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Miles To Go Before I Sleep

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Spock could no longer look at the stars and not think of his Captain. Many times in the year that they were grounded, they had stood together in front of the night sky, and Spock had found himself watching Jim rather than the vista before them, overcome with ardent affection that he could not act upon. At first, he had not been able to prevent himself from staying close, protective and possessive of the frail creature his Captain had temporarily become, his lifeless body haunting Spock’s once infrequent dreams. He had supported Jim through his painful physical therapy, had cared for him at his own apartment despite Jim’s feeble protestations, and had been there for every moment of frustration, misery, and elation. Over the course of that year, Spock had tried and failed to suppress his burgeoning emotions, unwilling to leave Jim, yet fearful of his reaction should his desires be exposed.

Jim would not want him. Jim was his friend, and Spock was certain that his feelings were nothing more than platonic, close as they had become. Spock’s deepening, irrepressible love for his Captain had weighed heavily upon him during the final month before the Enterprise’s departure, and in a fit of irrationality, he had even considered resigning his commission. The thought of abandoning Jim, however, was anathema to him. As his elder counterpart had once told him, they needed each other, and Spock would not – could not – leave his side. Instead, he had vowed to keep his distance on a personal level, hoping that in time, his desperate, improper feelings would evaporate. He dared not hope that Jim would ever return them.

Nyota was exasperated by his intention to distance himself from Jim, having long since accepted that Spock’s affections lay with him. She believed that separating himself from Jim would do neither of them any good, but he could not see an alternative. Continuing as they were would surely result in a confession from Spock, and rejection – or worse, revulsion – from Jim. Painful as it was, Spock would rather remain Jim’s First without his love than lose him altogether. Given Jim’s intelligence, Spock knew that he was aware of his avoidance tactics, and it was difficult to see the hurt etched across his face with every failed chess invitation. Spock wished for nothing more than to take him into his arms and let him know how much he was loved, but he knew that that was not what Jim wanted. Jim wanted his friendship, and Spock knew that once he had successfully repressed his emotions, he would be able to indulge his Captain once more.

‘What are you doing up so late?’

Nyota’s voice rang out across the otherwise empty Observation Deck, and Spock turned with a quiet sigh, light-headed with exhaustion. She was still in her uniform, which was odd, considering that this evening was usually her weekly ‘Girls’ Night’ with Nurse Chapel.

‘I could ask the same of you.’

‘Morrison wanted me to take a look at a section of a subspace message,’ she explained, grimacing as she pulled her hair from its tight ponytail. ‘He couldn’t quite read the code, but it’s nothing to worry about. I was kinda pissed to have to leave Chrissie, though.’

‘The Lieutenant should not have disturbed your rest unless it was urgent,’ Spock said disapprovingly, knowing how hard she worked without extra prompting.

Nyota shrugged, adopting a neutral expression.

‘He’s young and uncertain. He’ll get there. He’s talented.’

‘He is not of your calibre,’ Spock sniffed, recalling the Lieutenant’s drunken revelry at the last ship-wide party. Doctor McCoy had not been pleased to have vomit sprayed across his shoes.

‘Who is?’ she replied, with a wicked smile. ‘Anyway, stop distracting me. I came here to talk about Jim.’

‘Nyota,’ Spock sighed, his heart giving a painful lurch. ‘Please, I cannot…’

There was sympathy written across Nyota’s face, but she approached him nonetheless, resting a gentle hand upon his shoulder.

‘Spock, you can’t live like this. It’s painful to watch, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to feel the way you do.’

Spock suppressed a tremor with difficulty, the corners of his lips tugging unwillingly downwards. As a child, despite the so-called disadvantage of his mixed blood, the fantasy of finding a bondmate had carried him through the turmoil of his years on Vulcan. It had seemed such a remote possibility back then, but hope was not an easy thing to curtail, and a glimmer of it had followed him from the day he had become cognisant of marriage bonds, to the day he had set foot upon the grounds of the Academy. Though still different to his peers, he could not help but wish for acceptance for whom he was. Now, and not for the first time, he wished he were more disciplined in his kya’shin.

