Spock is seven when his mother plants the first cactus in their garden. It’s not more than half a meter tall, a fledgling thing in the heat of the desert sun, but after three days it begins to flower, pale pink buds that open into brilliant fuchsia petals. His mother calls him outside after the morning meal, to see the development.
He cannot explain why this particular instance is so vivid in his mind. There is little he remembers of being so young, aside from his schooling and his father’s tutoring on Surak’s teachings — but he can still call to mind in crisp relief the sight of his mother, the imprints the heels of her shoes left when she knelt in the red sand, and the curve of the wide-brimmed hat she wore to protect her face from the sun.
His mother cups one of the flowers gently in her hands, as gently as she touches Spock’s forehead when he is ill — it is the same way Spock holds things that he is afraid of breaking — but his mother is not afraid. He stands with his hands clasped behind his back, careful not to dirty his clean robes, and she smiles up at him.
“Look, Spock,” she says. “Aren’t they beautiful? Soon we’ll have a whole garden full.”
Spock’s mind is still preoccupied with the lesson his father imparted upon him the night before — it was a guided meditation, with emphasis on the importance of allocating and preserving energy to achieve the maximum level of efficiency in thought and action. We must not waste ourselves on things which will yield no fruit, Spock, his father said. Vulcan thrives because its people devote their entire selves to advancement.
“Will it grow fruit?” he asks his mother, because Sarek is not here to do it.
His mother only looks bemused. “No, Spock. It’s a cactus.”
“Will the plant itself be suitable for consumption?”
“No, sweetheart.” Spock asked his mother to refrain from calling him by that moniker when he was four and observed his father requesting the same treatment, but she has never acquiesced to either of them. “The garden will just be nice to look at, nice to tend. It will be — aesthetically pleasing, like your father says.”
Spock often feels as if his mother has trouble connecting with him. His father has told him it is because of his Vulcan half, the half that will always be alien to his mother no matter how long she resides on this planet. “Mother,” he says, “it is illogical to expend your time and energy cultivating flora which will not bear fruit.”
His mother’s face shifts into the expression that she often wears right before she says, Oh, Spock. “Each cactus is its own unique, brilliant life,” she says, reaching out to take one of his hands in hers. “Isn’t it logical to preserve something that’s singular in the universe?”
Spock didn’t understand, back then, that something could be singular. It’s an entirely human way of comprehending the billions of toiling, suffering lifeforms in existence — as individuals, irreplacable by any equivalent or reproduction. It is Vulcan to understand the merits of a soul, the value of it in its efficiency, usefulness — but it is human to truly see that soul with all its flaws, in its entirety.
He doesn’t understand, so he says, “It is illogical to use contractions, mother.” She smiles, and it is not the first time that Spock suspects she is merely imitating the emotion.
It’s nine in the morning, but Jim’s still dead asleep when his padd pings. It’s just one blip, which means it’s a written message instead of a comm call, so he has every intention of ignoring it and going back to sleep until he hears it blip again — the way it’s programmed to do only for transmissions from his command crew.
Jim rolls out of bed and makes his way across the room to the desk. The temporary quarters that they’ve been given by Starfleet’s London branch are nice enough — spacious, after so many months on the Enterprise, and probably pretty expensive for people that actually have to pay for them, all modern furniture and panoramic windows and convenient luxuries. Jim’s not complaining about the king bed, but —
The exhaustion he’s feeling isn’t something that can be remedied by a nice bed, or even some nice bodies in it. Bones — shacked up across the hall, in case Jim decides to irradiate himself again — assures him that it’s nothing medical, and that it will pass with time, but they’ve been paraded through seven administrative meetings and three memorial services in the past four days. He doesn’t need sleep, he needs out.
His padd greets him with pale blue light, and a notification that he has a memo from Spock. He presses his thumbprint into the screen, opens the message, and scans its contents. Then he just sits for a long moment, in his underpants, hunched over the padd, cool air drying the thin sheen of sleep-sweat on his bare skin.
“Green-blooded hobgoblin,” he tells the empty room. It doesn’t reply, but Jim’s cried in this room, fucked twice, been fucked once, slipped in the shower, thrown up completely sober, and practiced a eulogy for an Admiral who tried to kill him, among other less dignified things. So he thinks it probably agrees.
