for a moment. "She said it's a rumor that's been going around there for a while and Mr Scott was having them look out for certain signs... anyway, she put two and two together and got twenty-two. So if it was on purpose, she said, maybe the grav muck-up on Deck 16, where the courtroom is, maybe that was on purpose too. And the only person who was there both times was you. So maybe... maybe you were the target."

"That's a lot of 'maybe's,'" Jim said carefully. He couldn't really tell where she was going with this. What new information she could give him that he hadn't already considered?

She gave Jim a searching look. "And then Mr Spock got poisoned right in front of me."

Jim didn't flinch, although the sudden memory shocked, felt like a taser to his stomach.

"So I called my brother, because he'd told me he was with you in Rec Room F. In fact, he told me he came in with you."

"Yeah." Jim remembered being about to visit the science deck but running into Lucas at the turbolift, being offered to hang out at the Rec Room instead.

"Well, see, the thing is that for a power-surge of that kind, so specific to one Deck, it needs a few minutes to build, right?"

"In theory, yes, but it could be explained by the state of your relays and the amount of power a Rec Room consumes."

"No, it couldn't. The state of our relays explains why they couldn't stand the overheat, but the power-surge itself was caused by someone who wanted to hurt you, right?"

"That's one theory. But the point of power-surges is exactly that they aren't controlled."

"An artificially created one would have to be," she snapped. "One designed specifically to happen where you'll be? Of course it had to be controlled! Extremely carefully."

"The odds of killing me by exploding computer screen are pretty ridiculous," Jim countered, unsure as to why he was arguing with her on this.

"Oh please. Don't tell me you believe in coincidences, Captain Kirk," Mara exploded, clearly exasperated. "The timing's all wrong! Did it never occur to you that if someone did that on purpose they'd have to know that you were going to be in that precise Rec Room at least ten minutes before you yourself decided it? Probably earlier, if they'd planned it. The timing's wrong, I am sure of it."

Commodore Emerett stood from his chair and leaned forward, hands on his desk.

"Do you remember who suggested visiting the Rec Room to you, Captain Kirk?"

Jim stared at them. "You're saying Lucas met me on purpose?"

"No, I'm not, it wasn't him. Whose idea was it, the first person to suggest it?"

Jim struggled to recall. "I..." For a moment he was almost convinced that it must have been Lucas himself. Except Mara was still looking at him steadily and she must already know it wasn't her brother; it would make no sense for her to turn her own brother in. They were testing him. Hoping he'd corroborate what she'd already said.

Maybe Lucas hadn't been the one to come up with the idea? Jim pictured it again; he'd been in the turbolift and Lucas had been with three other guys, two gold-shirts and a blue-clad officer who... "Yeah. Actually, there was this guy, from the science station. A friend of Lucas'. I... don't really remember his name." He did remember the guy hitting his head on the edge of a table, bleeding down the side of his face. Not unattractive, seemingly charming enough. "Might have started with an 'A.'"

"Alex."

"Alex. Yeah, he might have been the first one to offer." In fact, now that he thought about it, he was sure. Science Guy had been the one.

"Science officer Alex Danvers?" Spock asked.

"You know him?"

"He's worked with me and my lab-partner a couple of times," Mara said. "I introduced him to Mr Spock the day he got that accidental burn."

"Arrest him, hold him for questioning," Emerett snapped at his Chief of Security.

"Yes, sir. Lieutenant D'Ko?"

The Deputy Chief was out of the door seconds later with two guards at her heels.

"So what happens with the trial now?" McCoy asked Emerett.

"The longer we stay here the longer we're a danger to you, and the more lives this psycho has to threaten us with," Jim pointed out.

"If you leave, we're all dead," Emerett said flatly. "That much was made clear to me on the message. If you try to escape, we're all dead. If you do anything out of the ordinary, we're all dead. The reason I was able to call you and tell you this now is that I've gotten Ensign Falco over there to shut down the public-access to the locator program."

"Oh, good idea," Jim said, thinking that this was all just fine unless the person who wanted them dead had the right security clearance. Still, he nodded thanks at Ensign Falco; a too-thin, slightly ill-looking young man with a mop of dark hair in the far corner of the office. "All right then, how the hell could someone rig the hatch system? They are near impossible to open without the proper authorization codes and fingerprint- and voice-recognition. Even an attempted sabotage would sound the alarm."

"My Chief Engineer is checking their status, and I asked your Mr Scott to assist him."

"Okay. Okay, then what's our next move?"

There was a tight silence.

"Obviously you and Commander Spock must come to no harm, but for the time being I need you to act as though nothing's wrong," the Commodore said finally.

Jim frowned. "We have ten hours left before the deadline."

"Alerting the entire Base will cause a panic."

"I'm not saying we tell everyone, but surely the trial can be delayed for now."

"Let my security men handle this, Captain Kirk. You cannot be seen as acting any different—"

"There are over a thousand lives at stake here," Jim said. "We need as many people as possible on this, surely."

"We don't know who issued the threat and for as long as we can contain this, we will. It would be careless to let them know we're fighting back right now."

"It's incredibly naive to think they won't have figured that already! Come on, if this person checks the locator just once they won't think it's an incredibly unlucky circumstance, they'll know you're onto them."

"You two are the ones they'll be watching."

Spock stepped forward. "The person who planned our deaths works at this Starbase, Commodore. You just admitted to ignorance on their identity. On what facts, then, do you base your belief that they are not among your security team, who have already been alerted?"

Emerett's jaw clenched tightly, and he didn't seem to have a satisfying answer to that.

"They could have come with your ship," someone from the background said, kind of resentfully.

Jim snorted. "No one is that stupid. To wait for us to come to a Starbase and then strike? No way."

And suddenly an idea hit him.

Except... no. No, it was too much, too far-fetched... But a plan of this magnitude... to prepare it in time, it wasn't possible. The timing's wrong, Mara had said.

"The timing..."

How... how would they know he and Spock would be at Starbase Theta, how could they be sure? Jim himself found out a week before... not enough time to plan something this big. A week? No way. But then how had they known?

"The timing's wrong," he muttered. "Oh my—Spock, the trial."

"What?" Emerett said sharply.

Spock was looking at him, as was Mara and everyone else in the room. And in that moment Jim decided to keep his theory to himself, at least for the time being. It felt too fragile and, well, insane to actually voice aloud. They had other concerns anyway.

"Nothing. Nothing, I just... you want us to behave and go through the motions? For how long?"

"Give my men two hours to interrogate this science officer and see what we can get out of him. The trial should be over by then."

Jim wanted to argue, wanted to fight, but as much as his instincts screamed at him that doing nothing essentially meant being a useless waste of space, he really couldn't fault Emerett's logic. They... they could spare a couple of hours. This Alex guy was the only lead they had, and Jim knew, objectively, that if he and Spock were the targets there was no way he was getting into that interrogation room with the suspect. Plus, getting the trial over and done with would help. It would be one less thing to worry about... as long as the verdict was in their favor.

"Fine. Two hours. This thing resumes in thirty minutes, right?"

"Yes. I'll be there soon."

Jim took that for the dismissal that it was and, with a nod at Emerett and a look at Mara, exited the room with Spock and McCoy.

"What're we gonna do if we have no new information in two hours, Jim?" The doctor asked the second the door had shut behind them.

"Worry about it then," Jim replied grimly, picking a direction and striding to the nearest turbolift. "Meanwhile, this thing can't go public."

His seemingly random segue had McCoy frowning.

"Public as in the entire universe or public as in the entire Starbase? Because I don't want people hurt either but there's press here and, well, do you have any idea how popular you are right now? If it got out that you've been threatened... I mean, if Starfleet split you two up after that they would be the bane of the Federation! Couldn't it help? It just makes you seem like victims, like—"

"Martyrs," Spock interjected.

Jim cut a glance at him. "You know the definition of 'martyr' usually implies the person has to actually die."

Spock's jaw clenched almost imperceptibly. "Precisely."

Clearly he and Spock were on the exact same wavelength about this. The timing's wrong.

"I have a feeling 'public' is exactly what this person wants."

There was a communicator beep and a badly-stifled curse from McCoy.

"That's the Sickbay," he said. "Dammit, Jim, I'm sorry—"

"Go."

"I'll try to make it for the verdict," his best friend said, firm.

Jim clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it. Go."

McCoy broke into a run and soon was lost around a corner.

Jim stopped walking and turned to face Spock. A little part of him (a part that sounded suspiciously like Mr Moss) was yelling at him that they were in plain view and being careless, standing too close, looking too intimate—

But then he thought: At this point? Screw it.

"The only reason we were allowed to go in there and this entire structure didn't blow up is that they must be so sure of their ability to follow through that they don't mind us finding out we're going to die."

He spoke in a measured, reasoned tone, but there was flat finality in his words.

"Yes," Spock said simply.

Jim didn't feel the need to confirm that they were both on the same page as to his suspicion about the trial. It could be dealt with later, when they weren't running for their lives. Again.

"We should go."

They didn't exchange a single word for the entire turbolift ride, not until they were on the correct Deck and walking towards the courtroom.

Twenty minutes left.

"Wait."

Jim caught Spock's silver-lined sleeve (they had already dressed in their formal things) and tugged gently, a sudden impulse seizing him and making him stop.

"Wait," he said again, and motioned another way with his head. The doors to the courtroom were open and several of the journalists were outside, including Stavok, who was standing quietly in a corner with one of his Human companions holding a laser-camera.

Jim led Spock on an opposite direction, away from the people, towards another room. The room. Their room. The room where Spock had mind-melded with him for the first time.

"Jim, what—"

"There's time."

It was empty and as large as he remembered, the huge table still taking up most of the space. Jim had a flash of memory—Spock pulling him to the edge by grabbing his ankles—and quenched it.

"Jim, we cannot be late."

"Twenty minutes is not enough time to talk, I know that," Jim said defiantly. His heart thumped, loud and bruising. He wasn't going to force anything or make the first move because he wanted to respect that Spock's emotions must be hard enough to deal with right now, but he also wasn't going to back away.

Spock took his hand and dragged two fingers down Jim's palm.

"Are you being considerate?" he asked, soft and almost playful; but there was a dark, serious edge to his question.

"Maybe," Jim replied, just as quiet.

Spock lifted Jim's hand to his lips and kissed a finger-pad with infinite care.

"Thank you for being as you are, t'hy'la."

"That's the third time you've called me that," Jim noted. He instantly had the urge to clear his throat; his voice had sounded so deep and rough. "I know some Vulcan but I don't know that word."

Spock let go of his hand and kissed him on the lips, burying a hand in Jim's hair just like he'd done last time, tugging at the strands with enough force for it to hurt. His body felt hard and unyielding, a tense line, held together by hope, like something that would shatter if Jim let it go. What...? Jim kissed back, letting things turn deep and frantic in seconds, wanting to reassure Spock, to take away this sudden emotion. Spock thrust his tongue deep and nipped at Jim's lips only to lick the sting away, claiming and desperate as though... as though this was fleeting.

He was... he was kissing him like Jim was something he'd already lost.

"No," Jim growled, pulling back. "No. This isn't over. Nobody's dying and nobody's going away on my watch, you hear?"

Spock kissed him again, eyes squeezed shut when Jim opened his.

Jim tugged at the hem of Spock's pants and slid his hand inside, effectively making the Vulcan freeze.

"Oh, now you're listening."

Jim pushed Spock up against the wall using both hands; one at the center of his chest and the other, well... the other was also pressing forward, into Spock’s hardness.

"Spock, you have to believe me," Jim begged, fingers stroking the length of Spock in a way that probably looked soothing, but was designed to have the opposite effect.

Spock's head met the wall with a muffled thunk. Jim slowly increased his strokes and saw with satisfaction as Spock's hips shifted the slightest bit, trying to follow the rhythm.

"You've gotta, 'kay?"

Spock didn't answer and... he was still incredibly tense. Oh, he was letting Jim do this, sure, but he wasn't really participating. Except in the obvious way, his whole focus seemed to be devoted to the effort of keeping it together. His eyes were closed again, a tiny line between slanted eyebrows betraying his anguish.

"Spock. You could be stopping me right now, but you're not."

Jim kissed him and Spock kissed back, the need with which he did so betraying him too. The Vulcan's tendons were starkly outlined under his skin and he was near trembling with the effort.

Jim bit his ear and whispered into it: "This once, Spock, this one time... let go."

Spock made a deep, short sound and shuddered, but didn't relax; only closed up tighter, jaw clicking shut audibly. The little frown-line got more pronounced.

"Let go," Jim said again, more forceful. His hand sped up and his grip on Spock tightened, precome slicking the way. Spock's hips gave another aborted little rut.

"Always being in control, always in command? That's not good, Spock. Not if it gets you like this, not when it's like this. You're supposed to keep in check and I get that, but not if it's at the cost of your sanity, yeah?"

Spock made the sound again but this time slightly higher, more pained, and Jim echoed it in sympathy, felt his trapped erection throb at the sight of Spock defeated like this even as he realized it was sick to like it. But... but Spock looked helpless. For fucking once, Spock looked entirely undone. About to break apart. About to fucking lose it.

He gave Spock's neck a soft, apologetic bite, not deep enough to leave a mark.

"This goes both ways, you know. Sometimes I need it, yeah, but you do too. I can tell you need this now. Come on. For me, Spock. Come on."

Even last night, during his first time, when being unsure would have been normal, expected... Spock hadn't let go. It was catching up. Everything must be catching up to him. And Jim was winning this round. Jim was getting his wish watching as Spock unwound before his very eyes, watching Spock crumble.

"Come on."

"Jim, I—" he sounded afraid, curled long fingers around the fabric covering Jim's neck and shoulder and clenched them, as though he was holding on. Their foreheads pressed together.

"Let me help," Jim said.

Spock's hips started to follow his movement, and his lips parted, almost as though disbelieving that something could feel this good. Jim felt himself smile ferally.

"That's it. I wanna see you, come on, wanna see you all pliant for me."

Spock grunted, and smacked his head against the wall again. Jim grunted in satisfaction and dropped to his knees, not letting the rhythm of his hand falter as he sensed Spock getting close.

"Gods, Spock, if I could, if I had the time to spread you on that table and eat you out until your knees trembled I would." Spock shuddered and slid a hand through Jim's hair for purchase. "If I had time to give your gorgeous cock the attention it deserves I would, come on, come for me—"

Spock did, and it was beautiful. His back arched and his eyes flew open, mouth gaping as he panted in broken breaths, and Jim could only stare, absolutely fascinated. He had closed his mouth around the head to take it down his throat but he kept his eyes wide open so as not to miss a second of it.

Spock swore something deep and guttural that was definitely Vulcan, and finally seemed to settle for melting against the wall, his knees locked to avoid falling.

Jim pulled away gently and hummed. "You taste fucking amazing," he said, honestly.

Spock exhaled like the breath had been punched out of him.

"You... you are..."

"The best Captain ever?" Jim asked with a grin. He could still feel his throbbing pulse and a buzzing need at the base of his spine, but figured they had time for him to quickly take care of himself in the bathroom. He couldn't expect Spock to... this had been about Spock.

"That too," Spock said, his wrecked voice sending tendrils of heat through Jim. Jesus Christ, he loved that voice.

"Feel a bit better?" he asked.