‘In time, I will control it,’ he rasped, appalled at the rough edge to his voice. ‘It is the Vulcan way to control our emotions.’

‘Not all of them,’ Nyota said quietly, shaking her head in desperation as her hand slid from his shoulder. ‘Not like this. Spock, that man looks at you like you light the stars at night. You’ve got to tell him how you feel.’

Spock shook his head desperately, finding it difficult enough to contain himself without her encouragement.

‘You are misinterpreting his friendship for desire. I appreciate that you wish for me to be content, but Jim cannot know this.’

‘I think you’re wrong,’ Nyota rebutted quietly, ‘and I hate seeing you this way.’

‘I am aware, yet I disagree with your assessment. No matter my pain, what matters is that I remain by Jim’s side, in whatever capacity I am allowed.’

Spock swallowed, his throat aching as he fought for composure.

‘I cannot lose him, Nyota. He is everything to me.’

Nyota nodded sadly, giving him a tight, empathetic smile that made his eyes sting.   

‘I know,’ she said softly, sympathy and frustration warring in her expression. ‘I wish you could see what I see. What all of us see.’

Spock did not wish to argue about this. He did not wish to hope. His gaze dipped, and he remained silent, tired of attempting to explain himself.

When nothing further was forthcoming from Spock, Nyota sighed and ran a hand through her hair, appearing to give up.

‘Okay, we can talk about this some other time. Are you going to your quarters?’

Spock shook his head. There was always work to do with the laboratories, and it would serve the dual purpose of delaying the possibility of his traumatic memories manifesting in dreams, and preventing him from hearing Jim wandering sleeplessly in the night, thereby eliminating Spock’s poorly-suppressed need to soothe him.

‘I have had an adequate amount of rest. I will return to Laboratory One.’

Nyota looked as if she were going to say something further in their battle of wills, but decided against it, her mouth cracking open in a yawn that drew her hand up to cover it.

‘Well, I should’ve been in bed ages ago,’ she said sleepily, eyeing him with as stern an expression as could be generated at this hour. ‘You should at least try and sleep after you’ve done your lab work.’

Spock dipped his head in acknowledgement of her statement rather than responding, knowing that there was little chance that he would return to his bed until the early hours. Nyota gave him a quick, fond smile, then turned to leave, her boots echoing on the gridded floor. Spock regretted that they did not share the same opinions regarding Jim’s feelings, but he was certain that she would come to agree, given time. Though Jim clearly wished for his company, he had displayed no amorous behaviours that Spock could identify, and given the tendency of others to objectify him, Spock did not wish to make his Captain feel as if he was one of those people. Jim had gifted him with friendship and trust, and he would not violate that.

He looked out into the expanse of space a moment longer, feeling perhaps less awed than usual by the view. While he still appreciated the gift and importance of their mission, everything felt a little dimmer in his current situation. Gathering himself, he straightened his uniform shirt and left the Observation Deck, beginning the long walk down to Laboratory One. Jim had insisted upon revealing the laboratory to Spock himself at the beginning of the mission, beaming like a child in receipt of a present as Spock praised the specifications and advanced equipment therein. Spock enjoyed praising Jim, if only for the flush of pleasure and the beautiful smile that would spread across his face, so genuinely happy to be commended.

Again, he found himself thinking of Jim against his best interests, and no matter how hard he tried to force his attention onto something else, he failed. As he walked the corridors, his surroundings were ignored, his focus resting entirely on attempting to distract himself from Jim. As such, when he reached the laboratory, he found himself surprised by how quickly he seemed to have arrived. The room was empty when he entered, a familiar and comfortable rush of heat overtaking him as the computer recognised his sole occupancy. This, if not at Jim’s side, was the place he preferred to be.