Command tried to talk him into letting the locals drive him around everywhere, but Jim insisted on any crew who wanted personal vehicles to be provided with them for the duration of their stay. It’s a small thing, but to Jim it’s important — being able to go where he wants when he wants, without Starfleet on his ass.
It’s a good thing, too, because right now he’s in sweatpants and a Beastie Boys tee shirt and a leather jacket, and he’s ninety-nine percent sure Command wouldn’t approve. He’s still getting the hang of driving on the wrong side of the speedway, but he’s mastered this particular route pretty well.
Spock won’t be in his room this late in the morning. Jim’s First Officer has a habit of rising at 0500 and immediately commencing his work for the day, even while their ship is undergoing repairs and they’ve been granted mental health shore leave. Spock has taken the liberty of creating work for himself in the five days since their arrival, assisting with the reconstruction of the archives sabotaged by Khan.
He’s exactly where Jim expects him to be — sitting at his private work station under one of the enormous field tents that have been constructed over the site of the former archive. Jim’s clearance gets him past the perimeter, and then it’s just the maze of a hundred Starfleet technicians on a hundred recovery computers.
His second in command is dressed as casually as Jim’s ever seen him — in his science blues, instead of his formal greys. His eyes move from his work to Jim before he’s even in hearing range, like he sensed him coming or some weird prescient telepathic shit —
Jim doesn’t stop to chat, just says while he’s walking by, “Commander Spock, a word.”
Spock rises from his seat and follows Jim out of the tent without objection. It’s only once they’re out in the open that he inquires, “Captain, I have recieved no notification that anything is amiss with the ship — “
“It’s not the Enterprise, Spock,” Jim cuts him off. It’s drizzling, and there are still fine pieces of rubble underfoot, not quite cleaned up from the explosion. Jim’s whole body has a sort of phantom tingle, like his fingertips are missing the feel of the Enterprise’s engines underneath them. “It’s the request you put in.”
Spock inclines his head almost imperceptibly, but Jim’s spent enough time in his company that he’s got Spock’s micro-expressions down pat — that’s incomprehension. “I thought it logical — “
“Fuck, Spock,” Jim cuts him off again, but — it’s been a long week, he’s on edge. “My own mother never requested to see my medical records. What the hell makes you think you have the right?”
“Captain, given your recent — “ Spock stops. Jim’s never heard Spock at a loss for words, but there’s a breath, a moment of silence before he continues. “Given your recent brush with death, I concluded it would be wise for me to be availed of any medical problems that might arise. As your First Officer — “
“It’s not your job, Spock,” Jim says, too loud. “Bones has my records, that’s enough — “
“Doctor McCoy cannot be at your side at all times,” Spock interrupts. “In fact, as the majority of his time is spent in sick bay while we are on duty, it is even more logical that I be the one to monitor your condition — “
“There’s no way you’re getting those records — “
“I would imagine they contain little information I do not already know — “
Jim laughs, and Spock’s face flickers in shock. It would almost serve him right, Jim thinks, to see all the pages and pages and years and years of allergies and injuries and hospitalizations that are in those files, that only Jim and Bones have ever seen in full, Chapel in part. But that’s too complete a picture — those are the edges of an image of his Captain that Jim’s not keen to fill in for him.
Spock collects himself. “Captain,” he says carefully, “I cannot adequately see to your safety unless I am aware of all the threats — “
“I’m fine, Spock,” Jim says, harsher than he wanted. He adjusts his tone. “Look, you saved my life, okay? You and Bones and Uhura and the crew, you brought me back. I’m back, I’m alive. Just leave it.”