Spock lifted Jim up by yanking him by the collar of his shirt and intertwined their fingers, a warm current passing through them.

"There are eleven minutes left," he said, like a confession.

Jim gulped. "Wow, it kind of hurts my feelings that you still know the exact time—"

Spock effectively shut him up by sliding sinuously to his knees.

"H-holy shit," Jim breathed. "Spock, you don't have to—"

"Be quiet."

Fuck. He sounded... impatient. Jim shivered and braced his arms against the wall in front of him.

This was going to be over embarrassingly fast.

Spock pulled him out of his black pants and didn't waste time in licking, experimentally. His tongue was impossibly hot and Jim's very bones liquefied and sloshed around inside his body, out of his control. He was so hard. He felt ready to fly apart any second.

Spock curled a hand around his base and sucked, slow, oh-so-agonizingly-slow at first, and then faster, harder, and it was so gloriously hot inside his mouth, Jesus, scorching and wet and welcoming, an easy slide in and out with just the dangerous hint of teeth that was way too good, and then Spock hummed and Jim had to bite his lip bloody to stop himself from crying out as he came, white light behind his eyelids and the world tilting on its axis.

"F-fuck," he panted, knees buckling so he dropped to the floor, face-level with Spock. He wrapped his arms around his Vulcan immediately and buried his face in the curve of Spock's neck. "Love you," he mumbled, still orgasm-hazy enough that it didn't feel too mortifying.

Spock copied his gesture and breathed deep.

"Six minutes."

"Yeah yeah, all right, I was faster than a high-schooler, thanks a lot, totally doesn't count 'cause you—"

"The trial, Jim."

"... I know."

They pulled away from each other. Jim could still feel lazy aftershocks of pleasure floating through him, but he needed to be back now. This had been... this had probably been about the dumbest thing they could have done with their time but it had felt so right, he couldn't really bring himself to regret it.

"You go first," Spock said. His hair looked surprisingly decent. His cheeks were flushed green, though. "I shall wait a couple of minutes and—"

"Do you really think it's gonna change anything? Whether we come in together or not, and this stage?"

Spock paused. Jim lifted a shoulder. "I say we show up together and let them deal."

"Mr Moss will not be pleased."

"Exactly."

x

"Good evening. All communicators and electronic devices must be turned off and, as we all know, no recording equipment save the official log is allowed in this courtroom."

It was the last time those words would be spoken, and Jim wished he could feel something more like relief. His throat was dry and his lungs burned.

Commodore Emerett waited the expected beat of silence for his command to be followed and a hushed silence soon swept over the room. It was the sound of anticipation.

"This court is now in session. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, upon deliberation, have you reached a unanimous verdict?"

A man at the corner stood up from his seat and walked over to lean down and speak into a small microphone. He wore a command-gold vest. Maybe he was a Captain. Jim had caught his eye a couple of times, but the man wasn't among the jurors who'd sometimes smiled at him indulgently or even seemed amused by any of Mr Moss' jokes.

"We have, your honor."

He had a datapad in his hands. Jim realized his future was sort of contained in that flat smooth case, written on that screen, and every one of the twelve Starfleet members knew it. He felt dizzy.

"Proceed."

"We, the jury—"

"Wait!"

Every head in the room swiveled around to stare at... Uhura?

She'd stood up in her seat, arms rigid by her sides, and her jaw was set.

"My apologies, your honor, everyone, but am I the only one who feels dizzy?"

"Are you serious?" Areel exclaimed, rising as well.

"I think the gravity is malfunctioning again," Uhura said.

Sulu stood beside her and nodded (McCoy hadn't made it). "I agree."

"If this is some kind of ploy..." Emerett began, red-faced with fury, but Jim was starting to recognize the signs as well, and he could tell he wasn't the only one. A faint smell of ozone and a mounting headache were good indicators. People started murmuring amongst themselves, the sounds increasingly fearful. Another gravity failure during court? Once had been bad enough, but twice was damn unlikely.

Jim prayed it wasn't because the hatches had been sabotaged early.

Clearly Emerett had had the same thought because he leapt for his communicator right when there was a strange sort of pressure against Jim's temples, and then his ears popped. He winced, and saw Spock catch him at it. But Moss had winced too, so it was probably a Human hearing thing.

"Raise your arms if you are experiencing any symptoms," called the security guard by the door.

Almost everyone raised their hands, and the rumble started to grow panicked. It was getting worse. Jim sucked in a breath and felt the air resist, almost as though he was trying to inhale against a current.

"Hold on to something and calm down, it might just pass without—"

The chairs weren't bolted to the floor but the table was, so Jim, Spock and Moss all grabbed it in near unison. And it wasn't a second too soon.

The lurch was just as bad as last time, only this time Jim didn't fly halfway across the room. He clung to the wooden support and felt Spock grip his bicep, grounding him, and a few moments later it had passed and his body was floating above his seat. His gut rolled as nausea seized him.

Shouts and gasps sounded all around them as the air filled with people coughing and cursing.

"Everybody remain where they are, please, this will be corrected soon," the Commodore said reassuringly from two feet higher than he should be, listening intently to his comm. The jury-member who'd been about to recite the verdict had been tethered to the floor by two others, a grey-haired man and an attractive older woman, both clutching his knees. Other than him, though, people had had enough of a warning and sense to grab their things.

"What the hell is wrong with the life support lately?" Another jury member asked Emerett.

But the Commodore wasn't paying attention.

"Yes, thank you," he said into his communicator. "Get Gibson on it, if you have to. The second we reset it I'm on my way over here."

"What's going on?" someone asked.

"I thought this problem had been fixed," someone else commented.

Jim had turned to look back at Uhura and Sulu again, which was why he saw the doors open first. Manually.

It was slow going, obviously because the mechanism was designed to freeze in cases like this, but eventually the figure standing outside was visible.

"Leila?"

Wide-eyed and terrified-looking, Leila Kalomi pushed herself through the door, no longer in her bottle-green coveralls but instead wearing black from head to toe, like Jim liked to do in his off-duty hours around the ship if he wasn't wearing his command uniform.

"Help!" she called. "Help, please!"

Behind her the crowd of the press were floating in the air, an indistinct shape of cameras that immediately started flashing.

"What the—"

"Ensign Kalomi, what is the meaning of this?" Emerett called, turning off his comm.

"How did you open the doors?" Uhura asked her. Leila turned towards the Lieutenant and as she did so her blonde hair flowed around her face in silky strands, shimmering in mid-air because of the lack of gravity, making her look strangely ethereal.

"I don't know!" she cried. "I just pressed the emergency entrance code and they opened!"

The doors ground shut behind her and suddenly Jim felt... uneasy.

"What's happened? Why do these things keep happening? The whole Deck is float!" she looked like she was seconds away from bursting into tears. 'Float' was another way of saying gravity failure, of course. "I don't understand, please, what's going on...?"

"Calm yourself, Ensign," the Commodore called all the way down the room. "The situation is under control."

And that was when Jim realized what was off about the situation.

Her feet were perfectly resting on the ground.

"Actually Commodore, it's not."

She grinned and pulled two phasers from her belt.

"Everybody shut up and stay where they are! These are set to 'kill', not 'stun'."

Holy shit.

She looked nothing like the shy, stuttering young girl Jim had met before. Her entire posture had changed; shoulders squared and head held high and proud, feet set apart in a firm stance and the two phasers in her hands comfortably handled.

She was... she was the one who wanted them dead?

No one moved or said a word. Uhura was still standing in her seat, held in place by Sulu beside her, and Leila looked at her first.

"You. Sit."

Uhura did as she was told, immediately lowering herself down with the help of the people around her but not taking her eyes off the girl, even after she'd managed to anchor her body to the bench.

"One move and I start shooting, so nobody move and nobody gets shot, okay?"

She really was ridiculously young, Jim thought incredulously, young and slight and slightly less dangerous-looking than a puppy, even though right now the expression on Leila's face was anything but innocent, and the phasers in her hands made her much more fearsome for it.

"Also no comm messages." She bit her lip. "Actually, you know what? I can't say I trust a room full of enlisted officers with that, so..."

She pointed one phaser straight at Uhura's chest and with the other hand took out a little black device from her pocket. It was no bigger than a keychain like the ones Jim's mom had in their Earth home.

"This is a scrambler. No calls for you."

Instantly, Jim heard a crackle against his hip and knew his comm was dead.

"Now. Where's Spock?" she demanded, craning her neck to look toward the front. Jim felt the grip Spock had on him ease as Spock managed to stand. He tried to follow but Spock pushed on his shoulder hard enough to bruise, and didn't let him up.

"Spock, no—"

"There you are!"

She grinned again and, coupled with the floating halo of hair and wide blue eyes, it gave her the look of a slightly deranged angel in tight-fitting black.

"And of course Captain Kirk is with you," she added, snorting. "When is he not, right? Isn't that what this whole thing is about? Deciding whether—"

Suddenly she twisted around with more agility than should be possible in zero-G and shot the security guard who'd been reaching for his weapon.

He didn't even fall to the floor; his body slammed against the wall and then sort of stayed there, suspended in mid-air, grotesque and horrifying and undoubtedly dead.

"I said nobody move," she snapped.

"What do you want?" Jim asked loudly, as boldly as he could.

She narrowed her eyes and walked very slowly down the aisle between the rows of benches. Every eye followed her movements, but nobody tried to stop her. Good. These people were smart, and knew how disastruous it would be to try and disable someone who was so clearly off the deep end.

"For now? I want Spock."

Leila drew level with them and pointed both of her phasers at Jim and Spock's chests.

"Touch him and I'll kill you," Jim growled.

"Nope, I don't think you will."

She cocked her hips and pursed her lips. Jim ran his eyes over her clothes and realized why she was walking about so easily; her boots were lined with some sort of heavy metal and her black suit was buzzing very faintly, clearly powered by some sort of anti-grav tech he wasn't used to seeing outside of deep space travel.

"Mr Spock, if you don't come with me right now I'm going to tear a hole through Captain Kirk's chest."

"I will come," Spock said immediately. "Do not harm him."

"See? That was super easy. You two are definitely guilty as far as I'm concerned."

She looked over her shoulder at the jury stand and smirked.

"Am I right or what?"

"What the hell do you want with us?" Jim asked. She obviously didn't want them dead (not yet, anyway) or she would have just shot them right then. Still, he needed a bit of time to come up with a better plan than the half-formed idea he had in his head right now. He was not letting her leave here with Spock. Nobody was taking Spock from him.

"Not 'us.' Him," she corrected. "You're cute, but I have no use for you just yet."

"What—"

"How stupid do you think I am, Kirk? When it's time for you to know, you'll damn well know, I assure you."

She grinned again.

"Now. I'm gonna do my best to forget the little conversation we had earlier today, you condescending jackass... and if you shut that pretty mouth and stand very still I won't kill your boyfriend's ex, okay?"

Jim didn't let his eyes flicker to check on Uhura. She was a big girl, she could handle threats like these. He did, however, note that while Leila was threatening Spock with him, she wasn't doing the reverse. Which meant there was no way she was killing Spock.

He opened his mouth to answer but Leila shook her head and charged the phaser to shoot.

"Just nod," she said.

Jim did, slow and reasoned.

"Good. Mr Spock, I want you to get to the door and don't do anything else, okay? Kirk is relatively expendable to me and I know how you hate to see him get hurt, so I'm thinking you'll do exactly as I say or I'll carve out his left eye."

"With what?" Jim scoffed.

Leila whirled on him, expression scornful. "You're, like, seconds from being murdered and I just told you to shut up. Do you have a deathwish or something?"

But as he'd known she would, she didn't shoot him. She needed him for leverage with Spock.

For now.

"FYI, I have a knife in my belt," she added, scowling.

"Good for you."

He just needed her mad enough so that he had a chance to reach for her suit. There must be some way of causing an electrical short-circuit of that fancy piece of equipment and disable her just in time to take her weapons. He just needed—

"Stop it," Leila snapped. "You know who's totally expendable to me right now, Kirk? Every single other person in this room."

She shot the wall behind him and left a neat, laser-carved hole between two jurors. A little to the right or to the left and they would have died.

Jim shut up.

"Good boy. Now, Commodore."

Emerett was staring at her as though he'd never seen her before in his life.

"Since I have no doubt you managed to dial the silent alarm in your comm before I shut them off, I'm thinking I might kill you later, just because. Mr Spock, to the door."

Spock turned to look at Jim one last time, face locked and inhumanly blank, and then started to move, his limbs in the gravity-free air impossibly graceful.

A voice sounded inside Jim's head then, soft and slightly echoing.

Do not attempt to stop her. She will kill you, I can sense it from her.

No. No.

He wasn't sure how he was doing it but somehow, by sheer stubbornness maybe, he blindly broadcasted his thoughts to Spock as loudly as he could.

Jim. You will be risking the lives of everyone in this room. She is not going to kill me.

Not yet! I can't—you can't—I can't let her take you—

If there is another way, you will find it. I trust you.

Jim clenched his jaw and something inside of him snapped off. Spock propelled himself along by pushing off the table and then carefully drifting forward and Jim was left behind, holding on to his chair to remain on the ground and powerless, no, he couldn't let this happen, he was Captain James Tiberius Kirk and he didn't believe in no-win—

"Mr Spock will live as long as the Commodore follows my earlier instructions and kills James Kirk before midnight tonight. That's my final offer."

Leila pointed the phaser at Emerett's slightly bulging belly.

"You can try to look for me. Feel free, I mean. This 'base's computer location software is a joke."

She kept the other one trained on Jim as she started to back away, her eyes darting from the Commodore to the Captain back and forth.

"But those hatches are gonna blow and when they do, everyone here is dead in seconds. Don't think you'll have time to pile up on the Enterprise and warp out of here. She's the only vessel you've got that's even close to large enough, right? A pretty thing, to be sure, but not ready by tonight, I don't think."

She had reached Spock by the double doors, and foolishly had her back to him. But her aim had already proven to be extremely good, and she was the only person in the courtroom who could move faster than anyone else.

"Oh, and Mr Spock?" Her voice lowered, became more casual. Still, in the complete silence, every word carried.

Jim itched to stand up, for fuck's sake to fight, but not throwing up was already taking an incredible effort and he knew that if he moved he was as good as dead, and condemning Spock too.

"If you try to attack my mind telepathically I won't miss again."

All the way from the other end of the room and still Jim caught the flash of panic in Spock's eyes at her words as his Vulcan understood them for the threat they were, seconds before it was carried out.

"No—"

And then she fired the phaser right at Jim's chest.

x

He woke up in the Sickbay with a searing pain on his right pectoral and the sweet-metallic taste of blood in the back of his throat.

"She took him," he croaked immediately, before he'd even opened his eyes. "Bones, she took him, she took Spock and now he's—"

"Whoa, whoa, kid, you need to calm down right now."

He didn't recognize this voice. It wasn't Bones. There was an insistent beeping that was probably indicating his heart-rate was shot but he didn't care, half his heart had been ripped away anyway and his head hurt like someone had smashed a Klingon battle-axe through it, like he'd already gotten used to having Spock around in his mind and now Spock was gone and Jim was alone again, alone and powerless and useless, worse than useless because he was going to die and it was going to be for nothing, fucking nothing

"Dammit Jim, snap out of it!"