His experiment, well-handled by the ensigns under his supervision, remained in place on his habitual workstation. The latest planetary admission into the Federation – Euridian – had provided the Enterprise with a gift of various flora, fauna, and geological samples, which Spock had spent much of his free time recently studying. The variance in the properties of such samples never ceased to amaze him, and yet there were unexpected similarities, tying Euridian to both Terra and Vulcan despite their distance. Three oxygenated planets, two heavily water-based, but even so, Spock marvelled at how life could evolve in much the same way so independently. Calibrating his microscope, he slid one delicate slide easily into its cradle, focusing the lens precisely.

And paused.

The laboratory walls were not as well insulated as their quarters were, and Spock’s sensitive hearing caught the sound of wandering footsteps in the corridor. He knew that gait, and that low murmur of a voice, and a shiver flashed up his spine as Jim approached. He was unable to stop himself from turning towards the door when the access chime sounded, joy and anxiety warring in him at the sight of the man he loved so dearly.

‘Captain?’

---------------------------------

Jim couldn’t sleep.

That in itself wasn’t unusual. He’d spent many a night wandering his quarters in the early hours, wakefulness beating a painful drumbeat in his head as nightmares and insomnia conspired to deny him rest. Usually, he could soothe himself to sleep just in time to really feel his Alpha alarm, taming the dark circles under his eyes before shift barely enough to slide under Bones’ radar. Tonight, however, his own company wasn’t enough. Loneliness had been with Jim a long time, his constant companion throughout his early trauma. Bones was the first person he’d really let into his world, and he couldn’t ask for a better friend, but neither Bones nor friendship were what he needed tonight.

Shivering, Jim let his tired eyes fall upon the door to the fresher that connected his room to Spock’s, a familiar longing choking him. His throat ached fiercely, and he swallowed in an attempt to soothe it, folding his arms across his bare chest. He had no right to feel this way. Sure, Spock’s seesaw relationship with Uhura had apparently come to an end after his temporary death, but they still seemed to spend a hell of a lot of time together. No one touched him as freely as she did, and although she and Jim were now more siblings than enemies, Jim couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy every time he saw her hand brush Spock’s shoulder. What with all their whispered conversations in the mess, and the chess game invitations Spock had recently declined, Jim had a sneaking suspicion that they had rekindled things. The very thought froze his blood.

Even if they weren’t back together, Jim’s gradually increasing affection seemed to correlate with Spock’s gradually increasing disinterest. During the months that they were grounded, they had grown closer than Jim had ever thought possible, and it was the first time he had allowed himself to think of Spock in a romantic light. Though he was sure now that he had been imagining things, Spock’s daily presence at the hospital, his gentle hands on Jim during his physical therapy, and the unwavering emotional as well as practical support he had provided had led Jim to feel that most dangerous of emotions – hope. Under his care, Jim’s attraction had blossomed into affection far deeper and of more permanence than before, and the growing urge to tell him so had become difficult to ignore. Now, however, Spock had withdrawn from him, with subtle, painful slowness like the backwards drag of a needle, until Jim had forgotten what it felt like to hear warmth in his voice. He had not touched Jim in over a month, and he evaded Jim’s clumsy, desperate attempts to reach out with skill. Jim had no right to love him, but he did. And Spock was clearly not interested, attached or otherwise.

Shivering, Jim pulled on his old, faded Academy sweatshirt, intent on wandering the ship. There was no point rattling around in his quarters, and he didn’t feel a request for late night company would go well with Bones, who had just finished up yet another long shift after Crusher’s latest accident. Alone and confined wasn’t good for Jim when he felt like this.

Stuffing his communicator into the wide, stretched out pocket at the front of the sweatshirt, he ran a hand through his hair in an attempt to look vaguely presentable, and ventured out into the corridor. Ship’s night was always quiet apart from the low hum of machinery, and tonight was no exception. The corridors were largely empty, and Jim was grateful that those he did see seemed either too busy or too tired to notice the state he was in. He smiled and ducked his head at every passing salute, aimless in his wandering. The observation deck was a favourite of his, but he found that his feet carried him in the opposite direction tonight, taking the turbolift down to the lower levels.