He’s always been fine, and he’ll always be fine. There are eight hundred people relying on him to be fine, be better than fine, so that’s what he is, he’s —
“— fine, Bones, really,” he says, but his words are starting to slur together, he’s got maybe fifteen minutes before he passes out from blood loss, and that’s not great but he’s in medbay, so it’s —
“It’s not fine, dammit,” Bones is yelling at him, but Bones is always yelling at him, that’s just how Bones talks, he says you idiot and he means we almost lost you, “your leg looks like it went through a shredder, the amount of reconstructive surgery I’m going to have to do would blow your mind — “
“Hey, I can’t help what the — what the — the Gorn — “
“Captain,” Spock says, from across the med bay. Jim sees him through a whirlwind of activity, the organized chaos of a medical crew in panic mode, his First Officer standing ramrod straight even though his face is as close to broken as Jim’s ever seen it — he’s a pillar, but Jim blinks and he’s at his bedside. “Doctor McCoy, I must demand report on the extent of the Captain’s inj — “
“His leg’s smashed to shit,” Bones snaps back, true to form. “That lizard dropped a boulder on him from twenty feet up, you saw it same as I did — “ Spock flinches, but Jim doesn’t see it, because Jim is mostly gone, Jim is — “goddamnit, man, I’ve got to get him into surgery — “
“I require your assurances that the Captain will recover — “
“Not if you don’t get out of my way he won’t,” and Jim’s not seeing anything now but the glare of the lights on the ceiling, just hearing Bones’ voice like a growl and Spock’s smooth steady tone like a balm. “Can’t you see that I’m fucking covered in his blood, get the hell out of my medbay, I have to — “
Then Jim’s unconscious, and he’s fine, better than fine.
He’s blinking awake, and he feels smaller than he thinks he should. The biobed he’s laying in is too big, too soft, it feels like it’s swallowing him. There’s the blip of a heart monitor by his head, and everything is very white and very clean, even his skin, and it feels wrong, it feels —
“Welcome back, sunshine,” says a nurse, from the door. Jim’s eyes find her, darting quickly, and it’s strange — the calmness of this place, like being under a roof in a downpour. The nurse makes her way across the room to his bedside, with a cup of water. He eyes it warily. The nurse laughs, like he’s being silly. “You’re safe now, James,” she says. “Starfleet recieved the distress call you sent. It’s over. Kodos is in the brig.”
Jim takes the cup of water very slowly and takes a sip. Outside, in the hall of the ship, a gurney is wheeled past, with a boy on it, and the boy is too still, and he’s got red eyelashes Jim can see from here —
His heart kicks into overdrive, and he tries to sit up, he has to get out of bed, but there are tubes in his arm, pulling at his veins, the gurney is gone but all he can see is a small thin hand on top of the sheets, with black doodles on it, all he can see is sitting around the campfire with one pen and Tommy wasting all the ink —
The nurse pushes him back into bed easily. “Calm down,” she says, sterner than before. “You need your rest, James. You’ve been through quite an ordeal.”
Like he needs her to fucking tell him that. “That’s my — “ he tries to say, but his voice cracks, rasps in his dry unused throat. “I’m fine, I need to get up, that’s my family — “
“Your mother is on board,” the nurse says, and that’s not at all what Jim means, that’s not — “She’ll be here soon. I notified her that you were waking up when your vitals changed — “
He wakes up after Tarsus and tells everyone he’s fine. Tells his mother and Sam and the kids with the hollow cheeks and the bony knees and the ribs you can see through their shirts — I’m okay, honest. It’s his fault they leave, really. But he wakes up after the Gorn and tells Spock I’m okay, I’ll be back on the bridge in no time, and Spock says Mr. Sulu has the conn, and pulls a chair to his bedside, and sits down.
“You’re like a goddamn kid throwing a tanturm, Jim,” Bones says. Jim thinks that’s probably a little extreme — he’s only been AWOL in Paris for three days, and it’s not as if Command can really do anything to him when they just pinned him with some sort of medal of honor. “I know you’re touchy about this stuff, but all the hobgoblin wants is — “
“Bones, you’ve read my records. You’re actually the only one who’s read my records. So you know why I can’t let Spock have them.” It’s late — maybe four in the morning, but Bones called as soon as he got off shift. Jim’s hotel room is dark, and it feels almost sterile, since he’s been the only one in it for the past seventy-two hours. He shelled out a good hunk of credits getting it, but, “He’s just gonna keep nagging.”
“Yeah, he should keep nagging you, you petulant little — “
“Hey, you’re the one who brought me back,” Jim interrupts. “You started all this, with the worrying, and the medically dead thing — seriously, why’d you declare me dead, that made a fucking mess — “
Bones drags a hand over his face. Even in his miniature version on the screen of Jim’s padd, he looks exhausted, and Jim knows that these past few weeks haven’t been easy on him — he’s insisted on doing all the lost crew’s autopsies personally, on top of his other duties. Lesser men would have said fuck it.