He felt a firm hand grip his forearm and opened his eyes, blinking in the sudden light.

"Bones?"

"Of course me. Now take a deep fucking breath and calm your heartbeat, dammit, or you're going to kill yourself."

Jim did as he was told and noted how his chest felt constricted, painful and tight.

"Leila blew a hole through your right lung," McCoy said. He was standing next to the bed; behind him was the male nurse who'd once grimaced at Jim's worry over Spock when Spock had been the one in here. "We did some emergency surgery and you're gonna be fine but there is no way I'm letting you move—"

Jim sat up, taking his bearings. His chest was bandaged and he had another tube in his arm.

"Lie back down, you idiot—"

His ears rang and his vision took a couple of seconds to adjust, but the second it had he was swinging his legs over the bed. It was another private room, so much like the others that he wasn't sure whether they'd already been here or not. There was a security guard on the door and two nurses, besides McCoy, standing next to his bed.

"Jim, no—“

"Don't even try," Jim snapped. "Just don't. Where's Emerett? What's happening?"

"I'm not high-ranking enough to be in the—"

"Tell me what's going on, Bones."

There was a moment—and it was fleeting and gone soon and irrelevant because it didn't much have to do with saving Spock—when Jim considered the fact the he was doing it again. He was scaring McCoy just like he had the last time he'd landed them in this mess.

"I'm sorry," he added belatedly. "I'm sorry, Bones, but I need to know."

"All they've told me for now is that she's somehow disappeared, she killed three journalists when she left the room and they've got teams openly searching the base but so far no one's found Leila yet. Commodore Emerett ordered a state of yellow alert and informed everyone of Spock's abduction via intercom, but the deadline is only rumor as far as everyone else is concerned; they've decided not to disclose it yet. The press got a hold of the threat to you, though, so that's got the galaxy in an uproar. ETA for Starfleet reinforcements is in three days."

"How long have we got 'till midnight?"

"Two hours."

"What?"

He flung the covers off of him and stood. It felt like slicing a knife clean through his skull and the pain momentarily blinded him, but soon that, too, faded.

"Jim, you can't do this, okay? You're going to be all right as long as—"

"Listen to me." He knew he sounded impatient. This was time wasted, time thrown away not running to help in the search for Spock.

The two nurses were gaping at him as though he was insane for even daring to stand up.

"I'm not going to be... fucking hell, Bones, if we can't find Spock in under two hours I'm going to have to kill myself to save over a thousand people and then who will look for—" he cut himself off, the possibility too much. He would save Spock. He would. "Bones, look at me."

McCoy did. He was slightly taller than Jim and despite his apparently gruff manner the doctor's eyes had always been deep-brown and warm. He met Jim's unflinching gaze instantly.

"Jim. Please. For once, just... please. You're going to hurt yourself," McCoy said sadly. Almost resigned.

Jim nodded. "I know. I need you to get this. I know already. But I can't..." He swallowed, shook his head, huffed out a breath and wanted to offer up his life, his ship, everything he had to Leila if it would make her let Spock go.

"I don't understand how to live without him, okay?"

His best friend stared at Jim for a long moment. And then...

"Okay."

One of the nurses drew in a gasp

"Yeah?"

"Okay, let's get him back, then."

"Thank you."

To the utter shock of the other two people in the room, McCoy threw Jim's dirty, discarded dress uniform at him (laser-shot hole, blood and all) and removed the saline drip from his hand. They ran out the door two minutes later, and Jim headed straight for the Commodore's office, ignoring the stares his undoubtedly ragged appearance drew.

While he ran he let his brain churn over the information he had.

Leila had taken Spock, despite the fact that at the time they'd still been nine hours away from the deadline. Why? What did she want with Spock that she hadn't gotten yet, and why was Jim left alive if he was only going to be killed in two hours?

Priorities. Focus, Kirk.

He was leverage. The best bargaining chip to make Spock do anything Leila wanted, including hide from any search parties that might be looking for him. Except... Jim had no idea what Leila wanted. She seemed to be contradicting herself. The initial terms of the threat had been to have the authorities of the base kill Jim and Spock because she couldn't seem to quite manage that herself, but after all that painstaking trouble she'd gone to not to be discovered before she'd just shown up in the middle of the freaking courtroom, exposed herself and let everyone see her face, and taken Spock. Plus, she had two perfectly clear shots and hadn't taken them.

So clearly this wasn't just about them dying anymore. Maybe it had never been about that.

Jim knew there must be a larger pattern he was overlooking, a simpler solution that he just hadn't seen yet, but it wasn't presenting itself. Nothing made any sense whatsoever. Leila had implied he'd be of use to her later, as well, and he just didn't see how that was possible. What was she after? To him it seemed like her objectives kept changing.

And how big was this damn place that they hadn't found Spock yet after six hours?

"Jim, over here."

McCoy led him into a turbolift and when Jim went inside he got jabbed by two hypo-needles at the same time.

"Shit, ow—"

"If you're gonna insist on acting like a suicidal maniac the least I can do is make it hard for you to die, idiot," the doctor said.

Jim rubbed his sore neck and felt mildly better, although Spock was still gone.

The ride felt long and Jim kept running things over in his head. Leila suddenly deciding she'd, what, had enough waiting? The threat. The reason he and Spock hadn't been killed when she had the chance. All of the other failed attempts.

The failed attempts...

Hang on.

"Bones?"

"Yeah."

"If you wanted to kill someone without being suspect, how would you do it?"

"I..." McCoy blanched. "I don't know, Jim, I've never really—"

"Okay, forget that. But you wouldn't... look, think about it. The first time, the exploding Rec Room. Not only did I not die, nobody did. That wasn't a murder attempt."

"...Okay."

"The gravity failure wasn't an attempt either. It was fixed seconds later and, again, no one died from it. Just a grav failure."

"Right."

He was... he was starting to get something.

"Then there was that third time. The poison. Deadly acid, sure, painful as fuck and making for some ugly wounds... but all it took was running to the next fucking room. The interconnecting door wasn't locked. And a paralyzing toxin would have been far more difficult to escape."

"Yes."

"And then there's Spock's poisoning. She was there. She nearly died too. But she had the antidote with her, and she had to know they'd use it for both of them."

"Jim... what are you saying?"

"I'm saying we might have had this all wrong the entire time," Jim said. The turbolift dinged open and they emerged onto an empty corridor. He registered the yellow alert only then; the faint background beeping and overhead corridor lights flickering amber on-and-off.

"I don't think it was just sloppy work; I think we really weren't meant to die any of those times."

"Then... what the hell, Jim?"

I think we were meant to believe we were being hunted, when in reality...

"I don't know yet, but I'll figure it out."

They had arrived at Emerett's offices. The doors weren't open but Jim could hear noise coming from in there already, a low murmur. When he finally typed the correct authorization code it was like being hit by a wall of sound.

"Two hours—"

"—getting him out of here—"

"... finding Mr Spock now—"

"Don't understand—"

"Leila Kalomi—"

"... four dead officers, that we know of! We can't locate anybody...!"

"Captain Kirk!"

This last part was yelled over the other voices by Emerett himself.

"What the hell is he doing here?" came next, directed at McCoy.

"That doesn't matter. I'm fine."

"Jim!"

Uhura sprinted out of some corner of the tightly-packed office and shouldered her way to him. Her face was devoid of tears but her hands gripped his with vice-like fingers.

"There's been no more communication, I haven't been able to untangle any transmissions from inside the base, the man from the science department who was working with her didn't reveal anything remotely useful and all we know for now are all the places where Spock isn't, everyone from the Enterprise has volunteered to look for him but so far—"

"Okay, okay." He crushed her to his chest for an instant (she felt stick-thin to him but unyielding and strong, helpfully solid) and then faced the rest of the room. It had gone as silent as possible, which really wasn't very silent at all, since comm calls were ringing all over the place and at least four people were still discussing different plans.

"She didn't set any more demands, am I right? No more untraceable calls asking for my death?"

"No communication whatsoever," someone Jim didn't know answered.

"She's not going to, either. She didn't take Spock as a bargaining chip or anything, she already has the threat of blowing up the entire Base to hold over our heads."

"Actually, Captain Kirk... as far as my men have determined, the hatches are untouched."

Jim felt he should be more surprised.

"There'll be another way, then. Something else to kill everyone in under two hours unless I die first."

"Are you sure about that?" Chief Hayes asked, putting down his comm. "There's been no other security breaches, Captain Kirk."

"Oh, I'm sure. And we'll all find out what it is pretty soon; they're not dumb. Something's about to happen."

Jim wasn't quite sure how he knew this; where this certainty was coming from. He just knew it was true.

"What do you mean 'something's about to happen?'" Emerett asked. Then he seemed to realize what Jim had said. "'They're not dumb'? They?"

"Yes. They."

How... how do I know this?

"What's going on, Kirk? You saying she's working with someone else?"

Jim?

His vision swam, colors blurring into each other. He blinked and saw pulsing light instead of blackness behind his eyelids, then blinked again and twenty people were staring at him. Uhura and McCoy were at his sides, one clutching each arm, holding him up.

He blinked again and even though he knew his eyes were open, the pulsing light didn’t let him see anymore.

Jim. Jim James Jim Kirk t'hy'la Kirk the Captain my Captain

Spock!

She is not alone in this

Spock! Where are you?

Unknown—she is not alone, my telepathy is being cut—off—it—

What's happening?

You will soon...they want to hurt you I cannot let them—

Spock, who are they?

Cannot—you will soon see but be strong, I learned to control the pain long ago—real pain would be losing you, t'hy'la, losing you—that is the only thing I fear

What are you talking about? Are they hurting you? What do you mean I'll see...?

You will see but you must remember I—only thing I fear is losing you—that is why I keep holding on to you, remember?

Spock, please, tell me what's going on

It is the manner of our deaths, that is what we had not considered

What?

What matters is how we die, Jim, not that we do—if it was about us dying there were easier ways of ensuring it was so

I know, all the other times, sloppy, too sloppy, I already figured that out, but I still don't understand

I am not sure I do either but this is important, I know it—I—cannot

Spock? What's happening?

Losing you... I—losing—Jim, t'hy'la... ask Nyota what it means

This had better not be your way of saying goodbye, Spock. I'm not letting you die! Spock?

He could feel the ground beneath him again, smell the crowded room, hear things... no, he had to go back, the light, he had to hear Spock's voice again, deep in his mind, had to get back

Spock? Spock! SPOCK!

And then, thready and weak, intermittent, flickering, there was one final thought...

T'hyla

I'm gonna save you. Spock? Spock! I'm gonna save you!

Jim opened his eyes and this time he knew he was back for good. He wouldn’t get back to the telepathic link again.

He couldn't feel even a lingering hint of Spock in his mind anymore, like someone had built a wall between them. If he hadn't been a psi-dull Human he probably would have stood a damn chance, but there was nothing. The nothing hurt.

"Kirk?"

He was half-lying on the floor, Uhura and McCoy still beside him, shocked expressions everywhere he looked, like the sight of him fainting was more distressing to them than the sight of him being shot. Not that he'd gotten to see their faces when he'd been shot, but that was an interesting notion...

The questions started immediately.

"Are you feeling all right?"

"Should he be resting?"

"What's wrong with him?"

"Look at his shirt..."

"I'm fine."

He gingerly got to his feet with the help of his friends and looked squarely at the Commodore.

"And I know who we're looking for."

Spock's telepathy being cut off meant one thing, and one thing only. Jim knew who was behind the entire plan, and things looked like they were finally going to start making sense.

There was only one other Vulcan in the entire Starbase.

 

Chapter Text

The timing's wrong. Of course the timing had been fucking wrong, someone (Stavok, Stavok) had to have planned this much earlier, had to have wanted this for a very long time. Maybe over a year.

Maybe since Jim and Spock had failed to save his planet.

Stavok had to know the Enterprise was the only ship in the Quadrant, so why not simply issue a Priority One distress call? But that required the Commodore's authorization codes as well as a vocal confirmation, and once they got there and realized the call was a fake they'd leave immediately again, so there wasn't enough time to carry out the plan. Whatever the plan was, exactly.

So Stavok must have looked through Jim's records, searching for any weakness he could dig up, a reason for the Enterprise to stay in Starbase Theta for at least several days.

And he'd found Spock.

And so the trial had been arranged. Jim had wondered whether it was someone in the Admiralty, remembered considering whether he knew someone who hated him enough to want his reputation destroyed, when all along this could have been accomplished by sending an anonymous message to the right source; because even that would warrant a minimum investigation and once the pattern had been found the investigation turned serious. Then Tersal II had happened and it was deemed urgent.

A perfectly executed plan, without a doubt.

Jim still didn't understand how Leila fit into all of this. Maybe she and Stavok had been allies from the start. Maybe not.

"The Vulcan Stavok arrived before any other reporters, and was assigned quarters with the rest of the press. Special section of Deck 16, if I'm not mistaken."

"Has D'Ko-Han found...?"

"You've been here since she left, she'll call if she discovers anything relevant there."

"What about his ID? Did he have fake credentials?"

"He had no credentials, doctor."

"How was he not asked to present identification? That's ridiculous!"

Jim looked at McCoy harshly. "He's Vulcan. Right now that's the most simultaneously intimidating and sympathetic species in the Galaxy, with the power of mind-control. What do you think happened?" He turned back to Emerett, pitched his voice slightly louder to be heard over all the other conversations happening around them in the crowded office. "There are at least two men I saw with him. Humans. They had equipment, cameras, things I assumed were part of his job."

"Descriptions?"

Jim struggled to remember. "Both were dark-haired, late thirties, built, one was maybe early forties. He was of average height, crooked nose, white, spots on his chin. The other was shorter, black, with stubble. Conventionally attractive, not that that's... I've only seen them a couple of times."

"Someone circulate those descriptions for me please!" Emerett called.

"On it!" came a voice from behind Jim, possibly belonging to the Commodore's assistant, Dervin.

"Stavok was outside the courtroom when the gravity settings failed," Jim kept going. "He must have helped Leila take Spock before gravity was re-stabilized... maybe that's why those three reporters died in the struggle."

Uhura moved the comm from her ear long enough to say: "Do we have pictures from that? Anything that might help?"

"All their picture-drives were wiped, unfortunately, and security cams for the entire corridor were out."

McCoy blew out an exasperated breath. "Of course they were."

"Every single reporter was stunned, aside from the three dead, two are concussed and in the Hospital Deck."

"We need to work on locating Spock," Jim declared. Every time he spoke he felt this detached little tingle of surprise that his voice sounded so very rational and reasoned. "If we do that, we'll find Stavok."

"The locator system is dead. All of it. I've got my best techs on the problem, but so far there's been no improvement."

"Can it—"

"Sulu says they've cleared decks 15 through 18," Uhura interrupted, holding the communicator away from her ear again. "No sign of Spock, Leila or Stavok." She turned away from them then and resumed speaking into the comm.

"Decks 9 and 10 were priority, right?"

"Of course, but they were clear as well. They're nowhere near the Main power lines, or the main generators, and the Hatches remain perfectly functional and untouched."

"Time?" someone in the background said to the room at large, and Jim listened for an answer.

"One hour, thirty-eight minutes left."