Maybe it was a subconscious attempt to get closer to Spock, or maybe it was just coincidence, but without conscious thought, he ended up outside Laboratory One. Spock was king here, his subjects those whom Jim affectionately called his children – a group of young, starry-eyed Science ensigns who worshipped the ground he walked on. Sure, they respected Jim, but if it came down to a choice between the two of them, there was no question whose side they would take. Not that Jim intended on any kind of schism with Spock; according to Bones, it was pretty transparent that he was head over heels for him.

‘Captain,’ Lieutenant Mayes murmured as she passed by, and Jim greeted her absently, fixated on the slim figure visible through the glass. He couldn’t suppress the thrill that quickened his heart as he inputted the release code for the door and Spock looked over his shoulder, all soft, rounded nose and wide human eyes.

‘Captain?’

God, Jim was a mess. The low, even purr of Spock’s voice was enough to leave him shivering with want, and a beat passed before Jim could muster his own lame reply.

‘Hi. What are you up to?’

Spock gestured at his microscope, a detachment in his expression that made the joy in Jim’s chest shrivel into nothing.

‘I am analysing the properties of one of the samples from Euridian. It is… fascinating.’

‘High praise,’ Jim smiled, wilting a little when all he received was a cursory glance, and a quiet murmur of ‘‘Indeed.’’

Pain and irritation bubbled up in Jim in equal measure, and his dry throat ached as he waited fruitlessly for more. Spock’s attention was like food; once, he had subsisted on so little and had acclimatised, but having since been allowed to indulge himself, now he was starving for it. The silence grew long between them, and Jim shifted from foot to foot as Spock returned to his work, the easy balance they had once had entirely gone.

‘Will you just look at me?’ he blurted, feeling perilously, shamefully close to tears.

Spock drew back from the microscope and turned to him with a flicker of concern passing across his otherwise blank face.

‘God, Spock,’ Jim began, the sound bursting from him like the rush of water from a broken dam, words spilling uncontrollably from his lips. ‘I don’t mean to sound needy here, but you barely even interact with me anymore. What the hell is going on?’

‘I do not know what you mean, Captain,’ Spock sniffed, though there was an uneasy glint in his eye.

There was a tinge of hysteria to Jim’s ensuing snort, one unsteady hand rising from his pocket to comb through, and clutch at, his dishevelled hair.

‘You barely even make eye contact with me on the Bridge, let alone off-shift. What have I done to… have I upset you or something?’

‘Vulcans do not get upset,’ Spock replied, deadpan.

‘You’re half-human,’ Jim said roughly, regretting his intemperance when Spock’s gaze lowered to the floor. ‘Look, I-I’m sorry. I just don’t understand what I’ve done to change things between us.’

Spock shook his head, his mouth opening in a silent gape much like it had in Starfleet Headquarters on the day of Pike’s murder. Jim didn’t like the think about that day after all the pain it had brought, but the moment was so strongly reminiscent of back then, he couldn’t help it. Only this time, he wasn’t going to walk away so easily.

Eventually, Spock appeared to gather his thoughts, and spoke.

‘You have not done anything, Captain. Rather, it is myself who is the problem.’

‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ Jim quoted with a short, sad laugh. ‘What can I do, Spock? I mean, your relationship with the others doesn’t seem to have changed. Hell, I saw you have a civil conversation with Bones the other day, and I-’

Jim trailed off, uncertainty choking him. He’d thought he knew where he stood with Spock, but now he felt knocked off-kilter, and old insecurities began to surface.

‘What’s wrong with me?’ he asked quietly, his voice thick with vulnerability.

Spock’s eyes softened, and he stepped forward into Jim’s personal space, hesitantly encircling Jim’s bicep with his fingers. Just that simple touch was enough to make Jim’s breath catch, his focus settling entirely on the closeness of Spock’s body, and the controlled strength of the hand that grounded him.

‘There is nothing wrong with you,’ Spock said gently, running his hand down Jim’s arm, ‘and I apologise if my actions have caused you to feel that way. That was not my intention.’