“Jim, look,” Bones says, all the fight gone out of his voice, “you weren’t here to see it, so I got to tell you. When you were — gone — Spock was — it was bad, Jim. Like someone unscrewed that helmet hair and cut the wire with all the logical in it. He was some kind of storm — “
“I thought I told you about the metaphors,” Jim says.
But there’s something cracked open, and leaking through there’s lightning storm in space, there’s winds strong enough for a tornado on Earth ripping through red clay and dead corn, there’s blue eyes he knows in his mind he’s never seen, there’s Spock’s face through a crowded medbay.
“Spock’s got a point, Jim,” Bones says. “There’s not exactly a precedent for the procedure you went through. We’ve got no way of predicting any side effects, or complications, and with your allergies, and the fact that you’ve broken just about every bone in your dumbass body, and with everything from Tarsus — “
Jim reaches forward to end the call. “I’ll see you soon, Bones.” The doctor starts to protest, but then the padd goes dark and quiet. It’s almost like he’s back in the void, but there’s no light, no stars, and Jim hasn’t been able to close his eyes to sleep without feeling like he’s suffocating since he spent time gone.
He doesn’t have a hovercar here, so he sets out on foot. There are a few bars that he passes — places he could slip in and grab a drink and lose himself and wake up in the morning with a headache and an alien in his bed. He doesn’t stop, though, he’s too antsy to slow down enough for sex — so he walks until he reaches water, and then he climbs up on the railing and hangs his feet out over the darkness.
The sound of the river moving unseen below him is soothing, almost like having the Enterprise’s engines five decks below him again. The lights of the city all around him seem far-off and blurry. Some days he misses when the whole world used to feel that way, when Iowa was the only part that felt real. He feels a phantom presence at his shoulder, and he’s not sure if it’s —
Spock, his hands clasped behind his back, looking out at the nighttime scene with a bemused squint at the corner of his eye, saying Captain, if I may suggest a more logical use of time, or —
Hands clasping his shoulders, and he knows that he was gone but he doesn’t remember. In his brain there’s some kind of nothingness pulling, but if he stops and looks closely at it it’s not empty, it’s trillions of faces, but it’s not, actually, it’s just his own blue eyes staring back at him, older and steadier and wiser.
Two months and two weeks into their five-year mission, Spock will go to see Lieutenant Sulu in the greenhouse. Sulu, a member of the command team, will not be meant to be working in the greenhouse; Spock will have become aware of the violation several days before, but he will let it slide, in self-interest.
Sulu will look surprised to see him outside of the bridge and the science labs, as most crewmembers do. He will say, “Uh, Commander Spock. I, uh. What are you doing up here?”
Spock’s Vulcan biology will be averse to the concentrated humidity of the room, the steam clouding the air. The plants around him will all be tropical, deeply green, the sorts of things that are conventionally regarded as aesthetically pleasing, but not the sorts of things that grow in a desert. He will doubt himself, briefly, in deciding to come here, and then decide that it makes sense to defer to an expert.
“Lieutenant Sulu,” the Captain often calls the members of the bridge crew by more familiar monikers, but Spock can acknowledge that he resides on their outskirts, not quite connected with them. “I wished to inquire whether there are any cactaceae growing on the ship.”
“I, uh,” it will take Sulu a moment to sort through the inquiry. “Cactuses? Sorry — cacti?” Spock will nod. “Yeah,” Sulu will conclude. “Yeah, I think we’ve got a couple, just — follow me.”
Spock’s presence will appear to cause Sulu a minor amount of anxiety, and the lieutenant’s movements will be stilted and jerky as he leads Spock back into the depths of the greenhouse. He will stop at a low bed of plants, tucked under a table of vivid purple flowers, concentrated UV lights affixed to the underside —
“We were having some trouble getting them to grow,” Sulu will say. “They don’t like the greenhouse, cause it’s too humid, but we don’t really have anywhere else to keep them — “
“If it is amenable to you, I would keep them in my quarters,” Spock will interrupt. He’ll have crouched down in front of the bed of cacti, one hand reached half way out as if to touch a bud — the way his mother used to. “I believe the temperature and more arid atmosphere will be more beneficial to their — tending.”