"Coordinating a thorough search like this means we've got a good chance of finding them," Emerett said to Jim. He still looked mildly condescending, as though he was waiting for Jim to cave under the pressure--young Captain James Kirk finally defeated by a phaser to the chest and a broken heart.

Jim didn't really care what Emerett thought of him so long as the man did his fucking job, so he just nodded a curt thanks. "Yes. But I'm not leaving him to chance. Something's going to happen very soon, something that..." You will soon see but be strong, I learned to control the pain long ago... "Any second now, something is going to happen, and we need to be ready when it does."

"Mr Spock told you this? Telepathically?"

"Yes."

There was a tiny silence (they couldn't afford long silences, not now) and then; "You're sure you can't reach him—"

"I'm sure," he said. It made the Commodore turn away from him to look over his shoulder.

"Lieutenant Dalle, is there anything you can tell us about Ensign Kalomi that will help this investigation?"

Mara Dalle had been standing behind them with a permanently shocked expression on her face, pink lips parted as they had been since she'd been told of Leila's involvement.

"I don't... I don't know." Mara blinked, and Jim saw her visibly force herself to appear professional and in control. "She seemed so sweet, I don't... I met her three months ago when we were assigned to work together and there was never a hint of... I couldn't tell you, I didn't even know she could handle a phaser. All I know is that her dad was also a scientist, and she grew up in a colony on Omicon Ceti III, I think. She has friends here, or at least people I assumed... but I guess she lied to us all."

You will soon see but be strong, I learned to control the pain long ago...

The words made Jim's gut roll with nausea. Right now, at this very moment, Spock was most likely being tortured.

"What motive could she have for wanting us dead?" Jim asked flatly.

"I have no idea."

"Think."

Mara flinched a little, looked away from Jim when she spoke next as though that would make it easier to organise her thoughts. Fine. Whatever worked for her.

"She was... she liked Mr Spock, I know that. But, well, I figured it was just a crush, she herself said it was so stupid when it was clear that... uh," Mara stopped. Then she gave Jim a darting, almost frightened glance, and he wondered whether there was still blood somewhere on his person, and whether he looked like a scary robot again, like the last time Spock had been hurt and Lucas had been the one shying away from him. He hadn't bothered to change out of his dirty bloodied dress-uniform, bullet-hole and all.

"Look, she said it was stupid to like Mr Spock when it was clear that the person Mr Spock wanted was you."

You will soon see but be strong, I learned to control the pain long ago...

See what? See what, Spock?

Jim felt in two places at once, drained and electrically charged both, a study in contradictions. The waiting was killing him. He felt like he'd breathed in acid a second time.

"Are you saying she took Spock away... from Kirk?" this was Uhura again, with a desperately incredulous look on her face.

Mara shrugged, eyes wide. "What do I know? It's just... why would she otherwise?"

The timing was ridiculously perfect.

Mara asked the question and it happened as though Stavok had been listening carefully to their conversation in order to plan the exact moment when it would have the maximum effect.

Jim saw it out of the corner of his eye, blurry and easily overlooked if you weren't paying attention; the small holo-screen mounted on the wall right next to the door to Emerett's office flickered, blinked out.

And then switched back on.

Strangely (impossibly) calm, Jim thought; that's quite a feat of computer hackingHe's probably managed to project it onto every screen in the Starbase.

And then he was striding over to see the live video feed and if people were stupid enough not to immediately leap out of his way then he was going to take the fastest path regardless because everyone knew that the shortest distance between two points was a line; the line that connected Jim's eerily blank mind to that small screen.

Slowly, others seemed to notice something was wrong, and a gradual sort of silence took the room.

"What's..."

"Is he...?"

"What the hell is that?"

It was an arm.

Not a severed arm, just... There, on the screen, was the badly-angled shot of a nondescript floor and, resting on it, a limb that the camera frame cut off above the elbow. The lighting was bad, but the hand was pale and the dim glow lit it up well enough.

The long, tapered fingers weren't half-curled in unconsciousness. Instead, they were splayed on the floor (a polished black surface that was the same in every fucking Deck in this place). Palm up.

Jim tasted blood in his mouth, and wasn't sure for a few moments whether he'd bitten the inside of his cheek or it was just the phantom flavour of his busted lung coming up again. It turned out to be the former.

"You will have killed Captain James Kirk in one hour and twenty-nine minutes."

The voice didn't come from the tinny speaker of the monitor. It rang earsplittingly loud through the general comm system, on every Deck of Starbase Theta. And Jim knew right then that this image could be seen on every screen, that everyone would know.

If they'd been hoping to prevent mass-panic, that hope was gone now.

"You will do so in hope that your lives will therefore be spared. The threat to hatches T-6 to W-9 was fallacious in order to cause a distraction, however, I have the clear means of obliteration with equal efficacy. And twelve-hundred hours, you will die if you have failed to do as I say."

There were no civilians here, but what could prepare over a thousand Starfleet officers for the threat of imminent death at the hands of a crazed killer whose motives still remained strange?

"It would be wise for you to choose to believe this, and not hope, illogically, that I do not possess the ability to carry it out."

Stavok sounded much as he had every other time Jim had spoken with him. Cool, aloof, detached. More than inhuman, more than robotic. Beyond the most adept Vulcan. Flat. No inflection, no intonation.

Jim cursed himself for the millionth, helpless time for not seeing it sooner. Spock never sounded like that unless something was seriously, grievously wrong. Not even Sarek had ever sounded like that, and he didn't have the excuse of being half-Human like Spock did.

"Commander Spock's life will also be spared if Captain Kirk complies, and he shall do so because he wishes to see Commander Spock live more than he wishes to live himself."

True. Yes. All true.

"In one hour and twenty-nine minutes, Captain Kirk will be dead at Starfleet's hands."

Important. What Stavok was saying was important, every detail another clue. Jim tried to listen, focused his mind again wholly on the immediate crisis at hand. Why not just dead?

What matters is how we die, Jim, not that we do—

He was starting to piece it together...

"Since the majority of humanoids here are Terran, I believe proof of the veracity of my intentions isrequired."

And suddenly his focus was gone, derailed like a speeding train wildly veering off the tracks as Jim froze. No. He'd known it must be coming but he'd managed to block it out, to maybe hope he was wrong, and now it was going to happen and those were Spock's fingers he'd kissed with his lips and his hands, how could he allow this to happen?

The words seemed to take a couple of seconds to sink in for the rest of the room. And then... "No, oh God," someone gasped.

You will soon see but be strong, I learned to control the pain long ago...

Another shape appeared on the screen. It was dark, more shadow than anything, but the glint of silver was enough for Jim to discern what it was.

FYI, I have a knife in my belt, Leila had said, scowling petulantly.

The blade flashed again in the low light and then delicately rested on the pad of Spock's index finger.

Someone was digging nails into Jim's arm, hard enough to bruise. Uhura, it was Uhura, standing beside him with tears streaming down her face.

On the screen, the black shape moved and the blade lovingly traced the pad of Spock's thumb. Beads of dark blood welled up at the point but Spock's fingers never even twitched. Then the knife lifted, sudden and unexpected, out of frame, and for a second Jim dared to hope.

And that was when the blade was brought down ruthlessly fast. It sank into Spock's palm with a sickening fleshy sound and blood started to flow freely, dark and thick and running between his fingers onto the floor and this time there was a spasm, a minimal reflex that at least revealed that the body attached to that arm was still alive.

Jim's whole body locked to conceal the shudder that racked through him. Obviously, it was too dark to tell whether the blood was green but that was a stupid detail. He knew.

"Who's working on this?" a harsh voice said, jarring in the stunned silence. It was Emerett. "We're Starfleet officers, not untrained civilians. Who's analysing the lighting? Working on higher picture-quality to narrow down search-grid areas? Who's tracking the signal? It's got to be broadcasting from somewhere. Come on, people!"

It broke the spell effectively. Movement started again around Jim, and then, somehow, somehow Jim looked away from the screen and tried to get back to work. He was vaguely aware of the looks, but that didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered anymore.

"Jim, I think you should sit down."

McCoy clapped a firm hand on his shoulder and Jim coughed, deep and racking as though his lungs had filled with blood in the past few minutes.

"I—no, Bones I told you—"

"Sit down, Kirk," Emerett snapped. "You look like a corpse."

"I—"

The room blurred and, out of the corner of his eye, he could still see the flickering screen. Gods, wasn't there a point where he was allowed to say it was too much? He couldn't breathe, and they wouldn't let him help, and it was fucking too much but he didn't care, he didn't care and he wanted to do this, to be here—

"I'm not kicking you out, Captain Kirk, just asking you to sit in a chair for five minutes before you pass out and are of no use to us anymore."

"You got shot in the lung, dude," someone said, a security guy Jim didn't know. He sounded kind of awed.

"Can I get something for him?" Mara asked McCoy quietly. "I can page the Sickbay or something."

"Thanks, kid, but I've got this." Jim's CMO took out the two hypospray needles he'd already used, reloading them after a quick resterilization. Jim felt a sharp pain in his neck and then, blissfully, the throbbing in his head eased somewhat and his vision cleared.

"Better?" McCoy asked.

"Yeah." Jim blinked a little, then set his jaw. "Yeah, much better. Thanks, Bones."

"It's my job," the doctor said with a shrug.

Jim nodded at him. "Thanks anyway."

Then he clapped his hands together once.

"All right. Here's what I want." He raised his voice a little and directly in response, the hubbub quieted. "I want search teams to focus on areas that can't be reached from the public access terminals. I want someone to ask each Department Head for a report to be sent in exactly fifteen minutes detailing every single technical anomaly they have experienced in the past two weeks." When it became obvious that he was waiting for them to comply, a flurry of movement started up again. "Then I'd like someone to go through Leila Kalomi's personnel files and psych evals and make a profile. Someone else needs to create a profile for the Vulcan Stavok, and especially focus on his recent history and family's involvement in the destruction of Vulcan-that-was. Assuming this feed—" he didn't turn to the screen, didn't even glance at it "—is streaming everywhere, I want people working on taking it down. We don't need to make the panic worse."

Satisfied that every command had been taken down by someone, Jim motioned to Emerett, McCoy and Uhura. The Commodore didn't look pleased by his sudden resume of control over the situation, but Jim couldn't possibly care any less about Emerett's emotional state at this moment. "I'm going to try and track Stavok's hack into the comm system from the Science Department. He'll have accessed the general shipwide announcement feed, for sure."

"I'll come with you," Uhura said immediately, but Jim shook his head.

"No. Yellow-alert means all non-essential Decks are shut down and this thing's gonna go to red any second; I need you here." He could tell she was angry and frustrated and wanted to move, do more than work through the comms, but this hack was a matter of computer engineering, and much as Uhura knew about tracking transmissions, her expertise lay in languages and inter-vessel frequencies, not the software of the system itself.

"Fine. But you can't go alone, he might still kill you if he gets the chance—"

"He won't," Jim said with absolute certainty. Even as he locked his legs and squared his shoulders he felt the brief high from the drugs start to wane, but it had given him enough of a shock to snap him out of his desperation. He was back in it now. "Wasting someone on protecting me is dumb. And useless."

"How do you—"

"I just do." He was the Captain, after all. Explaining his reasoning behind every order was wasting time. "I'll call this office as soon as I get a signal, but there's at least four more people involved here, so one location won't mean the day is saved. And killing Spock is not an empty threat; he's gonna do it."

"I still don't understand why Leila took Spock at all, it makes no sense—"

"We can knock ourselves out trying to figure out the why's later, I'm sure," Emerett said. "Go if you must, Captain Kirk."

Jim gave him a curt nod and exchanged a charged look first with McCoy and then with Uhura, both of whom seemed about to say something potentially melodramatic that Jim had no time for.

"Find him," Uhura settled for finally.

"Yeah."

And he was sprinting out.

x

He pelted down corridors and encountered plenty of people with too many questions for Captain James Kirk, ranging from "How are you alive?" to "Was it really Commander Spock's hand on that video?". It was less of a panic than he'd feared, and much more organised than he'd hoped. Teach him to trust his fellow officers, apparently.

He had no time for any of them, however, and a hasty explanation called over his shoulder was the best he could do before running off again, turning a corner, boarding a turbolift. His communicator rang the second the doors closed, when he was still typing his destination—during a Yellow Alert automatic routes weren't operative, and they switched to manual.

"Kirk here."

"Keptin!"

"Chekov?"

"I know why they took Mr Spock ahead of schedule," Chekov blurted without further introduction. "At least, I know of a possible!"

"Tell me," Jim commanded instantly. "Every idea helps."

"What if they cannot destroy the base until after midnight? And that is why they needed another threat to hold over our faces?"

Jim stared at the communicator in his hand blankly, and didn't bother to correct Chekov's little misunderstanding with the expression. "Specify."

"I am assuming they have means of escape and will not die if the base is destroyed, yes?"

"Yeah, that's the working theory."

"Well, I was wondering... why midnight? Why such a long time for us to put up a sort of plan, some defense? And then I was thinking that, as you know, there are several shift-changes around twenty-four-hundred hours. And the Starbase's clock does operate under Terran day-night schedules. At midnight there are at least three systems I can think of that will alter from night- to day-programming; perhaps that is why they gave us so many hours before the deadline. Perhaps that is why they took Mr Spock, as well. And perhaps that is enough for us to narrow down what they could have sabotaged."

Jim was stunned. It made perfect sense.

"That is brilliant thinking Chekov, yes!"

"You agree?"

"Of course I do!"

The lift had reached the Science Department and Jim noted that the turbolift network was a perfect example of a system that changed in the day-night schedule, since at nighttime there were fewer operating lifts in an effort to increase energy-efficiency.

"It's still a theory but it's all we've got and it's a damned good one," he rasped into the comm as he broke into a run again. "I want you to tell this to Commodore Emerett—call his office directly and if you can't reach it, Uhura's working through multiple comms, and if not just get yourself up there—"

"I can do that!"

"Good, then page Scotty as well, I want you working with him on this—"

"Way ahead o'ye, Captain!" Scotty's voice sounded distant but firm, and Jim felt the burden constricting his lungs ease a little. He wasn't alone. It did him good to keep being reminded of that.

"Great, then call me when you know more!"

"Will do, Captain!"

Deck 6 was relatively empty, but not deserted. Jim knew some of the experiments were time-sensitive, and plenty of officers not on call for security reasons were willing to risk working during a yellow alert. The only area that had been completely locked down was the greenhouse-like Main Laboratory after Security gave it the all-clear.

Jim ran into the Computer Lab, and found it empty. Main Control would have been ideal to work from but it was more important to focus on getting the locator software back on track, and he could do this from the auxiliary access from the Computer Lab anyway.

It wasn't a particularly large room, but the low thrum of power from the machines gave the air a strange buzz. It wasn't as brightly lit as the rest of the Base and something about it felt... comforting. Jim had always been good at computers, since he was a little kid and they became his favourite pastime. In this room they were lining the walls and piling on the desks, datapads and older models even heaped on a corner of the lab where clearly someone was taking them apart, probably to reuse spare parts.

He went directly to the principal terminal and sat down on the chair. It didn't take long to access the basic coding, but it was going to be hellishly difficult to find the spare line that would have glitched at the unauthorized access, because Stavok had once again somehow managed not to trigger the security system and that meant the line of code could be anywhere. And the longer it took to get a location, the less likely it was that Stavok was still there.

