"And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself...the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other's sight..." —The Symposium, Plato
The fanfare that should have surrounded the Enterprise's return to Earth was tempered by the loss of a Federation planet. Though the crew members were glad to disembark and load onto transports to the planet's surface, one look at any of the stone-faced Vulcan elders waiting among them dampened any joy they felt at returning to their home world, replaced by a sensation of selfishness and guilt, for Earth had been saved.
One by one, the transports left space dock, carrying seventy five passengers each. It took six transports in total to carry the crew back into Earth's atmosphere and into San Francisco, which lay beneath a heavy blanket of fog that rolled off of the Pacific and blocked the sun, as though the city herself mourned. Jim Kirk was grateful for that.
Spock sat next to him in the transport, hands folded formally on his lap, his dark eyes pointed forward, unblinking. To the outside observer, he looked calm, but Jim knew the turbulent emotions he concealed. Fury and loss and responsibility over his mother's death had charged into Jim when Spock's hands locked around his throat. He knew exactly what Spock felt. If it had been Bones suffering, Jim would have clasped a friendly hand on his knee and said, "It's gonna be okay." But this was not Bones, so Jim kept his hand on the armrest, and the words remained unspoken.
When the transports landed, the senior bridge crew was escorted into Starfleet headquarters for debriefing. Jim envied Bones who, despite his rank aboard the ship, wasn't required to attend (something about Medical having a separate and much shorter debriefing in the morning, which was bullshit and totally unfair) and headed back to the apartment.
Debriefing took two hours in a room without windows or coffee, and it was obvious the admiralty cut things short only out of respect for Commander Spock, who blinked every time Vulcan was mentioned. Jim knew he was flinching, recoiling from the memories that must be conjured every time an Admiral asked for clarification on a point.
"Why did you risk beaming down to Vulcan knowing its destruction was imminent? Did you beam down out of personal obligation? Why did you maroon Mr. Kirk on Delta Vega instead of sending him to the brig? Why didn't you recognize your own emotional distress?"
Spock kept cool, answered their questions completely, a throbbing vein in his temple the only sign of unease.
They were equally brutal with Jim. He tried to sit up straight the way Spock did, but found himself leaning back in his chair, head cocked to the side, tapping a foot slowly on the ground to keep his composure.
"You weren't cleared for duty aboard the Enterprise. Did you bribe Dr. McCoy to bring you on the ship? How were you able to beam onto the Enterprise when it was moving at warp speed? Why did you attempt negotiations with a hostile Romulan, risking the Enterprise and its crew to do so? Do you wish to press charges against Commander Spock for violating Security Protocol 49.09 pertaining to the treatment of prisoners? Do you wish to press charges against Commander Spock for personal assault?"
Jim balled his hand into a fist under the conference table at the last suggestion and said, "Look, Spock didn't assault anyone. Can we go?"
All Jim wanted was to hole up in his apartment and enjoy a hot shower, with real water and clean towels, but Admiral Barnett insisted he stand beside Spock and Sulu in a brief press conference. "Just give them two minutes," the admiral said, slapping him on the shoulder. "Everyone wants to see the men who saved Earth. Then you're free to go. We'll contact you with further orders."
Reporters waited in a cramped press room with too-low ceilings that, by comparison, made debriefing seem relaxing. The moment they entered the room, lights from their recording and video devices assaulted Jim's eyes, and he held up an arm against the glare. The cacophony of voices swallowed them, a steady chatter that swelled as they approached the front of the room. The walls were gray and the carpet was gray, and the Starfleet Command emblem was emblazoned on a wooden lectern. Sulu walked straight ahead to the low stage and up the steps; Jim focused on his lower back and followed. Somehow he ended up being the one standing at the voice amplifier. Sulu stood directly to his right, and he could sense Spock behind him. The questions began to fly.
"How does it feel being back on Earth?"
"Feels great," he replied coolly.
"Can you comment as to the extent of Captain Pike's injuries?"
"I'm not a doctor."
"Is it true Captain Pike won't be able to resume command of the Enterprise due to his injuries?"
"I believe Mr. Kirk has already indicated that he is not qualified to answer medical questions," Spock interjected, coming into Jim's peripheral vision. Their shoulders brushed. Jim moved a step to the right.
"Is it true Starfleet is charging you with an academic offense, Mr. Kirk?"
"I don't know anything about that."
"Is it true you were on academic suspension and sneaked on board the Enterprise for this mission?"
"I was on board the Enterprise under physician's orders and later promoted to first officer."
"Any response to allegations that your illness was faked?"
"I had a skull-splitting headache and no vision in my left eye," Jim responded. "I don't know how you fake that." Which was mostly true. He hadn't feigned the symptoms, after all, even if Bones had intentionally infected him with whatever.
"Do you believe you were promoted due to Captain Pike's regard for your father's actions aboard the Kelvin?"