It is not until two months and one week into their five-year mission that Spock truly understands. But he does — the singularity of the thing, the importance of the individual. He thinks maybe he understands better than most, because most have not watched their garden die only to realize it is so well-loved they cannot — they will not — see it buried.
The bed in Spock’s quarters, when he returns with the cacti in hand, will be perfectly made, unslept in for months. He will place the cacti on the ground next to his desk, and though he will start to leave and return for the UV lamp, he will have to stop, transfixed by a vision of singular beauty.
Through the open doors of their shared washroom, Spock will be able to see into the Captain’s quarters. Jim will be off-shift, asleep in bed, breathing evenly in sleep. He will have forgone a shirt, covered in only his regulation black briefs and the mess of the sheets about him, the line of his back rising and falling gently. Spock’s cactaceae will require the nurturing touch of the artificial sunlight, but not near as much as Spock’s lips will require the cool starmap of Jim’s skin underneath them.
Jim is seven the first time he hears his father die. Before that, his mom never takes him to the memorial services, always drops him off at his grandpa Tiberius’ instead, to spend his birthday. This year, though, she buttons him up in a kid’s sized suit, just like she always does with Sam, and they go together to the transporter station. Sam holds Jim’s hand the whole time, twelve years old and palm sweaty.
The real first time he heard the recording was when he was born — Jim knows that even in the second grade, he’s known that since the first day of school, when the principal called an assembly to welcome the son of the man who saved the U.S.S. Kelvin, sat Jim in front of the gym full of students and told him, your daddy died the day you were born, like some kind of revelation.
He doesn’t remember being born, though. He only remembers bits and pieces of being seven, but what’s seared deepest into the soft tissue of his brain is this —
Looking out over a sea of greys, hundreds of officers packed into one room, but he can’t see any of their faces, maybe he’s still too small to see at the right angle. Raindrops running down the enormous floor to ceiling windows, tracking the trails instead of listening to the Admiral speak. His mother leaning down to kiss his forehead, afterwards, and saying, “He had blue eyes, just like yours.”
The recording is public record, it’s all over the net and it’s not hard to get. He’s got the parental locks coded off his padd as soon as he’s got a reason to, and he spends hours sitting in the barn out back in the rain playing it over and over again, lightning storm in space.
Sam finds him, one night — walks in with a sleeping bag under his arm and a split lip. He climbs the ladder up into the ring of light from Jim’s padd and doesn’t say anything. Jim pauses the recording, and it’s quiet.
“Don’t tell mom and Frank,” Jim says. “I’m not s’posed to see any Kelvin stuff — “
“I’m not gonna tell them, Jimmy, relax,” Sam says. He settles in beside Jim on the ratty old blanket he’s piled up into a nest, and he’s sixteen and Jim’s eleven, but he still pulls Jim against his side and rests their heads together, looking at the padd. “I’m on your side, always.”
Sam reaches out and presses play again. Their dad’s voice fills the barn, panicked and strained and terrified, but this is the only way Jim has ever known him, saying Tiberius? You kidding me? No, that’s the worst. Let’s name him after your dad. Let’s name him Jim.
“See, Jimmy?” Sam says into his hair. “He was lookin’ out for you before he even knew you.”
“Not like Frank,” Jim says. “He was a better dad than Frank, wasn’t he?”
Sam was only five when their dad died, he can’t remember it all that well. But he runs his tongue over his split lip, and says, “Yeah, he was a better dad than Frank.”
They fall asleep out in the barn, Sam’s sleeping bag as a pillow and the ratty blanket underneath them, the Kelvin recording still ringing in both of their ears. When Jim wakes up in the morning, the sleeping bag and Sam are both gone, and there’s a frost settling over the fields outside.
Spock is in his sleeping clothes — loose, thin pants and an open shirt that belts across the front. His hair is most likely out of order, but he was not expecting to receive the Captain this late at night.
Jim looks as if he has not slept in a number of days, the skin under his eyes dark, still in the tee shirt and sweat pants in which Spock saw him last. There are new abrasions across his knuckles, and he’s damp, as if he walked here through the London drizzle, but his eyes when they meet Spock’s are still as much of a gut-punch as ever, strikingly bright when the rest of him is bogged and haggard.