Jim ignored the treacherous voice that reasonably informed him that this was most likely a waste of time, and got to work. He had some time left.

x

It wasn't just slow work, Jim thought not long after. It was too-slow work. He simply, realistically couldn't make it in time and it had been a shaky enough lead to begin with.

Without actually stopping the search, Jim attempted to multi-task and scan the data while trying to come up with another way. Yeah, the locator program was the best bet, but it wasn't fucking working. There had to be something else.

He couldn't search out Spock's mind, that was clear. He was useless. Psi-null. Human.

For what felt like the millionth time since it had happened, Jim replayed Spock's last words to him in his mind, remembered the way it had felt to hear Spock's thoughts in his head.

It is the manner of our deaths, that is what we had not considered

Losing you... I—losing—Jim, t'hy'la... ask Nyota what it means

It had been reminiscent of the mind-meld, in that Jim had lost his hearing and sight again...

Suddenly he sat bolt upright.

At the time it had seemed irrelevant given what he was hearing, but he'd seen something for a second, hadn't he? A sort of pulsing light.

Throat tight with tension, Jim called up the video feed of Spock's hand on the computer screen.

And pressed play.

Spock's skin was glistening with dark greenish blood and by now the cuts had formed a spidery pattern that spread like a grotesque web from the center of his palm to the tips of his fingers, almost like a starflower Jim remembered from a childhood visit to a neighbouring planet on the Alpha Quadrant.

Jim's stomach gave a protesting lurch at the sight and he felt bile rise, but he forced himself to see past the ravage done to Spock's skin. Mustering his willpower, he rewound the video.

The cuts seemed to heal, the knife sliding over them and leaving pale unblemished skin behind.

Finally he was back to the start and Spock's pale hand appeared as though glowing, despite the fact that the light was too low to see anything else. Jim increased the density of the picture and then the lighting condensation by three-hundred percent. He leaned forward, eyes narrowed, and stared hard at the image before him.

In seconds he was rewarded by the intermittent, incredibly faint fluctuation of light.

He'd seen that in only one place before.

And now he knew where Spock was.

x

The comms were dead.

The comms were all fucking dead. Sometime in the past twenty minutes, Stavok or one of his minions must had set up a Base-wide jamming frequency and Jim didn't have time to try and figure out a way of calling Uhura to ask for help.

Public-access panels were useless, even to send a written message, because they were still playing the stream of Spock's video and there wasn't... he couldn't spare any more than seconds, it really wasn't...

Jim didn't meet anyone in the ridiculously short run to the greenhouse. It would have been convenient to send someone to get help, but life was a bitch and in the eerie silence (interrupted only by the sound of the yellow alert still ringing) Jim felt cut off from the rest of the universe.

So yes, it was reckless and stupid and unexpected and stupid some more, but maybe it was just insanely, impulsively Human enough that it would work, and Stavok wouldn't see it coming.

He was going to go in alone.

The doors were locked, obviously, and they were glass-panelled so it seemed like there was no one inside when one looked through. But Jim knew better.

Leila had been working in a little dark room with plants that emitted a glowing, pulsing light when Jim had followed her inside and tried to be helpful about her little crush on Spock.

Overriding the lock was actually a piece of cake, and Jim felt like his blood had been replaced entirely with pure adrenalin, and Spock was in this gigantic enclosure and Jim was going to find him or die trying.

The light panels above were still streaming fake sunlight at a setting eerily similar to the Earth sunset, and then varying in coloration and intensity according to the different corridors; just as Jim remembered from his last visit here. The vine-like towering plants that shot up to the ceiling cast their own purplish tint to the already orange-and-red shades that made the place seem even hotter than it was. The warmth immediately stuck to Jim's skin, making his temples sweat.

The place really did seem to be completely deserted.

Jim took out the phaser from his hip and moved as silently as his boots allowed. He was almost certain that there would be at least a couple of thugs standing guard somewhere around here, and they might be under orders not to kill him but he'd be of no use to Spock incapacitated.

If Chekov's theory was correct, Jim now had about an hour before Stavok could blow up the Starbase.

He walked cautiously past the rows of working tables, entering the area with the isles of plants. It wasn't entirely silent: the faraway sounds of the Yellow Alert were still audible in here, and some of the flowers themselves were... rustling. Beeping. Humming. He remembered a particularly nasty one making this loud honking noise the time Spock brought him all the way down there to talk. Thankfully there was none of that going on right now.

The first corridor was empty and Jim didn't spare it more than a cursory glance.

The second one was not.

He felt the force-waves of a phaser shot barely miss him and ducked, then rolled immediately and saw another shot pierce the air where his chest had been seconds before. He fired blindly and missed, heard something crash which meant that he'd hit a shelf and made too much noise and now there were two guys coming at him. One was the taller "camera man" he'd seen with Stavok that first day, the other Jim didn't know, but he was wearing a security uniform, and there went that hope.

"It's Kirk!" Redshirt yelled, and an instant later Jim shot him full on in the stomach, stunning him on the spot.

The other guy was smarter and had already taken cover behind a particularly densely populated shelf.

"Are you suicidal?" the guy asked, sounding almost genuinely concerned.

Jim edged around the row of black-and-red spiked Rosa Reci specimens and slid silently into the next row, keeping his eyes on the outline of his opponent's shadow against the floor one corridor down. The fact that he could see it meant fake-cameraman stood right on the corner.

Neither of them spoke again because giving away your location to trash-talk was stupid (something Jim had learned the hard way, but he'd been young and that was another story). But before either of them could move again there was a strange clicking sound that Jim wasted precious seconds on trying to match to a plant... before realising it was a new set of footsteps.

"What the hell is going on?"

Shit. That was Leila's deceptively sweet voice, and a moment later her steps abruptly halted. "What the... is he dead?" she called. She sounded vaguely irritated.

"Don't think so!" The guard called back. "It was Kirk! It is Kirk—"

"What?"

"He's here, I lost him but he's around somewhere—"

"He's around somewhere? God, Havers, you useless piece of shit. Kirk... he came alone?"

"Seems like it."

Jim stepped back, away from the corner, and tried to think. Stunning one of them without revealing his location would be tough, but he had to find a way to do it. If Leila hadn't asked the guard to cover her post it meant one of three things: someone else was there to do it, Spock was... too out of it to need a guard, or Stavok was here.

"Kirk?"

Leila's voice rang out smooth and clear in the thick air.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are... or I'm gonna cut off Mr Spock's hand." Her tone was steel-hard by the end of that sentence.

Jim wasn't going to fall for it.

"Amazing, that didn't work?" The guard said mockingly. "He's a Starfleet Captain, Kalomi." There was a yelp not long after. "Ow, son of a—"

"Shut up, Havers."

He heard more steps, then the sound smoothed and he couldn't distinguish it over the low ambient noises around him. Dammit.

Jim couldn't see through his shelf, but he ducked down and edged backwards, hoping he remembered the layout right and could find the little black room anyways. End of the third row to the right, he was sure of it. The only problem was that right now Jim was hiding in the second row to the left. And they would find him soon enough.

"Which way did he go?" Leila whispered, and Jim nearly jumped to hear her voice so close. She must be exactly on the other side of the shelf.

She got no answer, or most likely the guard (minion, tech, whatever—Havers) had pointed.

There were a few tense seconds of shuffling sounds and confusing stillness, and then Jim saw the sliver of fabric at the end of his isle and didn't wait for Havers to get his arm around and shoot—he fired first.

The shot grazed but didn't impact enough of the man to stun him, so Jim sprang to the side and shot again without hesitation, this time missing because Havers had thrown himself to the side just in time.

And then Leila was there, in the same all-black get up Jim remembered (gravity boots and all), her hair in a high ponytail swinging as she fired as well. Jim heard crashes and sizzling dying flora behind him as he leapt out of the way, then ran to the opposite side and threw his whole weight against a beautiful display: densely petaled blue flowers growing directly out of a panel of greenish solution, their dark roots making spiderweb-like images inside the glass. He already knew these things were bolted to the floor, but he'd been counting on the delicately thin plexiglass to shatter... and it did.

He felt the sting of cuts against his arms and shoulders and his eyes watered when dirt and droplets of green liquid flew at them, but he landed sprawled on the next corridor, and wasted no time in getting his breath back.

"Kirk!"

He ignored Leila's shout and fumbled to aim his phaser at the shape at the end of the row; it was Havers again, and this time he went down and didn't get back up.

Two down, one to go.

Jim tried to struggle upright, annoyed with his body for failing him now when he realised moving was suddenly much harder than he'd hoped. The cuts he'd sustained were pretty minor but suddenly he could barely draw air into his lungs before hacking up a red-tinged ugly-looking phlegm. The fall hadn't done his lung any favors.

The time for physical discomfort is later, he berated himself. Later.

"You look like shit," Leila said, standing next to Havers' unconscious form, and raised her phaser.

"Never better," Jim grunted, adjusting his own grip on his weapon. He was acutely aware that they weren't exactly on equal-enough grounds to be at a stalemate; Leila was agile and uninjured and could still move if he shot her first. Jim, on the other hand, was struggling to keep his mind alert as it was. And he knew he couldn't trust his legs to get under him fast enough.

"Drop the phaser, Kirk. I wasn't kidding about chopping off Mr Spock's hand, you know." Leila walked slowly closer, her aim unwavering. "We need him alive for dramatic effect, we don't exactly need him whole. In fact, dicing him a little would probably help the cause."

"What fucking cause is that?" Jim spat.

"Baby, I don't do the evil monologue thing."

Jim staggered to his feet, dripping and trickling shards of glass onto the squelching blue-green mess on the floor.

"Then why haven't you killed me yet? I couldn't help note your phaser is set on stun. And you so kindly missed my heart earlier today and all."

Leila rolled her eyes. "Drop your phaser, Kirk, and I'll explain."

He had no other choice, and there was a chance that the mechanism had jammed; the shot to Havers had jolted a strange kick-back that was slightly alarming. Plus she needed to stall until the deadline; needed him to stay put and not be a bother. And he needed to know more and confirm his suspicions.

The phaser clattered down.

"Good boy. Now stay put, okay?"

Jim raised his hands helplessly and cocked his head to the side. "Don't got much choice, have I."

"Right." She sighed. "So have you figured it out yet?"

Jim decided not to play dumb. "Most of it. I have no idea what your motivation is, but I'm sure you've got a legitimate reason for being totally nuts."

"Being—? You're really something, huh?" Leila asked, an incredulous little laugh making her voice shake. "You're about to die. Spock is half out of it already, and on the same dying boat as you are. And you're still gonna call me nuts? I have a gun!"

Jim shrugged, although his chest hurt. "Apparently I'm suicidal. How long before the deadline?" he asked her.

"Soon enough," she replied, still half-disbelieving.

Jim estimated it was about forty-five minutes away. If only he knew what was going to happen, or had a way to communicate with the outside if he managed to get her to tell him.

"We're locked in here, by the way," Leila said, like an afterthought. "Locked and invisible. Not even the override you used to get inside is gonna raise any alarms. The comm jamming signal is coming from somewhere else, so don't think you can disable it."

Jim had expected as much on both counts.

"And how do you expect to get me killed by Starfleet officers before then?" he asked.

"I think that given the circumstances, we're gonna go with plan B and just blow shit up. Plan A was good in theory, but Stavok sucks at anticipating Human emotions. He thought they'd be a bit more logical. He was lucky I caught him stealing that Cribalia Morte's petals. Hardly anyone knows it can be ground up into a powder and used as acid poison, see." She snorted. "Stavok thought they wouldn't risk a thousand lives for the sake of your pathetic one. Guess he learned nothing from studying your files, huh?"

"I never—"

"Don't lie to yourself, Kirk. You can't honestly tell me that if I gave you a choice right now you'd pick anything but Spock."

Jim was quiet. He needed her to keep explaining, so he didn't answer. Leila rolled her eyes again, and started walking towards him.

"I still can't believe how long it took you to realise killing you ourselves was never the goal."

"Well, I was starting to think you were the dumbest killers alive," Jim said. She stopped when they were still a few feet away, gun ready, and snorted.

"Failing was the point, you dipshit. It never occurred to you until now that the reason all those attempts before were never successful was that they were never meant to be? A couple of little accidents, that's all it took for everyone to think you were in danger. That you were to be protected. That someone was after one of you, any of you, better both but never none. That this person meant to kill you without reason. That they were dangerous." She smiled faintly. "Insane, even."

She came a little closer and, possibly for the first time, she looked truly out of her mind.

"Gods, you're stupid, maybe I should be Captain of the USS Enterprise instead of you. On your knees," she added, gesturing with her phaser. "You've got somewhat of a reputation for freakish pain tolerance."

Jim complied and let some of the pain show on his face. "I thought Spock was the one you fancied," he cracked weakly. More weakly than he felt.

Leila was unfazed, although Jim caught a flash of anger twist her features. "I thought you did, too."

"Well, if you want we could each stand at a different spot and ask him to walk toward the one he wants, how about that?"

"Oh, he's in no shape to walk," she shot back, and Jim flinched, the words a blow just like she'd known they would be.

"So the trial was Stavok as well?" he asked.

"Duh. Although several people had already noted a few irregularities, apparently." Leila's arm lowered slightly so that it wasn't aiming at his chest so much as his crotch, but the gesture was unconscious and it gave Jim hope of distracting her. "It was kind of a perfect reason to get you here. I mean, it's the nearest Starbase within thousands of light-years, so Stavok knew where they'd send you when he called Admiral Comack and expressed his anonymous concerns. Your mission-plan is confidential, but not impossible to hack into."

"Stavok is a pretty good at computers, huh?"

"Almost as good as you, apparently."

"Where do you fit in?"

At that, she pursed her lips and didn't answer.

"Fine. Why all the near-misses, then? Why only pretend to want to kill us?"

Leila glared. His previous question had made her angry. Duly noted. "I thought you said you'd already figured it out."

"I wanna hear you say it," he said sweetly. It only seemed to make her angrier.

"James Kirk and Mr Spock." She let out a long, shaky breath. "Heroes. Saved the Earth, all that." Her eyes were hard. "Well, now you're victims, too. Your starcrossed romance turned you into tragic heroes. When Stavok told me what he'd planned I have to admit that I considered it, but didn't really expect just how much the trial would help; make you even more popular, more well-known and well-loved."

Leila dropped to her knees as well and dug the phaser into Jim's sternum, hard.

"Help what?" Jim asked, voice thin.

"Help us. Help the public see your deaths as the worst possible atrocity Starfleet has let happen since the destruction of Vulcan."

"You wanted our deaths to be a 'win win' kinda deal?" He already knew the answer—had suspected it since the threat had been made.

"We wanted you dead and we wanted Starfleet shamed, discredited and ridiculed. So what could possibly be more perfect than this?"

The recent bloodied scar from Jim's wound throbbed angrily when Leila pressed the phaser even harder into his chest, and he felt blood trickle down.

" We could have killed your ourselves, sure. But if it's Starfleet that kills you... Starfleet that ends your lives because Starfleet was powerless to do otherwise? After you've been repeatedly put in danger, warned of the risks and attacked multiple times, all of it right under Starfleet's nose? Then it's Starfleet's fault. Starfleet's failure. Starfleet's incompetence. There's scandal. Uproar." Another shadow of a grin, as though she was imagining it right now. "Starfleet is discredited, as they should be. You're dead, as we want you to be. And there's not even a need for mass murder. So really it's a win win win."