Jim blinked back tears, angry at himself for being so pathetic. He was a grown man; he should be able to take rejection. He should be able to go about his life without clinging to a Vulcan who didn’t want him, and yet here he was, trembling with want at an innocent touch.

‘You are an exemplary Captain,’ Spock continued, still holding him, ‘and you have offered me friendship in a way that few others have. I care for you greatly.’

‘Then why do you feel so far away right now?’

It might have been a ridiculous question, given the fact that they were practically sharing breath, but Spock’s tiny, painful smile spoke of nothing but sadness.

‘I am currently attempting, with the help of meditation, to process some information that I have recently discovered about myself. Whilst I do this, I have withdrawn from the majority of social activities, including our chess games. Nyota is aiding me in this.’

That was a punch to the stomach. Of course, Nyota had known him for longer, and they had been together once if they weren’t still, but Jim was… Jim had thought they were close. The desperate sadness must have shown, because Spock moved in yet closer, and Jim was hyperaware of the diminishing space between them. It would be so easy to lean over and brush their lips together, with Spock’s mouth open and soft and pliant like this. It would be so easy… and yet, the chance of it being reciprocated seemed little to none.

‘Can’t- can’t I help?’ he asked pleadingly, in lieu of acting on impulse and doing something that Spock, at least, would regret.

Spock shook his head, beautiful eyes wide and sad.

‘You cannot. You are my closest companion, and I-’                   

The pneumatic hiss of the lab doors startled Jim, and they broke apart like guilty teenagers, Spock’s hand sliding from Jim’s arm. A rather sleepy-eyed Ensign Ferreira had wandered in, and upon seeing her senior officers, blinked, and scrambled to salute them.

‘Sirs!’

Jim might have sympathised more with her awkward attempt to salvage her dignity had he not been so furious that the moment was ruined. It was always difficult to get Spock to talk about his feelings – or admit that they existed at all – and now he was a rabbit in headlights, withdrawing back into the familiar, stoic figure that he always was in public. Helpless and deflated, Jim watched his opportunity to find out what was going on slip through his fingers, certain he wouldn’t get anything more from Spock tonight.

‘I… I was just coming to check on the samples,’ Ferreira mumbled, looking so nervous that Jim softened despite his disappointment. ‘I’m sorry if I interrupted anything. I didn’t think to check if the lab was occupied.’

‘It’s a free space for any crew member,’ Jim reminded her gently, his heart sinking as Spock stepped away from him.

‘I appreciate your diligence, Ensign, but the matter is in hand. You are free to go if you wish.’

‘Thank you,’ Ferreira said breathlessly, practically tripping over herself in her eagerness to leave.

Jim watched her go with a hammering heart, searching for Spock as soon as the door had hissed closed. His stomach dropped when he saw that Spock had returned to his work without another word, turning away from him literally and figuratively.

‘Are you going to your quarters?’ he asked hopefully, fidgeting with the threadbare cuffs of his hoodie. ‘We could walk back up together.’

‘Not yet.’ Detachment had returned to Spock’s voice in a way that made Jim’s stomach churn unpleasantly, his focus once more on his microscope. ‘You should return, Captain. You need your rest.’

‘So do you,’ Jim countered, but saw in Spock’s fleeting glance that he wasn’t going to win this round.

‘Goodnight, Captain.’

Jim stood dumbly for a long moment, feeling hot and shaky and exhausted. The sense of not being good enough roared back to life, and Jim stumbled backwards on unsteady legs, making a hasty retreat.

‘’Night,’ he managed to choke out, before fleeing the lab for his quarters. He held himself together on the journey in case any of the crew saw him, tight-lipped and blank-eyed in his effort to remain calm. Yet the second the door to his quarters closed, he allowed himself to lose his composure, his stinging eyes overflowing as he wiped furiously at them, desperately sad. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected. Spock didn’t feel the same – he was aware of that – but their easy, intimate friendship had disappeared with such speed, ripped away with no warning. No matter what happened, Jim had always known that he had Spock to fall back on, his steady, sure companion always there to ground and save and rebuke him. Now he had lost both his friendship and his footing, and his chest ached so fiercely, it felt like his heart was collapsing in on itself.