“Captain,” Spock starts to say.
Jim pushes his way inside like he expects Spock to turn him away, and Spock types the code to slide the door closed behind him. “Look, Spock,” Jim says. “I get where you’re coming from, alright. I mean, from a medical standpoint, Bones agrees with you, it’s just — that’s not all it is — “
“Captain?” Spock inquires. He’s finding it mildly alarming to discover that his brain is taking longer than usual to wake up, perhaps because of the way Jim’s hands are shaking, or the way his wet shirt has ridden up above his waistline, too small a size. “If you are reffering to my request to view your medical records, it has been formally withdrawn. I realize that it may have been construed as an invasion of — “
“No, Spock, that’s what I’m trying to say,” Jim interrupts. “Look, there’s just — there’s some stuff in there that you don’t know about me, alright? But I figure, if anyone’s got a right to know, it’s you.”
He pulls a small, handheld padd out of his pocket — one of the ones designed to hold only one or two files, for secure transportation. It asks for a passcode, and Jim enters it, and then hands it off to Spock. Spock accepts it carefully, scanning Jim’s face before he allows himself to scan the top line — Kirk, James Tiberius juvenile and adult medical history, 2223 to present.
“You can — “ Jim says, and then cuts himself off with a frustrated noise. “You’re logical, right? So you’re not going to bolt or anything, just cause you’ve got a full picture.”
“Captain,” Spock replies absently, scrolling. “I would never choose to leave.” He sits down on the edge of his bed, but Jim does not move from his position — indeed, when Spock glances up at him, he appears to have been struck dumb, staring at Spock with his lips parted.
When he notices Spock looking, he clears his throat and sits down in Spock’s desk chair with a wet squelch. Spock finds he does not mind that he will have to tidy up later, as he usually does not mind cleaning up the messes that his Captain makes. His eyes flicker over a broken arm at age thirteen, sustained when Jim fell out of a tree, handled routinely at the Riverside clinic, and then —
There is a section blacked out, the way Starfleet blacks out classified material. He scrolls through it, but it lasts only for a eighteen months, until Jim’s fifteenth year check-up. “There is a section — “
“Oh, right,” Jim stands from the chair and comes to take the padd from him. “Sorry, there’s — it’s, well.” He types his command override into the padd, and the blacked information appears. “You’ll see.”
Spock takes the padd back when Jim offers it, but he is almost wary, now — Jim’s shoulders, when he reclaims the desk chair, are hunched in on himself, a change that the Captain himself doesn’t even seem to notice. He seems almost as if — he is expecting a blow, and is shying away from it.
Spock looks down at the padd, and sees Tarsus IV, and his heart stops. “Jim,” he says.
“Just read, Spock.”
He reads quickly — a more in-depth examination of these records will have to be saved for when he is alone, and can meditate to keep down the boil of rage that is threatening to rise in his stomach, the same rage that nearly killed Khan and Jim in one fell swoop. Severely malnourished, the records tell him, multiple bacterial infections, adverse responses to antibiotics, open wounds on back, infections, resists medical treatment, hallucinatory night terrors, unresponsive to therapy.
“Jim,” he says, again. “You are — “
“The, uh. The broken arms, and the black eyes, and all that,” Jim says, sounding pained. “I know it says in there that I fell out of a lot of trees and got in a lot of fights, but it was Frank. My, uh. My stepdad.”
Strong, Spock was going to say. Amazing, an anomaly alone in the universe, but not alone, because I would never allow you to be alone, impossible, incredible. I have never prayed but I would fall to my knees for you. His mind feels unsteady, and there are — no photographs — but he blinks and he can see his Captain’s determined gaze on the face of a too-thin bruised defiant boy.
His mother told him in the red sands of Vulcan, I think it’s logical to protect things of singular beauty. Spock turns off the padd, and sets it aside. “Captain,” he says, careful not to let his voice waver. “I do not understand why you would be averse to sharing this information with me.”
Jim laughs humorlessly, and drops his head in his hands. “I don’t know, Spock,” he says, muffled. “I didn’t want you to know what a piece of shit I was before Starfleet, maybe.”