She sighed. "Or, you know, it would have been. If the stupid Commodore had had the fucking guts to shoot you in the head and you hadn't found us all on your own. Plan A was really prudy on the bloodshed. Now I'm afraid we'll have to settle for..." she raised three fingers. "You dying," she lowered her ring finger. "Starfleet looking like the bumbling incompetent fuckers they are," she lowered her middle finger, "But... oops. The mass murder thing is kinda still happening. And just so we're clear, before you die remember this: Plan B? Is entirely your fault."

They must have forty minutes left, maximum. How the hell were Leila and Stavok going to get away in time?

"Why do you hate Starfleet so much? I mean, I guess Stavok's motive is really obvious, but you? I don't understand you."

Her eyes clouded, reminding Jim of thunder. There was no thunder in space.

"Vulcans weren't the only ones to die that day, Kirk," she whispered. "Or have you so readily forgotten the thousands of officers that got there less than five minutes before you did?"

Jim didn't let the stab of pain that memory brought show on his face.

"Boyfriend? Girlfriend?"

"My father, you son of a bitch," she spat. "The only relative I have on Earth is a distant cousin whose name I can't remember. My father was science officer at the USS Farragut and he died and you lived and that is all the reason I need for wanting you dead."

"I lost friends that day, too—"

"Don't," she said. "Don't you dare compare... don't you dare try that sympathising crap with me. I'll go back in there and tear his lungs out and bring them to you, do you understand?"

Jim understood that she was mad with grief and she was going to kill Spock unless he was very careful.

"So why'd you take Spock before me?" he asked, gentler than was his norm. "I thought you wanted us both to die."

"There's many reasons," she answered, or rather didn't.

Jim was perfectly aware of the fact that it was convenient for her that he was asking questions, that she was keeping him distracted from the time and keeping him from either running away and alerting the whole Starbase or running to Spock and trying to rescue him, therefore getting himself killed ahead of schedule.

He knew this, and was using it, too.

"Did you think Spock was prettier than me," he said.

Leila moved the phaser from the center of Jim's chest to the neat hole in his dress-shirt from her previous marksmanship earlier in the day, where his scar was still bleeding, despite the dermal regenerator McCoy had obviously applied.

A shot from this range, even a stunning one, would be really bad. Go-into-shock-and-die bad. They both knew it.

"Hanging an invisible, highly unlikely threat over your heads wasn't gonna work, we knew that," she explained, her voice quieter. "Stavok asked me what would scare the Humans until midnight. And I said torture always scares us Humans. Plus, Spock has such gorgeous hands, and Stavok said I could have him." She grinned then, and it was this unhinged, frighteningly delighted expression. "He promised I could keep him the entire time, and I wanted to have some fun. Waiting for ten hours playing the fluffy puffy little girl is boring."

Jim blinked at her, and kept his mouth shut.

"Sadly, they were taking down the video now anyway, and Stavok said enough. Right when I was getting to the good parts, too."

Jim's eyes snapped to her gloves and he saw it; a little smear of green blood that sent more life into him than anything else could have at this point, better than the drugs or the adrenaline. Proof, evidence, hard fact that Spock was metres away from him and still waiting to be saved.

"Mostly, though? I took him because we needed the Yellow Alert," she said, obviously not having noticed Jim's gaze.

"Huh?" He hadn't expected that, but it was hard to tear his eyes away from Spock's blood. "The Yellow Alert? Why?"

"Well, the Red would have worked too, of course."

He looked back up at her face and knew suddenly that now was the moment. In a couple of minutes he would need to make his move, but getting her to tell him this was vitally important, and the only way he could save the Starbase and everyone in it.

"What have you done?"

"Think, pretty boy, think. What systems change from day-to-night scheduling and during a crisis? There are only two, Kirk. Surely you can figure it out."

Jim could.

Oh God.

"You hacked into the turbolift network," he said, voice thick with blood and throat raw.

"Yup."

He used the lifts every day, they all did, but he'd never thought... a few well-placed bombs and that was it. The end. The cold death.

Leila's face was inches from his.

"Bet you hadn't thought of that," she said cruelly. "It's kind of genius, though. Stavok is real smart. See, diverting a turbolift from one of its pre-approved automatic routes would have triggered the system, and it's too well-designed to change, too risky to have those things meet at such high speeds. Now all we gotta do is tell it where we want it to go, 'cause the Yellow Alert switches to manual control. And at night there are significantly less lifts in operation, so no premature crashes that would ruin the big ka-boom."

Stavok couldn't be doing that from here. Stavok wasn't here, then, which meant he couldn't be blocking Spock's telepathy anymore, but that could only be because... if Spock didn't need to be watched when Leila had come out to see what the noise was, then Spock must be...

Unconscious, a voice in Jim's head swore viciously. Spock is unconscious. You would have felt it if he was gone. You would have felt the rip and tear in some way. You'd know.

Jim grit his teeth and felt himself implode with the effort of keeping still. Unconscious. They must have knocked Spock out, or he'd knocked himself out, Jim's smart First Officer, he must have done because he was alive. He had to—he was alive.

If Spock was unconscious inside the black room then Leila was just a guard, for all Jim knew under the false illusion that Stavok would come back for her when it was time to get into a shuttle.

"How the hell do you plan to get away?" he asked, to keep her talking, to try and process this and figure out a way to stop it.

"Don't you worry about me, sweetheart," Leila answered. "I'll be just fine—"

Her fingers loosened, the gentlest little bit, and Jim knew it was then or never.

He snatched the phaser out of her hands and Leila's instinctive press of the trigger was too little too late; the shot went up to the ceiling and then Jim had wrestled it out of her grip, twisted back and shot her in the chest without a second thought.

The setting had been changed.

He realized it instantly when the impact knocked his shoulder backwards, not a lot—phasers were designed so much better than the brutal guns invented centuries ago to perforate the flesh—but enough that he knew the kick was stronger than it should have been.

Either during their brief but brutal struggle or a little before, the setting had been changed to 'kill.'

And Leila was unmistakably dead.

Her huge blue eyes were wide open and gaping; her hair in its unarrayed ponytail tinged with blood when her skull had cracked against the floor. She had fallen backwards and was sprawled ungracefully because there was nothing graceful about death and she had been so ridiculously young.

Jim didn't spare her more than a glance. He had half an hour, tops, to save a thousand people. He couldn't spare her more. There was still a hollow sinking in his stomach, the taste of bile now to go along with the taste of blood in his mouth, a disgustingly familiar mix that he always felt when he killed someone. It didn't happen often, but it happened.

He ran even though it made his head spin to see colours blur by so quickly.

The black little room was tucked at the end of the row just as he'd remembered, and the door was closed but Leila hadn't used any entry codes the last time. It was a science lab, these were the scientific samples the scientists used. It wasn't even locked. The moment Jim stood close enough the door hissed open, sliding to the side.

"Spock."

He couldn't remember ever feeling like this, although he surely must have the last time he saw Spock nearly die (the poison, the way his head lolled and Jim thought Spock was gone and nearly went with him right there where he stood).

"Fuck." His voice broke and he dropped to his knees beside Spock's body.

The Vulcan was lying still and pale on the floor, and his left arm was intact. His right was a surgical mess, and still bleeding.

Stop the bleeding, the voice in Jim's head said. He knew basic things. He knew things. Some things. He had to—he had to stop Spock from dying and to do that he had to stop that precious, precious unique Human-Vulcan blood from flowing.

Stop the bleeding and then get him out of here... lift him up, oh God Jim how are you going to do that?

No. He couldn't doubt... he'd find a way. He'd do it. He could collapse later. Pain was for later.

Jim.

No. He wouldn't listen to that voice, he could do this. He—for Spock, and for everybody else, too, he had to do this, only how was he going to find Stavok now?

Jim.

Spock's shirt had been torn around the bicep, so it looked like he was wearing a strangely lopsided T-shirt. Jim tore off his own sleeve with surprising ease and used it to clumsily wrap around Spock's bleeding hand and forearm. Bones would do this better, he'd scold Spock even if Spock was unconscious and couldn't hear and then Bones would get Spock better, I'm useless—

It was only then that Jim realised the voice calling his name didn't belong to him.

"Spock?" he whispered, twisting to lean over Spock's face.

The Vulcan's eyes were open.

"Jim."

"Spock."

Spock blinked, almost dazedly, and a wave of relief crashed over Jim so powerful he was dizzy with it.

"Thank you, fuck, thank you for being alive you idiot," he panted, breathless and barely making sense and so stupidly relieved, and kissed Spock on the lips quick before slamming down the barriers again and retreating into himself once more. "Where is he? Where's Stavok?"

"There is not much time."

Spock's voice crackled like dry leaves, and Jim knew he sounded like he'd been screaming for hours, and they were both kind of incredibly fucked up but they were alive and goddammit they were going to stay that way.

"Where is he, Spock?"

Spock's eyes were strangely vacant.

"He controls the turbolifts—"

"I know, where is he? Can you sense him?"

"No. He purposefully... weakened me."

The way Spock said that sent a chill down Jim's spine.

"There's gotta be a way to find him," he said. "Comms are down and the jammer could be anywhere if its range has been amplified."

Together they got Spock propped up and then sitting, Jim tucking Leila's phaser into his waist to slide a hand around Spock's shoulders and help Spock cradle his bloodied hand against his own chest. Finally Jim knew he had to say something.

"Spock. Did he... you're not... you're not like this because of your hand, are you."

Spock shook his head. "No, but you are alive."

And that was the end of his explanation.

The strangest thing was that Jim understood him perfectly, and for once knew that he couldn't argue.

"Can you walk?"

"Yes."

Jim moved back to let Spock stand up by himself, figuring his Vulcan could use the space, terrified his suspicion was going to be right... but Spock's good hand shot out and latched onto Jim's already ragged shirt, immediately preventing him from going too far.

"Please," Spock said, voice quiet and strained. "Please wait."

"I..." Jim was speechless. "Spock..."

"You are alive," Spock repeated, and slid his hand up from Jim's chest to his face in a jerking, hesitating move that was very uncharacteristic of him. For the briefest moment, Jim thought he felt something (a starved, half-dying, weak thing) shudder through him, lapping up heat and comfort. Then it was gone and Spock's eyes looked less jarringly blank. "How much time is left?"

"Minutes, I don't know how much. A bit more than twenty. I don't know."

And then they were running. It felt like the end of the world, but also like they were past exhaustion, past putting an effort into every step. Spock paused to pick up the stunned security man's phaser and caught up with Jim in seconds, and then they were outside, out into the deserted corridor of the Science Deck and the Red Alert sirens blared too-loud and stunning.

"Where do we go?" Jim shouted over the sound.

"There are a finite number of places he can be," Spock replied, pitching his voice perfectly. "We must rejoin the others."

"But the turbolift—!"

"Will still be functional. We must alert the others."

Jim nodded, and deliberately took Spock's unhurt forearm to drag him down the corridor.

They reached the lift and got inside, directing it to the Deck where the Commodore's offices were with bloodied fingers, smearing the gleaming screen with red and green.

When it was done Spock tugged Jim's sleeve and Jim crushed their mouths together, and it was barely kissing, more like breathing hotly into each other and just clinging, holding on now that they could. Alive, the air was charged with the word, but nothing could make them forget that it was closely followed by 'for now'. The digital watch on the panel said they had fifteen minutes before midnight.

The lights inside the lift were red.

And they should have known.

Later, Jim would try to take the blame, and McCoy would curse their battered bodies and Uhura would curse their adrenaline-high; Scotty would try to justify it by their emotionally wrecked state, Chekov would say they were Human, da, and Sulu would call them ridiculous for feeling guilty, but Spock...

Spock would simply say that they should have known.

Stavok was somewhere with remote access to the turbolift controls.

Stavok had control of every turbolift, and knew when one had been activated. Knew where it started from and knew where it was going. They should have stopped to think about it for a second, and they should have known.

"Spock," Jim choked, struck by the realization. "Spock, we're not going to the Commodore's offices, we're—shit, fucking, shit."

The doors opened.

And Stavok was standing right outside.

"It has been done, Captain Kirk, you are too late," the Vulcan said immediately. "Drop your weapons, they will not serve you now. You cannot stop this."

Jim stepped away from Spock's embrace and drew his phaser.

"Watch me," he snapped. And shot Stavok without further preamble.

The phaser-shot rebounded and crashed right over their heads, inside the turbolift. A sort of shimmer in the air told Jim all he needed to know once he looked for it, and realized a force-field had been built around the door. It was standard procedure for any entrance within fifty meters of a hangar.

"There is, of course, a force-field beyond this door that you shall not be able to cross," Stavok said redundantly.

Jim didn't know this Deck. The corridor they had ended up in was different from the others; its floors were panelled and the ceiling was much lower. They were definitely near a hangar, though; the force-field was proof of that and Stavok clearly planned to escape. Either a hangar or the Docking Bay itself, which had a well-equipped computer room from which the Vulcan could have accessed the turbolift network's controls, so Jim was inclined to suspect the latter.

"Where are we?" he asked anyway.

Stavok ignored him and took out a phaser of his own from under the black folds of his robe. It looked clunky, and not standard-issue, clearly modified. With their luck, modified so it could get past the force-field, somehow.

"Leila Kalomi is dead," Jim said. Stavok had absolutely no reaction to that news; his pitch-black eyes didn't even flicker in acknowledgment. "She was, what, twenty-two? Are you seriously this unfeeling?"

"She was an unexpected ally I encountered here by chance, but no longer of use once I had familiarised myself with this Starbase's system and utilised her acting abilities to simulate another attempt upon Mr Spock's life."

Stavok shot a single blast into the wall behind them, and the damn thing got through all right, and left a scorch mark the size of Jim's palm.

"Drop your weapons."

Stavok regarded them calmly.

"Your determination not to see Commander Spock die outweighed Miss Kalomi's very own desire to live, or so it seems, Captain Kirk. I am Vulcan. These are facts about you that do not in any way concern me."

"You know nothing about me," Jim snapped, empty words but he didn't like this, didn't like this at all and didn't know what to do, he needed time to come up with a plan.

"That is what you believe," Stavok breathed out. That was all that could be said about his expression. "Yet it took insultingly little time to know this about you, James Tiberius Kirk."

Only then did Stavok's eyes leave Jim and lock on Spock's.

"Spock. Drop your weapon, else I shoot Captain Kirk and make you watch him die."

"End this, Stavok. It is irrational." Spock's voice was... oh. He was speaking in Vulcan.

"Nirsh," Stavok replied indifferently. No. "Your little Human boy does not sense a fraction of how much you hurt at this very moment because he is blind and deaf and mute to the things of the mind, Spock. He cannot fathom at our depth, cannot imagine what we daily force our bodies and minds to endure just as he cannot grasp what we felt the day Vulcan ceased to be."

Even now, even saying this, his face was blank. Jim felt disgusted.

"Nobody mourns the survivors, Commander. But the day Vulcan died every true Vulcan died with it. Even those of us who weren't there to perish with our families."

"Kirk tried to save the planet," said Spock. "Without him Nero would not have been stopped. Allow him to live out his days."