The urge to call Selek was overwhelming, despite the ungodly hour it would be on New Vulcan. Although he could never really tell Jim anything about his timeline, there was a Spock who loved him, and had loved another version of him for so many years. Their meld on Delta Vega had torn the breath from his lungs, such was the depth of emotion in Selek’s recollection of his own Jim, flashes of their extraordinary relationship playing out before his eyes. Jim wanted that with his Spock so badly, but it was just his luck that his would be the universe without the chance.

Drained by the painful emotions of the evening, he stripped down to his underwear and crawled into bed, leaving his clothes where they dropped. He’d regret that in the morning, but right now, he couldn’t care less. If he didn’t want Bones to take him off duty tomorrow, he needed to sleep. Wrapping his frigid body up in his duvet, he squeezed his eyes shut, and tried to force himself to rest.

Jim had clawed back four and a half hours of blessed sleep by the time he woke, dragging himself reluctantly out of bed as his alarm demanded his attention. Shuffling into the fresher, he sighed when he saw the state of his bloodshot eyes, knowing that nothing would hide them from Bones. If only he could get away with wearing sunglasses on the Bridge without Spock objecting. He cleared himself up as best he could, and hesitantly knocked on the door that led to Spock’s quarters, hoping that he would be able to catch him before shift. He waited for a long, silent moment as no answer came, but then realised with a heavy heart that no answer would. They’d got into a routine of going to breakfast together when they were on the same shift, but that had been phased out along with the chess matches and the warmth in Spock’s eyes. He knew he couldn’t show his feelings to the crew – not with the effect it could have on morale – so before he left his quarters, he made certain that he could at least pretend to be okay, forcing a smile as he encountered Uhura in the corridor.

‘Morning, Captain,’ she trilled, looking as bright and beautiful as ever. ‘Are you on Alpha this morning?’

‘Unfortunately so,’ Jim replied, forcing a chirpy tone. ‘Are you going to the mess?’

‘No, I met Spock for breakfast earlier.’

Jim tried not to look like he’d been punched in the stomach, but judging by the narrowing of Nyota’s eyes, he hadn’t been entirely successful.

‘I’ll- I’ll see you on the Bridge then,’ he said faintly, walking swiftly past and pretending not to hear her concerned call of ‘Jim?’

He wasn’t sure if it was the lack of sleep or something psychosomatic, but when he entered the Mess, a wave of nausea rolled over him, the smell of food making his stomach churn. He caught Bones’ terrifyingly sharp eye, and smiled as brightly as he could given the circumstances, sliding into the empty seat beside him.

‘If I didn’t know that that’s your ‘concerned’ look, I’d think you were a serial killer.’

Bones eyed him resentfully as he reached for a slice of his apple, picking at the skin.

‘Do you have to sit so close to me? I can feel your breath on my neck.’

‘You like that?’ Jim grinned, his dark mood lightening a little at Bones’ furious glare. ‘And yes, I do need to sit this close to you. It’s almost as if you don’t like me.’

‘Whatever gave you that idea?’ Bones asked sarcastically, his forehead creasing into a familiar frown. ‘And why the hell aren’t you eating already?’

Jim shrugged, his queasiness not yet having abated.

‘Not really hungry.’

Despite saying so, he reached for a few more apple slices, the idea of refusing available food anathema to him. He snapped off a piece of one with his teeth, grimacing at the watery taste and mushy texture, choking it down nonetheless. His hand flew to his neck at the sudden sharp pain there, and he glared at Bones when he noticed the empty hypo being disposed of, his nausea disappearing as if it had never been there at all.

‘Why didn’t you tell me you felt sick?’ Bones grumbled, pushing across the rest of the apple and some strawberries. ‘S’what I’m here for, dumbass.’