"Look," Jim stated firmly, looking down at his hands. "Almost six billion Vulcans lost their lives just days ago. Let's keep things in perspective. Last question."
"Commander Spock, is it true you were unable to rescue your own mother before Vulcan's destruction?"
"Yes," Spock answered, and Jim clenched his jaw and nodded toward the door. Spock made a small motion in agreement, and they left the room with Sulu in tow, to the sound of their own names being called after them.
"You lied," Spock observed as he and Jim walked down the wide front steps into the temperate February air. The grounds were oddly quiet. "You could have confirmed my negative actions toward you, yet you did not."
He regarded Jim with a slight frown, a crease forming between his eyebrows.
"I'm not going to air personal issues in front of a bunch of reporters or the admiralty," Jim said, sighing. "Are you going to find your dad?"
"Give him my best," Jim said, stopping in the grass and touching Spock's arm to still him. "Listen, I'm sorry for what they said in there. And I really am sorry about your mom."
He was met with unblinking dark eyes and a subtle nod. Jim smiled and knocked him on the shoulder.
"See you around, Commander."
"I want a hot shower and a cold beer," Jim announced as soon as McCoy opened the door to their apartment, pushing his way inside. "Please tell me that we left beer in the fridge. I can't stomach synthehol tonight."
"That bad, huh? I didn't watch. How was debriefing?"
"Brutal. Did you already eat?"
"An hour ago."
Dropping his duffel bag in the hallway, Jim shuffled to the refrigerator and poked around its meager contents, coming up with a convenient six pack of craft lager. They had little in the way of food, and he was suddenly starving but didn't feel up to cooking. Instead, he punched in the code for a turkey sandwich and had a third of it in his mouth by the time he reached his bathroom and turned on the shower, a beer in his left hand and a second in the crook of his elbow. He set both on the counter beside the sink, stripped off his uniform and kicked it from his ankles, opened the first and took a long sip. Around his neck was a collar of bruises. He touched them gingerly and winced. He shoved the rest of the sandwich in his mouth and swallowed without chewing well.
The water was satisfyingly hot and ran over his face and chest, beating down on him until Bones knocked loudly on the door and said, "Are you planning to live in there?" Reluctantly, Jim shut off the water and toweled dry, pulling on sweats and his black Starfleet Does It In Space t-shirt, and padded out to find him, opening Beer Number Two as he did so.
"I could fuck this beer, I love it so much," he announced. Bones rolled his eyes.
Jim flopped down on the couch. It was a welcome change from the captain's seat on the bridge, and certainly came with less heart-stopping action. He settled back among the cushions and propped his bare feet on the edge of the coffee table despite the glare the good doctor shot him.
"What?" he said. "They're clean."
Bones dropped into the armchair and scrubbed a hand over his face. "I'm beat."
"Hard to believe all of that happened in just a couple of days."
"Hard to believe how quiet the building is." And how quiet it would remain, Jim continued in thought, with the loss of so many cadets. The building housed mostly third and fourth year students. Jim imagined personal belongings left in each of the apartments, individual lives defined by a framed family hologram, or a treasured alien souvenir, or a closet of clothing no one would wear again. There was usually music in the building, palpable through the floors until late into the night, intermixed with the cadence of indistinguishable voices talking, whispering, laughing, moaning. He'd heard the guy two doors down having sex more than he liked to think about. He'd wished often that Starfleet would install noise cancelling devices in the hallways, because the chaos made studying difficult and unappealing (and despite his propensity to party and party hard, Jim was a dedicated and outstanding student when it suited him). But now that the air was still and silent, and all that he could discern was the odd body moving about, Jim craved and mourned the loss of life around him.
"You need sleep."
"Just gonna finish this one," he promised Bones. "And then I'll go to bed."
"I don't want to see you anywhere near the coffee maker. It's not a night for it."
"I swear. Just beer."
Bones usually tolerated his habit of ingesting more than the recommended amount of caffeine for a standard Earth day within an hour, but not tonight. Jim leaned his head against the couch and touched his neck absentmindedly.
"That Vulcan really did a number on you. Come by the clinic tomorrow and I'll remove those."
"You're gonna have your hands full with the survivors tomorrow," Jim said. He raked a hand through his hair. "Why does it seem like we've been gone for months?"
"Just imagine when you've been away for years."
A knock at the door threatened to pull Jim from his 0730 pre-caffeinated stupor, which consisted of lounging on the couch. He yawned and ignored it.
"Get that," Bones barked from his room where he was undoubtedly dressing in his regulation uniform in preparation for Medical debriefing, while Jim bummed around their shared living room in his underwear with a mug of steaming hot coffee in his hand (not replicated, but honest-to-god roasted and freshly ground) that Bones would have to surgically remove to prevent him drinking it.
