He's worn them since his first year at the Academy, the soft thermasilk snug around his wrists, keeping him warm, reminding him of the gravitational pressure of his lost home planet. Even when Jim would remove his uniform, stroking over his pale, chilled flesh, promising to warm it with his own, Spock never let him take them off. The fabric hid the near-white scars, hid the sage dermal layers growing over freshly sealed wounds, hid the ridges and dips of his mottled skin, and Spock despaired of Kirk ever finding out the depths of his depravity.
"I thought they were a modified style of the undershirt at first, you know," his captain had told him one day as they ate lunch, the tip of a tan finger taping the side of Spock's hand where the tight-knit black fabric covered his palm up to the base of his fingers. "I had to look very closely before I realized they're a separate article of clothing entirely. What are they?" Jim's blue eyes were curious, open in that clear, inquisitive manner he had anytime the opportunity to learn something new arose, and for once Spock didn't feel as though his privacy was being invaded by the question.
"My mother made them for me. She called them "armwarmers," an early twentieth-century fad predominantly found in teenage women. However, the decreased gravity and temperature of Earth became progressively more uncomfortable in regards to my joints, and my mother created these for me to help compensate. They are high-density thermasilk blend that both keeps me warm, and adds an element of compression to my wrists and forearms."
"...Compression?" It took a moment, but Spock saw Jim's mind put it together. "The gravity. You actually feel less atmospheric pressure on your body?" Spock nodded. "Wait, I don't mean to pry, Spock, but this could be important for me to know--are the conditions on the ship damaging to you? The temperature and pressure? Do we need to look into other ways to accommodate you for your health?" The curiosity in those eyes shifted rapidly to gentle concern.
"I do not believe it is necessary at this time, Captain. My current condition is managed sufficiently by Dr. McCoy's regimen of supplementary hyposprays and frequent resistance exercise. For the future, however, Mr. Scott and I are already discussing modifications to the environmental controls for individual crew quarters given the increase of non-human Starfleet personnel. The ability to alter cabin pressure, gravity, humidity, oxygen/nitrogen balance, and other environmental factors in addition to the current temperature and lighting controls would be exceptionally useful in future starships."
The look Jim gave him was clear, open, brilliant -- and utterly indecipherable.
Jim paused after Spock pulled him close that first time. Spock's clothes were gone -- compression socks and all -- but the armwarmers still hugged tight about his wrists. The urge to inquire was forefront in his mind, coloring the nervous lust, and Spock hesitated when his telepathy caught it through the press of his captain's skin.
Unlike Nyota, Jim did not ask. He went into Spock's arms, drove fervent, trembling fingers into the Vulcan's hair, and used his warm, wet, human lips to explore instead of speak.
Spock had been intimate with the lieutenant, yes, but intercourse with her, while fulfilling, had never once held the intense riot of emotion and sensation he felt now with Jim; not at any part during their lovemaking, and his captain had done nothing so far but kiss him.
The heat of Jim's body was like hearth fires, desert sands, molten gold, and Spock curled up into it, pressing his chilled form against his captain, opening to him as he returned the kiss and wound his arms around the slim triangle of his hips. Vulcan strength shuddered into bonelessness as those warm hands tilted his head to the side, hot lips traveling down his cheek, his throat, the fire of Jim's tongue flicking against his collarbone and the pulse of his heart beating there.
He was relentless, thorough, caressing Spock with a dizzying blend of tenderness and intensity, calloused palms smoothing over cool skin, fingers working their way inside his trembling body, making room for the heat and pressure of that moment when their bodies existed as one entity. It was a symphony, a concerto, an entire composition all of its own that swelled and then eased, leaving Spock's heart dancing in his side, his body damp with Jim's sweat as his captain lay across him, breathing hard, holding him tightly, and the Vulcan could almost imagine the Man never wished to let him go.
It had been barbarous, days of psi-inhibitors taking his controls away from him, his ability to meditate destroyed, the tendrils of connection to his father, to Nyota, the thin familial threads of McCoy and Jim and the others no longer creating a small bundle in the empty space where the telepathic weight of his entire race had once resided. Destruction in its purest of forms, watching the woman he loved as a sister brutalized, thrown back into the arms of the Doctor after each 'session,' her clothes increasingly torn and blood slowly collecting in the scattered length of her hair. Chekov, the crew's little brother, holding a broken arm to his bruised chest, staring at the floor as Sulu raged, desperate to take the young navigator's place this time -- but their captors refused to release the chains binding him to the stone, leaving him straining to pull scraped, bleeding hands through the intractable metal shackles. There was little fight left in him once they ran his own katana through his abdomen.