Jim shrugged, starting to eat without much thought, his appetite rapidly forming.

‘You know what? I’m going to get you some oatmeal. Don’t look at me like that, kid – wait here.’

Although he’d already finished what he’d been given, Jim obeyed, if only to avoid the inevitable bitching. His gaze wandered across the room and fell upon Sulu, who threw him a mock-salute and a grin, before being pulled back into conversation by a very animated Chekov. Everyone he made eye contact with someone, they acknowledged him with a smile, but no one approached his table. He appreciated that his rank might intimidate some of his crewmembers, and also that his duties prevented him from spending much individual time with those he did not see every day, but with the loss of Spock, he felt stripped bare, and his loneliness seemed that bit more acute. Still, he had Bones, and he didn’t doubt that he’d always have Bones, cantankerous and obsessive and caring as he was.

‘There ya go,’ Bones said breezily, sliding a bowl full of oatmeal and banana in front of him, along with a slice of toast and scrambled eggs. ‘You’re gonna eat the oatmeal because it’s good for you.’

Jim grumbled incoherently, but began eating anyway, making short work of the toast and eggs before starting in on the oatmeal. It wasn’t long before he realised quite how much he wanted to stop eating, his stomach becoming uncomfortably full, but he couldn’t waste food, not ever. He scooped a little more onto his spoon, and stared down at it, willing himself not to feel sick. Before he could try and eat it, the spoon was taken from him, and Jim was unable to suppress a peep of protest, knowing that he didn’t want it, but unable to give it up without a fight either.

‘All right, kiddo,’ Bones said calmly, carefully pulling the bowl over to his side of the table. ‘My fault for bringing you too much. You don’t have to eat it.’

Jim froze in indecision, struggling with the urge to hoard it, to save it for later when he might – just might – need it.

‘I can’t waste it,’ he whispered, flushing with shame.

Ever patient at times like this, Bones shook his head, looking him directly in the eye.

‘You’re not, Jim. Replicator food is recycled, you know that. You’re not taking food away from anyone, I promise. And there’ll always be more available, whenever you want it. ’

Jim nodded hesitantly, relaxing enough for Bones to pile the bowl on top of his own empty plate, rational thought returning. It was embarrassing that he still felt like this, but he knew Bones would never judge him.

‘Thanks,’ he murmured, earning a solid clap to his shoulder.

‘Anytime. I’d hug you, but I’m not sure you’d appreciate that in the mess.’

‘Yeah, maybe not,’ Jim smiled, grateful as ever for his best friend. ‘You on Alpha?’

Bones snorted.

‘I’m on every shift under the sun.’

‘Only because you put yourself on them,’ Jim laughed, gathering up the plates. ‘You never leave Medbay. You work too damn hard.’

‘Pot, meet kettle,’ Bones rebutted, following him as he moved towards the waste units. ‘I’d better go set up. I’ve got Crusher in this morning. Pulled his stitches again and Christine’s not best pleased.’

‘Jacob,’ Jim sighed, getting rid of their breakfast, and steering Bones towards the door.

‘I know. That boy needs to be more careful. Monty’s going to keep an eye on him for me.’

‘Ooh, ’Monty’,’ Jim mocked, earning a subtle, but sharp, elbow to the ribs as spots of colour appeared high on Bones’ cheeks. ‘Ow! I thought you were meant to heal people, not injure them.’

Bones shrugged, looking entirely remorseless.

‘Sometimes the occasion calls for it. Don’t get yourself hurt today.’

‘I’m on the Bridge,’ Jim protested, standing on one side of the doorway as Bones stood at the other. ‘How am I supposed to hurt myself? Tripping on the grid? Getting my ass trapped in the Chair?’

‘Wouldn’t surprise me,’ Bones said darkly, drawing his padd from his pocket as it bleeped. ‘Gotta go, Jim. Crusher’s already arrived.’