He was forced to set the mug—it was cadet red and said Academy or Bust in bold white letters, an inside joke courtesy of Captain Pike—on the nightstand in his room as he hurried to pull on a pair of jeans from the floor, but scooped it back up and drank greedily as he slumped to the door. He detoured to the kitchen for a refill when knocking sounded a second time. Again Bones yelled for him to answer it, Jim, dammit. He expected to find Scotty, whom he'd given his address before docking, or Sulu, or even Nurse Chapel come to collect Bones, but it was—
"Spock," Jim exclaimed with a frown, stepping back and allowing room for his former acting captain to pass into the apartment. Spock wore black robes, neat hair, and his typical expression, standing with his arms clasped; his was an austere presence next to Jim's tousled, bed headed, shirtless one. Spock glanced at Jim's bare chest, then steadied his eyes on Jim's face.
"Um. Coffee?" Jim offered before he took another sip. It was still too hot to drink comfortably, but he ignored the way the roof of his mouth stung. It would be sore tomorrow and probably peel. He didn't care and drank again, willing his eyes to open fully.
"You did not respond to my message, so I thought it prudent to come."
He yawned widely. "I've been asleep."
"I sent the message within the last hour."
"I've been awake for fifteen minutes. Checking official Starfleet communications wasn't first on my list this morning, sorry."
"Your hearing has been rescheduled for Friday morning."
"Your academic hearing," Spock clarified. "I received notification of the new date and time this morning, hence my contacting you. When I did not receive a reply to my inquiry, I presumed, correctly, that you had not yet received the communication from Starfleet Academy and were unaware the trial would continue. I surmised you might prefer to learn of this in person."
"You're still bringing me up on charges of—"
"No," Spock said firmly. "I have no wish to pursue this course of action against you any longer."
"So drop the complaint!"
"I already submitted the necessary form to retract allegations; however, the academy insists you be retried, since proceedings had already begun."
"Bullshit," Jim swore as Bones came into the shared space, still buttoning his collar. "This is bullshit." He paced near the window, pulling the curtains shut roughly. "We just saved the planet, and this is how they're gonna thank me, by dragging me back into an academic disciplinary hearing about alleged cheating on the Kobayashi fucking Maru?"
"You did cheat," Spock pointed out.
"You know as well as I do that test proves nothing compared to what we all went through these last few days, especially you, and to dredge it all back up is, I repeat, bullshit."
"Starfleet maintains the trial is required according to academy policy. The hearing is scheduled for 0800 hours."
"This is such crap. I'm not going."
"Jim," Bones interjected. "This isn't exactly a wedding invitation! You're not being offered a choice here."
"There's always a choice."
"The council will view your refusal to appear as an admission of guilt," Spock said. "I see no logic in these proceedings, but my recommendation is to appear and defend your case. I have no wish to see you reprimanded after your assistance with Vulcan's evacuation."
"Pretty sure they've made up their minds already."
"You'd have to be a damned fool to gamble your career over this," Bones said, poking him in the neck in the approximation of his beloved hyposprays. His finger hit a sore spot. Jim covered it automatically with his hand and glared at him. "It reeks of bureaucratic nonsense, but you're going, even if I have to sedate your ass and drag you there by the balls."
"If you will permit it," Spock said. "I will advocate on your behalf."
"I can stand up for myself," Jim's brain said on autopilot.
"I am glad you have decided to attend," Spock said. "I will see you at 0800 hours."
With that, he left.
"Dammit," Jim said, staring at the door. "He tricked me."
"Better get that uniform cleaned."
"I hate you."
"Don't worry," Bones said, slapping him on the shoulder. "You can thank me later."
Bones was out of bed and dressed and looming over him with an annoyed expression when Jim cracked his eyes open on Friday morning.
"Get your ass out of bed," Bones barked, yanking the sheets away. "I made pancakes."
"I need a shower," Jim complained, curling into himself where the cold air met his skin.
"Hurry the hell up," Bones called on his way out of the room. "That council isn't going to wait, and I don't exactly trust Spock's patience where you're concerned."
"He can't maroon me for being late to my own trial."
"Up. Shower. Now."
"Isn't there a flesh-eating disease somewhere you should be curing?" he muttered on his way to the shower.
He emerged, clean and more alert, to find his uniform laid out on his now-made bed (Bones still harbored domestic tendencies left over from his marriage, such as making beds and delicious breakfasts). Jim begrudgingly pulled on the uniform, found matching socks, and located both dress shoes. He brushed his teeth before eating.
"I left the cleaner's receipt on your nightstand," Bones remarked as he watched Jim devour a short stack. "I knew you wouldn't bother. Eat up, Sleeping Beauty. We need to get going."
Spock stood next to him during the trial this time. Jim set his jaw when the Academic Council once again called his name, and he folded his hands over the edges of the lectern. The room was far from full. Only a handful of observers were sprinkled around the auditorium.