Stavok glanced at Jim, as though evaluating him. And finding him wanting.

"Yes, that is why he is allowed to die with honour. His name shall be remembered; surely that is the goal of every Human. The illogical desire to leave a mark, a record of his accomplishments. This I will permit."

Spock took a threatening step forward, and slightly in front of Jim. Becoming the main target.

"You have lost yourself to your emotions." This was spoken in Standard again, and like the greatest insult.

"On the contrary, Mr Spock. It is you who are blinded by them. You are half-Human and in love, and it is sickening."

But the reason behind Stavok's actions was far from unemotional. Revenge. Why did these things always come back to revenge? Had Nero not done the same? Did Stavok not see he had become no better than the insane Romulan who had destroyed his planet? Was this what grief had done to him... grief and the pain of millions of severed bonds?

"Why have you brought us here, Stavok?" Jim demanded, at the same time pulling Spock back so they were at the same level. "If you're going to kill everyone anyway, why bring us here?"

Stavok looked at him for a moment. "I see no need to explain my actions to you. Now drop your weapons and raise your hands above your heads."

Jim looked at Spock and they exchanged a wordless glance. Then they both let their phasers go (twice in one day, Jim thought exasperatedly) and raised their arms.

"Step forward."

Jim blanched.

"We can't step forward. Force-field."

"Step forward," Stavok repeated, aiming his phaser at Spock's chest.

Jim did so without further complaint, bracing his body for the shock of getting thrown back...

Nothing happened, and he nearly stumbled a little. What the hell? Stavok waited until they were both outside and then, with the gun still pointed at Spock's chest, asked them to walk forward.

"How did you disable that so fast—?"

"Be quiet. My ability to redirect a simple circuit should not confuse you so. I can shoot Mr Spock's remaining functional hand and still have him walk."

"Do that and I'll make sure you never walk again," Jim snarled. But he did as Stavok ordered because he had no way of fighting. Not yet, at least.

Jim and Spock walked down the narrow, low-ceilinged corridor side by side, Jim darting looks at Spock when he could because he'd understood most of Stavok's little speech, and he was extremely afraid of what Stavok could have done to Spock's mind. Feebly, he even tried to imagine calling out to Spock, mentally... but it was like yelling himself hoarse inside a padded soundproof room. He didn't know if Spock was hearing him or not, felt not a tingle of recognition or acknowledgment.

Spock wasn't ignoring him, however. He might not be able to communicate telepathically, but every time Jim winced or coughed or wiped pinkish saliva from the corner of his mouth Spock was there, watching carefully and intent, cataloging every problem. A soft touch or a gentle whispered word and they'd both feel better.

The bloodied green mess that was Spock's right arm had soaked through the makeshift bandage Jim had done too-quickly, but it looked to have stopped bleeding. At least the thing wasn't dripping emerald, as far as Jim could tell.

"How much time left?" he called over his shoulder to Stavok.

He got no response, but estimated a meagre ten minutes were left at the most.

They reached a large pair of metallic, reinforced double-doors that nearly went up to the ceiling and Stavok made them pause to type in the key. His fingers flew over the controls and Jim quickly considered and then discarded trying to take him on now; it would do no good to get himself killed.

A shimmer that said the force-field was deactivated, and the doors opened.

"Walk," Stavok commanded. And they walked into the Docking Bay.

Here the ceiling was ridiculously high, even higher than the greenhouse's dome, and the space felt huge. Signal lights lined the floor forming the takeoff path, and were now blinking intermittently red because the Red Alert was still going on. Jim counted the shuttles automatically (fifteen of them; ranging in size and model from a solid Galileo 9 to the small and near-retired Ulissess-3 line) and noted that one had already been prepped to go, and faced the gigantic Docking Bay doors. How the hell was Stavok planning on opening them without someone at the...? Unless. He must have someone at the booth.

Jim turned around and tried to locate the control booth. What had Stavok told the person up there? Did he or she even know they were signing their own death warrant? The lights were on, proving his theory, but all he could distinguish from this distance was a vague outline. Had this person also lost someone because of Starfleet Command's mistake? Wanted him dead even though Jim didn't even know their name?

A few, eerily quiet moments later, Jim realized they had a much bigger problem right now. Aside from the obviously huge problem of dying in less than ten minutes.

The Bay was full of shuttles of every size and model imaginable, but empty of people. Jim had been dreading that—Stavok would need to have everything ready and he'd either killed everyone inside or stunned them but there couldn't be any workers to mess up his escape—but it still felt like yet another blow. Security cameras must have failed here as well. Comms must still be dead.

They were alone, and as of right now there was literally only one door between them and dead space.

"Walk to the center."

There was no way they had more than five minutes left before things blew up. Stavok needed to get a move on if he wanted a clear take-off, not to mention clearing the blast radius.

"Are you taking us with you?" Jim asked, although he knew the answer to that, too.

"No. You are here to die, James Kirk."

"I will not let you kill—"

"Be quiet, Mr Spock, you are shaming your already tainted heritage," Stavok cut in. He still sounded so weirdly polite about it. It was freaking Jim out. "There is not much time, but I will finish this as it should be."

"What—?"

Stavok raised the phaser and pointed it at Jim.

"Commander Spock, we knew each other as children, but do not expect sentiment from me. You shall now walk three steps back."

Spock's hand shot out and wrapped around Jim's wrist. "No."

"You stink of hope," Stavok said. For the first time, his voice was starting to change. In its icy coldness, it was gaining edges. "If you still hope to be rescued, you will do as I say, or watch James Kirk bleed to death on this floor this instant."

Spock let go of Jim as though burned, and took three steps back.

"Very well. Now. Kirk."

Jim clenched his hands into fists and felt the begginings of panic claw at his consciousness. He was trying, he was, but he was out of ideas. Out of plans. This had come down to a gun and him and Spock and nothing to do.

"Your mind is small and cannot contain grief such as mine," Stavok assured him. But Jim knew he was wrong. Could feel the impending events like a gaping black hole ready to swallow him and smother him with pain, knew what Stavok was going to do and couldn't imagine anything more. It was going to rip his heart out.

"Yet as I understand it, this is worse than death for you." The unnerving way his face looked so calm had Jim near shuddering. "You are Human, you cannot comprehend what I have endured. But this... this comes close."

"No," he said. "No, you—"

Stavok pointed his weapon at Spock's head and Jim moved in the path of the shot like a polar magnet. He'd rather die himself. He honestly, literally preferred any other outcome than Spock's death.

But Stavok merely blinked, and commented: "Predictable."

Then he exhaled and shot Jim in the knee.

"Jim!"

Pain exploded at the impact and Jim's leg buckled, no control; he crashed to the floor. "Spock—"

Spock's whole body was angled in his direction, as though desperate to go to him, but Stavok's phaser was still levelled at Jim and the sick bastard knew how to get Spock to do what he wanted.

"If you want to go first you will not move, Mr Spock," Stavok reminded him. And then he looked back at Jim and there it was; in his dull blank eyes, finally. An emotion like a black hole, something darker than dark matter and all-consuming. It was almost a relief, in its horror. It was real.

"Now you will watch," Stavok told Jim, merciless.

"No!"

He twisted helplessly to try to reach Spock, to stop this, he had to stop this

Stavok raised his arm again—

"Jim—"

"NO!"

And then there was a loud noise behind them.

Jim whipped his head around.

The lights of the control booth were off.

Yes.

"Gotcha," Jim whispered.

Stavok whirled at him. "What did you say?"

"They know we're here. They found us." He grinned widely, shaking, his whole body trembling. "And they found you."

As if on cue, there was a strange crackle over the Hangar comm, and then a firm voice boomed through the speakers.

"Drop your weapon!"

It sounded like D'Ko-Han, the Deputy Chief of Security. Jim loved Orion women.

Stavok hesitated.

But not for very long. Jim saw his grip clench and the phaser was raised to point at Spock's forehead.

He fired.

Spock had dropped to the ground and the shot grazed his temple instead of shattering his skull but Jim cried out anyway, and then Stavok shot again but Spock had thrown himself to the side, missed it, and then he was leaping through the air and he and Stavok fell together.

Jim tried to lift himself up but his leg and his lungs and his throat wouldn't let him, and Spock was too fast anyway. He'd broken Stavok's nose in a flurry of punches and finally nerve-pinched him to unconsciousness.

Stavok's body slumped to the floor, limp and inocuous.

"Holy... whoa," Jim croaked.

Spock looked at him, breathing hard.

"Talk about adrenaline rush. I think this was your mother-lifting-a-hovercar-off-her-child moment."

"Jim."

Spock was at his side instantly. His wet, bloodstained hand came up to help prop Jim upright and his good arm was around Jim's shoulders.

"Don't do that—idiot, you'll hurt yourself—" he coughed, a dry, racking thing.

"Stop talking," Spock hissed at him. "I... you are alive. You are alive." The Vulcan closed his eyes, and Jim stilled suddenly and stared up at him, aware that Spock had never let him see him like this before. "You are alive," Spock repeated, and shuddered, once.

Jim knew perfectly well that the Bay doors were seconds away from bursting open with possibly ninety-percent of the people he knew, but he didn't care. He reached up and pressed his lips to Spock's, who responded eagerly a second later by trying to maximise their contact, returning the clumsy kiss and leaning forward simultaneously so he could angle his entire body around Jim. They seemed to melt together, skin slick with sweat and blood clinging tightly, desperately, while waves of adrenalin aftershocks still crashed over them both.

Jim thought that he could, at that moment, have taken on a hundred Klingons in hand-to-hand combat and won, which would have been a record and pleased people. And then Spock gently but surely pulled away, leaving both of them panting hard.

Jim didn't understand.

"Why did you stop?"

"I hypothesized that you might wish to breathe," Spock said carefully.

"Breathe?" Jim was indignant. "That's ridiculous."

He thought I don't need to breathe when I'm with you. And then Oh, God.

Chapter Text

They were both breathing harshly, and Spock seemed apparently as of yet incapable of letting go of Jim's torn bloodied shirt, but at least their mouths were apart when the Docking Bay doors opened.

A security team immediately took over, all red-clad efficiency, and spread out to search the hangar, some of the officers without even a glance at the pair of them.

"Captain Kirk! Commander!"

Lieutnenat D'Ko-Han reached them first, ran her eyes over them to confirm they were alive, and then ordered the man closest to secure Stavok's unconscious form.

"Are you all right?" she asked them, gaze jumping from Jim's shattered and gorey knee to Spock's flayed hand to the reopened wound in Jim's chest.

"We're alive," Jim said, voice wrecked. "Listen, I'm assuming you got the guy in the control booth...?"
She nodded. "That was us."

"But the—he'd hacked a program into the turbolift control network, it might be seconds away from—"

"We got it. It's okay, everything's okay, the base is safe. Your command team is quite something, sir." She gave him a tight smile and stood to leave, probably to go coordinate her men, when a blast of static sounded from the communicator at her hip. D-Ko flipped it open immediately.

"This is D-Ko—"

"Can we confirm that the area is secure, Lieutenant?" Emerett's voice cut in immediately.

"Yes, sir, I believe s—"

The Docking Bay doors reopened while she was still mid-sentence and Jim tried to hold himself up and sit with a little more dignity, but it was an attempt doomed to fail.

There was a slight pause when everybody caught sight of them; bruised and bloodied and dirty and ruined, wound together at the center of the Bay.

And then their friend's voices all mixed together into a collectively relieved outcry as a very, very large crowd entered the hangar. Commodore Emerett was surprisingly near the front, as were McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty and Jim's Chief of Security Lieutenant Giotto, and behind them were Mara and Lucas Dalle, Mr Moss, what looked like many (most!) of the Enterprise crew, a medical team that included doctor M'Benga from the starbase, at least half of the engineering department.

It was a cacophony of shouts and Jim's head was about ready to split in half with the pain; the fact that he couldn't breathe evenly only making things much worse. But he wouldn't have changed this, he thought grimly; wouldn't have wished them all away, although half of his friends were staring at him and Spock like they'd just come back from the dead.

"Everyone back away, I need space," McCoy announced loudly, and only M'Benga's medical team was allowed to surround them. Uhura, Sulu and Chekov were the first to react to the order, quickly catching on and telling others to pull back, give the medical staff room, but Jim caught their looks when they surreptitiously checked over their shoulders every few seconds, as though to confirm no one had died in the interim.

"Jim."

Jim met his best friend's gaze and managed a wink.

"Hey."

McCoy scowled, but his eyes were anything but reproachful when he said; "You scared the hell out of me."

"Yes, okay, but it looks like I'll..." a terrible cough made him splutter and spit out red. "Uh, might live, so maybe you'll find... find it in your heart to...?"

"Jim, do not speak—" Spock's hand was still touching him, the tips of two fingers hooked around his torn shirt so they were directly on his skin. Jim noted it vaguely, an important detail to recall later because it wasn't like Spock, no, not even after a crisis as near as this one.

"I..." his vision was blurring. "I think I'll just pass out now, okay?"

"Sure, Jim. You do that," McCoy said, for once his voice kind, and Jim gladly sank into unconsciousness.

x

He woke up in Sickbay an indeterminate number of hours later, having briefly regained consciousness to the sound of McCoy's and M'Benga's voices in deep discussion.

Spock was no longer touching him.

For some reason that made Jim sit up, startled, and look around. It hit him like a jolt, and a bad one. Not just because Spock touching him was always a good thing, but because there had been something seriously wrong with his Vulcan back there.

Jim resolved to find Spock as soon as he could, and assessed his surroundings; he was in a private room again, alone, and his vitals were on display on a screen above the bed. He checked them first before doing anything else, and was relieved (if not altogether surprised) to discover the damage wasn't as terrible as all that. His knee felt sore as hell, but reconstructive surgery so soon after the fact would have helped the healing process and he hoped it would be back to fully functional eventually. There was the matter of his lung and the newly-healed skin there to consider but, again, reconstructive grafts might have been in time to avoid any permanent damage.

Jim took stock of the only tube going into his arm and was glad that he didn't need assisted respiration, although the taste at the back of his throat and weird feeling in his nose told him it was 'anymore.'

He pressed the call-nurse button and prayed McCoy was the one who'd answer, for once glad of his best friend's workaholic tendencies.

Thankfully, he was right to suspect the doctor wouldn't have left the Hospital Bay.

"Jim!"

"Howdy."

"How are you feeling?"

Jim tried for a smile. "Pretty great, considering."

McCoy immediately took out his tricorder and scanned him, squinting at the results.

"Not bad. You wanna avoid running in the near future, though, both for the knee and for that lung."

"Yes sir."

The doctor rolled his eyes. "Hey, I'll have you know you spent two hours in surgery for the lung and another three for that damned knee—"

"Bones, I'm sorry but there's a ton of shit that went down while I was out, and I need to speak to Emerett as soon as possible," Jim interrupted. "I have no idea what's going on right now, whether we're still at risk or not—"

"No, no, I've been assured all threats have passed," McCoy assured him quickly. Then his expression became… hesitant. "I'll page Emerett for you if you want, but... if you, uh..."

They exchanged a long look and Jim realized McCoy had known what he'd ask for first.