Spock realized the drug was more than a psi-inhibitor then, as he screamed along with the pilot, feeling the hot-sharp-cold-slice-pain of the blade impaling the man, felt McCoy's horror and rage at knowing that to withdraw the blade would be sentencing Sulu to a somewhat faster, but still achingly slow death, felt the bruises pressed into Nyota's thighs and the anguished fear of what-if-next-time-they-actually as the explosion of empathic force began to fade into a steady awareness of everything happening in the minds and bodies of those around him.
Four days, Jim told him. Four days of being held by unknown aliens, for unknown reasons, and all they seemed to want was to cause pain. Three days of telepathic evisceration, of being inundated by every sensation experienced in every sense by those surrounding him in that prison of stone, of being so deeply immersed in their individual and collective trauma that Spock sat catatonic for hours in the Medbay, unable to separate himself from it, to meditate, to fall into a healing trance, to break from the experience. It had taken another day of sedation, several tox-screens, and finally a course of drugs to counteract the psychic poison to bring the Vulcan back into some semblance of his normal self, and as soon as he could speak, he seized Jim's arm with a grip hard enough to bruise and begged the captain to take him somewhere, anywhere but a space filled with others.
He'd fled to the bathroom off his cabin as soon as the door slid closed behind them, barely hearing Jim seal the door and settle into the chair at Spock's desk. The armwarmers were still snug about his wrists; he'd struck the nurse who tried to remove them, and M'Benga had told her not to try again. They were filthy, and he set them aside carefully, visible beside the sink, waiting for the gentle, delicate cleaning he would give them later. Having his captain there as he scrubbed the emotional residue of the experience from his already-clean skin in the sonic shower, parted from him only by the barrier of a single bulkhead, was somehow comforting instead of oppressive, and he reveled in it, stopping only to pull on an unsoiled pair of the long almost-gloves over his arms and a towel around his waist before he left the small room.
Jim was still there, waiting. He watched with a furrowed brow and worried eyes as Spock crossed the space between them, standing as the Vulcan trembled before him, feeling adrift, lost, needing contact to reaffirm even one of the bonds that his mind had thought lost during the ordeal. They existed, but all were covered in grey mist, waiting for him to find them and center them again.
"Please, Jim..." He didn't know what he was asking for. Contact. Something to tie him back down, to make him feel connected again, to feel himself and not the unfocused agony of being other than himself. A quivering of the lip, a forward lean, and Spock seized him, reached for him, held him, pressed the warmth of Jim's clothed body to the unbearable chill of his naked one. The embrace was returned, strong, brave, unreserved, emotions swirling wildly under a tight canopy that kept them from escaping into the Vulcan's mind, though he felt the barest wisps of them dancing over his skin.
"Spock," Jim pulled back after a moment, blue eyes staring into brown, uncertain, but not unwilling, and Spock was lost.
"Jim. Jim...please." He gasped, panicked for a moment, feeling the burgeoning contact slipping away. "I do not feel as though I am...Spock."
This time, when he tugged on the blond, the man did not resist, and the heat of his body, the fire of his passion, burned away the echoes of remembered despair.
They stayed wrapped around each other for some time, the emissions of their bodies cloying, tacking them together, but the throbbing pulse of Jim's heart against Spock's ribs was a comfort he was unwilling to remove himself from. Jim spoke first, his words nearly lost to the space between Spock's shoulder and the dip of his throat.
"This can be whatever you need, Spock," his captain said quietly. "I won't ask you for anything. It doesn't have to be anything, or mean something. Just...you can come to me, or I can come to you, if you need to feel--if you need to feel something, or you don't know how to manage." If misery swirled through Spock, somehow separated from himself, distanced as all but the tactile sensations of Jim were, he refused to acknowledge it.
The misery became heartbreak, an emotion Spock had learned intimately through the past days of experiencing Sulu's failed attempts to protect Chekov, McCoy's hands trying to wipe away the black stains of invasive fingers on Nyota's skin. Jim gave him one final, gentle squeeze and then rose, drawing him into the shower, cleaning them both under the sonic stream, using careful hands to soothe his tired body.