Spock stands up and approaches Jim very carefully, like a cornered sehlat. He crouches in front of the desk chair, so that Jim is above him — as it should be — and reaches out to take Jim’s head in his hands, careful of his psi points, the way his mother taught him, unafraid. Jim’s shaking hands grasp Spock’s wrists, and he looks at Spock like he’s seeing through him, to the void.
“Captain,” Spock says, and his tone of voice surprises him — it is soft at the edges, not Vulcan. “Jim. Despite what I may have led you to believe, you are — the greatest man I have ever known.” Jim’s hands tighten on his wrists, and his eyes clear, that same hard determined stare that he turns on infinity.
Spock murmurs, “I cannot imagine a universe in which it is not my life’s duty to protect you. You are — “ he has to search for the right words, in Jim’s language. “You are — most dear to me, of all things.”
Jim just says, “Spock,” his voice scarcely more than an exhalation.
“Captain,” Spock will say, and they will part. It won’t be for some months to come — back in the black expanse of space, in their ship, where Jim knows from a barrage of memories on an ice planet they are meant to be — that his First Officer will turn to him and say —
“Jim. This is the second time in less than a year that you have died. It is unnaceptable.”
Jim thinks it’s more than slightly unfair of Spock to do this now, when he’s laid up in medbay still working on regaining control of his body, hooked up to so many tubes and with so much medication and counter-medication in him that he keeps losing track of what year it is. “I know, Spock,” he says. “I need to be more cautious. You tell me all the fucking time — but to be fair, this one wasn’t really my fault — “
“Captain, need I remind you that you were on comms for the entire negotiation in which you offered up yourself in exchange for the rest of the landing party’s lives — “
“I only flatlined for a couple of seconds,” Jim cuts him off. Spock looks seriously peeved, and Jim’s not sure if it’s the medication or real life, but he seems like he’s turning a smidge green in the face. “It’s fine — “
Spock sits forward, closer to him. “I do not think you know what that word means,” he reprimands. “It is not fine for you to be harmed in any way — I cannot abide it — “
“No one’s asking you to abide it, Spock,” Jim manages to get a hand working, and uses it to grab the front of Spock’s shirt — he’s not sure why, to hold him off or to pull him closer — “I’m the Captain, I don’t actually need your permission to do things, unless you’re planning to declare me unfit — “
“Both times,” Spock says forcefully, like it hurts him to do so, like he’s flinging the words violently from his person. “Both times that I nearly lost you, I have felt greater pain than when my planet was destroyed.”
The air leaves Jim’s lungs. Spock is breathing heavily, his chest expanding and contracting under his shirt, brushing against Jim’s fingers through the fabric each time he inhales. For a long moment it is very, very quiet, the only noise from the monitors of the biobed, the blip of Jim’s heartrate as it starts to speed ever so slightly, the omnipresent comforting whirring of the ship’s engines deep underneath them.
Finally, Spock says, “It is entirely illogical for the captain, of all the crew, to place himself deliberately in harm’s way, and as your first officer I cannot allow this carelessness — “
“Spock — “
“I must recommend that in the future you send another member of the command staff. If you are in need of suitably qualified candidates, may I offer myself — “
“Not gonna happen. Spock — “
“I cannot sit by while you continue to endanger yourself,” Spock plows on, determinedly. “Captain, I — Jim, I realize that in this moment I have failed completely to suppress emotion, but I will not — “
“Spock — “
“No, Jim — “
“Just come here,” Jim says, gentle. “Come here, stop with all the — stop, just — “ he pulls, and his grip is weak and the force behind it even weaker, but Spock surrenders to him without a moment’s hesitation, following Jim’s direction to lean over the biobed, arms braced on either side of Jim’s waist. The incline of the bed’s headrest means that their faces are mere inches apart, the heat of Spock’s skin radiating.
Spock tries to start talking again, “Captain — “
Jim kisses him. It is, as Spock will tell him later, entirely unprofessional, and even irresponsible, but all there is now is this — Spock pressing back, disordered and desperate, one hand wrapped around Jim’s wrist like he’s helping to hold it up, the other cradling the back of his head — the raw needy sound he makes against Jim’s lips, the weight of him more than a phantom presence, and —