He said it anyway. "Spock?" An uneasy feeling had settled in his gut, since he'd woken up, actually, and seen Spock wasn't there. Spock had—Stavok had done something to him. Spock hadn't been himself at the end there. "How... where is he?"

"Spock is... not doing so great, Jim," the doctor admitted reluctantly. Jim ignored the spike of panic that went through him and breathed deep instead.

"I think I know what might be wrong with him."

"Really?" McCoy frowned. "There's no physical trauma to account for his condition. On a human I'd be suggesting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but the symptoms don't quite fit anyway, and it's Spock. I've seen Spock brush off flesh wounds before, remember that time he broke his wrist and it took us, like, the whole morning to notice?"

"No, that's not it. I need to see him."

"You?"

"Yeah. Just me."

"Jim, you realize... uh, we've got a whole team of trained medical—"

"This isn't something that they'll know much about." Jim's certainty only grew with every word he spoke. "Maybe M'Benga, I don't… but probably not even him. You know how secretive Vulcans are about their... everything. Especially the way their minds work, all logic aside." When McCoy still seemed unconvinced, Jim let out a breath. "Look, I don't even know for sure, okay, but I think Stavok hurt him, telepathically hurt him, and I think I'm the only one who can help."

McCoy looked shocked. "Telepathically… like a mental attack?"

"Something like that."

"Oh." He rubbed his mouth, clearly deep in thought. "And you can help? How? Why you?"

Jim grimaced. "There's… quite a bit I need to catch you up on, to be honest."

His friend raised a rather amused eyebrow. "Really? You mean since you implied something had happened and then left me in the dark the rest of the time?"

"Hey, that was to protect you and ourselves from—" it hit him. "Shit, the trial, what the hell is happening with that-"

"One problem at a time, Kirk," McCoy interrupted, raising a hand. "Let's focus on one problem at a time. Spock is in a private room adjacent to this one, so if you want to see him that can be arranged. I'm not gonna insult you by suggesting this could be interpreted pretty badly by the authorities if it gets out--"

"Actually it would be interpreted exactly as it should be." Jim shrugged, then smirked a little. "But I appreciate the sentiment, Bones."

"Good. Well, if you honestly believe you're the only one who can help him…" McCoy paused pointedly and Jim nodded. "All right then. We'll call Emerett after you see Spock and the whole mess with the trial can be dealt with after that. Now hang on a second and let me get you some clothes..."

Five minutes later Jim was devoid of needles and tubes and wearing clean blue medical scrubs. He stood steadily on his own two feet, feeling remarkably healthy, and was about to exit the room when McCoy touched his arm lightly.

"Hang on, I'll make sure there's no one outside to see you." The doctor moved to do just that but Jim stopped him.

"I... really have no idea what I'd do without you, old man."

McCoy snorted. "Call me old man again and you'll damn well find out."

Jim smiled. "I mean it, Bones. You've been great throughout this whole thing. And I'm sorry that lately things got so crazy I didn't have a chance to keep you up to date… but the truth is that I barely even know what's going on myself. Spock is—we've barely had a chance to talk either and I suspect there might be some, uh, pretty heavy news soon. But I'll tell you as soon as I know for sure. You're... kind of my best friend, and I just want to say thank you."

To his surprise, although McCoy had looked rather solemn at first, the last part of Jim's little speech made the doctor laugh.

"... What?"

"It's funny because I gotta admit to a few moments of doubt about that."

"What? About being my best friend?" McCoy nodded, still smiling. Jim felt very confused. "Why? No, how could you-"

"Spock, Jim," McCoy replied simply. Jim felt the urge to blush, but manly resisted, and rolled his eyes instead. "You two'd get so wrapped up in each other, especially a few months into the mission after the initial tension got cleared, and it took me a while to figure out that friendship wasn't the only thing going on, if you get what I mean."

Jim snorted. "So basically everyone suspected this before we did, including Starfleet Command, and now you."

McCoy's mouth tugged up in a crooked grin.

"That's just great. No, really, how convenient that it appears we don't even have to tell anyone." What he was saying actually registered a second later. "Shit, hang on, did Uhura…?" But this wasn't the moment to worry about that. Before the doctor could answer Jim waved a hand impatiently and shook his head. "Forget it, not the time. So now that everyone's clear on who's who in my life, I'm gonna go wake up my other half, and don't you dare comment on that—" he anticipated. "—just. Be quiet."

McCoy made a zipping motion at his lips and led Jim out into the empty corridor (empty although Jim could hear the soft sounds to the main room just around the corner) then quickly shuffled him into the room right next to his, door swishing open and closed again immediately.

It was a replica of Jim's, a replica of all white Hospital Bay rooms because they all looked mostly the same, but the first thing Jim saw once he'd entered it was that Spock was awake.

"Hey."

Jim strode over to his bedside quickly, McCoy lingering close to the door. Spock's eyes were open and they latched onto Jim hungrily the moment he was in sight, but it was immediately clear from the way Spock was laying there that he couldn't move.

His arms seemed to hang limply by his sides, one hand and forearm bandaged up to the elbow. His breaths were shallow, ragged, but unlike the last time Jim had been forced to experience seeing Spock in a hospital bed like this, there was an edge to the Vulcan's gaze. No exhaustion or pain, like when he was poisoned. Spock was perfectly alert, if obviously weakened.

"Wow. You look terrible," Jim whispered, voice light.

It was one hundred percent true. He may not appear sleepy or drugged but Spock's face looked feverish and covered in a light sheen of sweat, his cheeks and the pointy tips of his ears flushed green, but for all that he looked gaunt somehow, hollowed-out. Jim ached to touch him, but knew they needed to talk first.

"I'll leave you two, then," McCoy said loudly.

"Thanks, Bones. I mean it."

"Yeah yeah, you said that already."

And the door closed once more.

"Hey. How are you doing?"

Spock looked up at him and something was... off. The flush in his skin was extending from his cheekbones over his face and nose, and the focused intensity of his eyes was almost jarring.

"Spock?"

Spock's lips parted but no sound came out, just harsh breathing, and it seemed to Jim as though Spock's chest was heaving more erratically by the second.

"Hey." Jim leaned down, frowning worriedly. "Hey, what's wrong?"

"T-tu …" Spock said, and it was barely an exhalation, a breath of a sound. "Tu, Jim, t-t'hy'la, ashaya, slor-veh, ashalik, t'hy'la, t'hy'la…" he sounded like he was pleading, begging, but for what Jim didn't know.

"Hey, hey," Jim whispered, trying to soothe, and debated calling McCoy back in here if he was making Spock worse. The only word he understood aside from his name was 'tu', which meant 'you' in Vulcan but he had no idea what else Spock was trying to tell him, what Spock was asking. "Spock, what—do you want me to go…?"

Spock's reaction was immediate; he lashed out, violently fast, and gripped Jim's neck, thumb pressing into the delicate spot above Jim's Adam's apple.

"No. Please."

He released the hold a second later and Jim coughed and spluttered, shocked.

"W-What…? What did Stavok do to you?"

Jim had expected—plenty of things; had come up with an impressive number of answers and scenarios for this question in the short time since he'd woken up. None of them included what actually happened.

Which was Spock leaping off the bed so fast it was a blur, white gown tossed to the floor so that he was naked, and then Jim's pale blue shirt was torn impatiently until his skin and Spock's were touching as much as possible.

"Wh—uh—"

The backs of his thighs smashed against the edge of the bed and he stumbled, then ended up half-sitting on half-falling off of it as Spock nosed at his neck and pressed his hands everywhere they could reach, roaming from Jim's hips to his back to his face so they were cupping his cheeks.

"Can I... Jim, can I please--"

"Do it," Jim breathed instantly.

He felt it like a pulse, something hot and electric and half-dying that pressed and then pushed inside, one long thrust of mental power inside of him—

"Fuck, fuck, Spock it's okay, I'm here—"

He didn't understand what was happening, didn't know what Spock was doing, why he needed this, but the taste and feel of Spock's thoughts was more than desperate, past famished, Spock was freaking out of it, his injured hand digging the unbandaged tips of his fingers so strongly into Jim's flesh that he could feel the nails sinking in.

"Y-You can take, it's okay, all right? You can take what you need, I've got you, we're okay—"

Jim knew Spock, could already anticipated the consequences this mind-meld was going to have, but they'd face those too, later, right now Spock was licking and biting open-mouthed at the spot under Jim's jaw apparently for purchase, because his good hand had clamped onto Jim's face and then the world blacked out.

Jim's mind is his body now and he is untethered, he is only consciousness, only vast space and racing thoughts

There is something dark and bruised and hurt simultaneously attempting to bury itself in Jim's mind and trying to taste it all, a sensation that is closest described by the word "licking," a sort of laving warmth around every golden strand of thought this presence that is Spock can find

Jim feels it like heat lapping up his self, and wouldn't really know how else to describe it

T'hy'la, ashaya, slor-veh, ashalik—

I... I don't understand, Spock

You, Jim, I need—you

What can I do? Spock, what can I do to help?

There is a pause (for the life of him Jim could not say how long it lasts, even time seems to pass differently here, or maybe it's just that his senses are totally off) and Spock's thoughts start to coalesce into something that resembles the intricate structure they'd had before

He attempted to cut—he hacked and—he wished to destroy me and therefore... he locked me out, cut me off, mentally, from... everything. He closed me in, so I was more alone than I have ever—but that does not matter now. He sought out the bond that would hurt me the most to lose and then he attempted to destroy it, too

One day, perhaps, in the distant future, revelations like these, words like these will not make Jim feel the incredulous joy he feels now, but it seems unlikely that he will ever get used to this, adapt to it and take it for granted, it seems impossible

So... so we are bonded

It has begun. I could not... there was never the time to explain, and there was no way of stopping

Not... I would never want to stop that. Idiot

The darkness shudders; Jim doesn't know how else to think of it. They are so completely intertwined, almost like they are heading towards that state reached only for a few eternal seconds when Jim didn't know who he was and who Spock was because they were one in body and most importantly they were, literally, one in mind

He tried to break the bond... but he couldn't?

No

You saved it?

I did not. It survived on its own. It did not need saving, it was too strong. Breaking a bond requires a healer's level of telepathic control, which Stavok did not possess

Then the attack itself injured you? I didn't feel anything

And because they are in this place and Spock's consciousness is spilling everywhere—bleeding and battered and so weak and so hungry—Jim senses it, catches it, just for a moment but it's enough for him to realize

You took the whole pain upon yourself

His anger flares bright in a tongue of indignant fire and even though it's directed at Spock for being so stupid and perfect and irresponsible and reckless, even though the anger is at Spock and not for him, Spock's mind craves it as well, bathes in it, basks in it

So how do we heal you? What do we do?

You need only to allow this intrusion--

You? An intrusion?

--for me to improve. I can think now. I could not think earlier, when you fainted and I finally succumbed to my wounds

So... you'll be okay?

Yes

Anything I can do to help speed the process along?

He remembers that moment again, right at the height of pleasure, when everything was an indistinguishable blur, and Spock is very pointedly not answering

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

A ripple of laughter brightens their union, humor lightening the burden momentarily

It is the most powerful connection

I... can't feel my body though. That might make things awkward

More amusement , and Jim's little wave of glee at causing this reaction in Spock is instantly licked up as well

It is possible for a mental equivalent to be achieved here... but that exploration is for the future

Okay. Although I've gotta say that that sounds like an awesome way of exercising your brain. Better than math, even

More laughter, or at least the taste equivalent to it...

And it was with that echoing sensation that Jim gently came back to himself, to feeling his limbs and seeing with his eyes, to hearing and smelling and touching things.

Things like Spock.

Who was naked.

"You better?" he panted into Spock's pointed ear, noting that yeah, his body was damn ready to do that joining thing again.

"Better," Spock replied, smoky and low. Then he drew back to meet Jim's eyes, but his gaze slid lower seemingly without his conscious control, until he was staring openly at Jim's mouth. "Not altogether recovered."

Jim huffed a little laugh and trailed his fingers over Spock's erection, making Spock's hips jerk forward. "I can help with that," he said smugly.

"Please."

And okay, that vulnerable syllable was the hottest thing Jim had ever heard.

"Neither of us is fit for anything very athletic—" he started to say, and took note of the way Spock was holding himself up, by clutching Jim's arm with his good hand and resting his injured one on the bed behind Jim. "Especially you."

Spock grunted, shook his head. "Please. I do not care how, just please."

Jim groaned. "Okay, shit, okay get on the bed and just—don't—try not to kill me before this is over."

Spock did as he was told immediately, and Jim bit the inside of his cheek. Spock was white planes of skin gleaming with that sheen of sweat and a more healthy-looking green flush over cheeks and nose and he was also everything Jim had ever wanted.

"Goddamn, one day I'm gonna delight in using hours to take you apart," he warned.

Spock curled his fingers around the sheet and arched his back a little, as though the words themselves acted as an elicit touch. "Please," he breathed again.

Jim didn't waste any more time talking.

x

"I ain't gonna ask," was the first thing McCoy announced once Jim called him back inside, a considerable amount of time later. "So feel free to take that as my way of saying there's absolutely no need for you to volunteer any information."

It was a totally unjustified statement because Spock was on the bed wearing his white gown, and Jim was just standing beside him, perfectly innocently (if one maybe didn't count the cat-that-ate-the-canary-and-also-possibly-every-other-bird-within-a-hundred-metre-radius expression).

"I can assure you that will never happen, doctor."

"I... can't."

Spock cut Jim a disapproving glance and Jim shrugged. "I like torturing Bones. It makes me happy. Don't tell me you don't know the feeling."

That seemed to make Spock relent. "I am not personally acquainted with it, however I suppose the doctor's highly susceptible irritability is in its own way an amusing source of—"

"Oy!"

"Yeah right, 'cause it's not like you don't tease him all the time—"

"If my observations on his emotional conduct are in any way construed as—"

"Okay, okay, so Spock's back to normal, wonderful," McCoy said loudly, belying his words by scowling. "Do we know he's out of danger?"

"Yeah." Jim smiled. "He'll still need to recover for a bit, but he's out of danger. He'll be fine."

"Jim has agreed to assist me in the recovery process," Spock said, perfectly straight-faced. Jim snorted and McCoy looked a bit lost.

"O...kay. Well, that's great, if you're sure, I'll need to scan him myself of course and I'd still like to keep him for observation—"

"That will not be necessary—"

"—but I figure you're both gonna be idiots about it and not bother with that."

"Spot on, Bones," Jim commended his friend.

It was then that McCoy realized something rather notable. "Wait, why is your shirt torn...? No." He shook his head firmly, and muttered to himself: "No. I don't wanna know."

Jim folded his arms over his chest and kept smiling, feeling like he was never going to stop. He took a breath and tried to sound casual. "So I need clothes—"

"Yes, yes, I got a Yeoman to get them for you, both of you."

"Wow. You really put your trust in my healing abilities there, Bones."

"It was a just-in-case sort of thing. Sue me."

"Busy with my own court-case, sorry."

They exchanged a grin and then Spock asked McCoy to bring them their uniforms.

"Can we use the sonic shower?" Jim asked. A look of pure terror passed over the doctor's features before Jim couldn't hold back a burst of laughter. "Separately, Bones, Jesus!"

"Oh."

"There is not enough space in the Sickbay stalls for any of the activities you are in all likelihood imagining," Spock pointed out.

M