‘Good luck!’ Jim called after him, turning in the opposite direction towards the turbolift. He was slightly early for shift, but no doubt most of the others would already be in place, eager as they were. The thought of seeing Spock both thrilled and unnerved him, not knowing what his reaction would be, nor what reception he would get after last night. He tried not to be too hopeful though. Given Spock’s behaviour over the last few weeks, he didn’t think he’d be running into his open arms.

Stepping out onto the Bridge, he couldn’t help but smile as Chekov cheerfully announced his entrance, taking the place of the Gamma shift Lieutenant in his chair.

‘Morning, Captain,’ Sulu greeted, as he took the helm, and Uhura squeezed his arm as she walked by, giving him an affectionate smile. How times had changed. He knew that Spock had come to stand by him before he spoke, keenly aware of the shift in the air behind him, and the subtle, warm scent that he had come to associate with his Vulcan.

‘Captain,’ came the low, quiet greeting, and Jim turned with an irrepressible smile, enamoured as ever by the sight of him.

‘Hi, Spock,’ he beamed, taking a padd handed to him by Yeoman O’Neil. ‘Ready for another fun-filled day of star-mapping?’

‘As ever,’ Spock muttered, drawing an amused huff from Jim. ‘Given the complexity of our recent mission, I imagine that the crew is grateful for some respite.’

Jim’s smile died, recalling the number of private vidcalls to family he’d had to make, their son, daughter, wife or husband gone into the black. Nobody ever said it, but he knew that he was at least partially at fault. If he’d been a better Captain, a better strategist, a better person, then-

Jim sucked in a shaky breath as Spock touched him for only the second time in weeks, a solid hand taking hold of his arm and squeezing lightly.

‘You were not at fault,’ Spock said quietly, drawing his solemn gaze upwards to meet deep brown eyes. ‘There were extremely unfortunate circumstances, and had you not intervened, far more of our crewmembers would have perished.’

Jim wanted to believe that, but he wasn’t sure he could. Still, Spock seemed to, given his unwavering stare, and right now, that was enough. He managed a quirk of his lips, shoulders slumping as Spock’s hand fell away, and he returned to his station without another word. Time passed unbelievably slowly as Jim wrote report after report, cringing at his contribution to the ‘Fleet obituaries. He hadn’t known half of the officers who had died as well as he wanted to, and the standard patter sounded so dry and unfeeling. He brought a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose as a headache began to form, which was only exacerbated by the shrill call to his chair comm, the sound piercing through the quiet of the Bridge. Jim slammed his hand down on the answer button, wincing.

‘Kirk here.’

‘Sir, I think you’d better take a look at the transporter. It’s goin’ mad! It’s like a Risian rave in here!’

Jim’s eyes met Spock’s across the Bridge, understanding passing between them in a split-second, and Jim spoke for them both.

‘We’re on our way. Sulu, you’ve got the conn.’

‘Yes, sir.’

They rose as one, and Jim led the way into the turbolift, neither speaking as Jim grimly contemplated what fresh hell the transporter would bring. As soon as they were on the right floor, Jim was running, and Spock kept up with ease, strange flashing lights reflecting on the wall facing the transporter room. In a Risian nightclub, it wouldn’t have looked out of place, but when they arrived, it was clear that this wasn’t down to a rogue discoball. The transporter was throwing out a spectrum of colour, and Scotty was stood helplessly before it with screwdriver in hand, looking to them for orders.

‘Sir, I have no idea what’s happening right now.’

Jim started forward, intent on trying something with the control panel, but before he could, there came a blinding flash of light from the transporter. Jim threw an arm up to shield his eyes, and when he dared to look, his breath caught in his throat. There on the platform were three small children, one just a babe in the arms of the eldest, who appeared to be no more than four or five herself. They were the spitting image of Spock – cute little rounded noses, bitty pointed ears… except the baby was blond. And all three had very familiar bright blue eyes.

‘Spock,’ Jim said faintly. ‘I’m not seeing things, am I?’

Oddly, Spock’s voice was just as subdued.

‘You are not, Captain.’

The baby began to cry.