He had not been tucked into a bed since he was a child. Jim's warmth stayed with him even after the Man had finished wrapping a coverlet snugly around Spock, cued the lights down to ten percent, and slipped out of the cabin.
The heartbreak remained.
It became 'a thing,' as Nyota called it; a thing he and Jim never spoke of, but did when the trials of their mission became too much, when they needed to connect, to reconnect, to release stress, to feel. The lieutenant didn't approve, but then, she was struggling to overcome the horror of being faced with repeated assaults on her person, all out of her control, each one coming closer and closer to the terrible invasion that she barely escaped. There was no doubt in any of them that had the Enterprise crew not come to their rescue, Nyota would have become the complete victim of the most heinous of crimes. She never wore the uniform skirt again, always opting for the long pants instead, and could often be found in the office of Dr. McCoy -- or his arms, though no one else was able to come close enough to touch even in passing.
She talked to Spock, though, and that was what he needed, just to sit opposite a table in the mess, in a quiet corner, in view of everyone where she felt safe because no one would hurt her while everyone was watching -- because even Spock was suspect to her vulnerable psyche -- but secluded enough where they would not be overheard, where he could tell her about this strange dichotomy of give and take between himself and Jim, and not feel so lost in it, so alone.
"Friends with benefits, Spock," she said. "That's what this is. There's nothing wrong with it, as long as you both know that's what it is, that you're both getting what you want from it."
"I...I am not." He ached for more, ached for repeats of that single heady kiss Jim had given him that first time. He longed to feel more than the distant skate of Jim's mind against his own, sealed behind the immutable barrier his captain -- his lover? -- had erected between them.
"You should tell him."
She understood, though she was not pleased. He could not let what little connection he had with this man go, could not give in to the desire to press further when he knew Jim wanted to keep things as they were. He would not risk losing what was there, having dropped it in the attempt to reach out and grasp for more. He loved his captain, he knew, loved him as he had thought he loved Nyota, loved him as powerfully as he had loved his mother, though this love was unique in all the universe. He would take anything he could get, eat the scraps off the table of Jim's feast, if only to have a place at his side.
It was not enough.
Emotions were like the plasma that ran through the warp core, that fueled the ship and her systems, racing from location to location, needing careful control and regulation to prevent explosions and meltdowns and leaks.
He needed a pressure-valve, a way to release the plasma safely into the cool emptiness of space, and he found it where he always had; in the focused burn of a laser scalpel applied to just the right place, for just the right amount of time. Not too high, or someone would see; not too low, or it would effect his operational efficiency. Not too brief, or too much of the volatile substance would be trapped within him; not too long, or he would lose too much of that which needed to be kept. It was a delicate balance, and one that he struggled furiously to maintain.
Dermal regenerators were kept in the standard first-aid kit clamped to a bulkhead in every cabin, but their use was monitored on a starship; obtaining a personal regenerator was simple, if not easy, as theoretically he had no need of one. The scalpel he'd already acquired as a young man on Vulcan, learning the storm of emotions for the first time, with no strong guidance on how a Vulcan was expected to emote, and no opening to do so as a Human would.
His mother had found him bleeding into the sink, their regenerator dark on the counter, drained of power. Spock had wrapped a towel around the cuts, trying unsuccessfully to staunch the blood. She'd screamed for Sarek, and Spock had never seen such a look on his father's face; not before, not since. That was the last time he had wounded himself in such a way, and those were the most ugly of the scars left behind. It had taken too long to get him into the hospital in ShiKar for regeneration to prevent scarring. He'd started hiding his arms after that, just to avoid seeing Mother cry.
He wondered if Jim...No. No, this would not break Jim. The captain would take him to McCoy and have him declared medically compromised, but he would not weep over Spock. Spock was not Christopher Pike, the only individual for whom Spock had ever seen Jim shed tears. He was not even McCoy, the ever-present Bones over whom Jim hovered whenever things went wrong, whose side Jim would not leave on the rare occasion the doctor himself was the one hurt, instead of the one treating the hurts of others. Spock was the friend to whom Jim went when he needed a sexual release; he was not so important for tears.
The thought was a surge of plasma overloading a vital system, and instead of clicking the scalpel off, he added another row of pressure valves to the existing set, trying to banish the image of his mother's tears and Jim's disappointed face.