He spoke his piece, rehashing what he'd said the last time, without an aggravating Vulcan going back at him. If any member of the assembly was surprised to see Spock standing beside him, no one said so.
"You are the first to interfere with the simulation's programming. How did you accomplish this?"
"I spent over twelve hours programming the subroutine itself. I used a technician's email to get the subroutine installed."
"You coerced a technician into helping you cheat?"
"No. She didn't know anything about it. I sent her a message containing the patch for the program. The patch self installed when she opened the email during the simulation."
"So you admit not only to cheating, but to abusing the trust of a fellow cadet, and infecting an Academy computer with a virus?"
"Why are you wasting your time with this?" Jim shot back. "Shouldn't you be planning memorial services for the hundreds of cadets who lost their lives a few days ago?"
"This council is aware of the great sacrifice made by those cadets," the Admiral replied smoothly. "Their memories will be honored. However, we are gathered today to discuss whether you have a future with Starfleet."
There was a murmuring among the council members, who looked at each other nervously. Out of the corner of his eye, Bones shook his head. The admiral cleared his throat and resumed his seat. He spoke to the members on either side of him in hushed tones, nodding carefully, and made a note on the document in front of him.
"Mister Kirk, my fellow council members have requested additional time for deliberation on this matter. We will contact you once we have reached our decision. You are dismissed."
Jim was the first one out the door with Bones on his heels griping, "Are you trying to get discharged?"
The pair retreated to a favorite coffee shop two blocks away. Jim felt obliged to invite Spock, who agreed to accompany them, to Jim's surprise, and sat to Jim's left sipping peppermint tea. Jim lavished his attention on a double espresso. It was a small cafe, with only twelve tables, strong coffee, and good food. They sat in the corner, at the largest table, Spock closest to the fireplace. Bones muttered something about sweating to death and loosened his collar. Jim turned his chair to face the fire.
"Do you consume liquids other than coffee?" Spock asked.
Jim thought for a moment. "I consume beer. Does that count?"
"Jim's a health nut, as you can plainly see," Bones drawled, sipping his water and scanning the menu. "I'm ordering a sandwich. Do you two want anything?"
"I am meeting my father shortly," Spock said.
"I'll take that as a no," Bones said. "Jim?"
"Get me one of those grilled cheese panini things," Jim piped up. "The one with the bacon. Just make sure they don't use peanut oil on the grill this time, unless we all want a fun-filled afternoon in the wonderful world of anaphylactic shock. Oh, and see if they'll do extra bacon."
"Like I said, health nut," Bones said, pushing away from the table and starting toward the counter. "By the way? I'm not sitting in the emergency room with you, so you're getting a salad."
Jim rolled his eyes at him affectionately.
"I know you must still be mad about the test," Jim said, turning back to Spock and resting his forearms on his knees. "But thanks for coming with me."
"I am not mad," Spock said, "though it is regretful you involved Cadet Vro."
"How did you...?" Jim stared at him, incredulous.
"Cadet Uhura informed me that you saw her roommate on a few occasions. Logically, I drew the conclusion, once I heard your testimony, that she must be the technician to whom you referred."
"Makes me sound like an asshole," Jim admitted, hanging his head. "I liked Gaila. Or, I came to like her. I admit I went out with her initially because I needed access to the test's code."
"Which indicates you researched the test, and were familiar with the group of us responsible for programming it, and yet you did not attempt to manipulate me."
"I didn't think a Vulcan could be manipulated, to be honest. Besides, Gaila was sweet. We had a good time. She liked my eyes." He batted them at Spock who did not react. "See? Much easier with Orions. I'm sorry she..."
He couldn't say it. Taking a deep breath, he sat upright and faced the table. Spock nodded his understanding.
Tray in hand, Bones returned to the table several minutes later and set a large house salad in front of Jim. Jim speared a grape tomato with a fork and consumed it reluctantly.
"Always looking out for me," Jim said flatly. He dripped salad dressing down his uniform and wiped it away sloppily with a napkin.
"That's because I'm the one stuck taking care of you. Would you like a bib?" Bones offered before starting on his own hold-the-mayo, whole wheat, turkey, and sprout creation which was so healthy, Jim considered it exercise just to stare at it.
"Would you like tastebuds?"
"Shut up and eat your salad."
"Mister Kirk?" an unfamiliar voice called, and the three of them looked up at a moderately attractive woman in her mid twenties, in business casual attire, holding a recording device. "I'm from the San Francisco Examiner. Can I get a statement from you about your hearing this morning? What do you think the outcome will be?"
"No comment," Jim stated, returning his stare to the fireplace.
"Commander Spock," she said without a pause, pushing the recording device toward his face, "your thoughts on the outcome of Mister Kirk's trial?"
"I do not wish to make a statement," Spock responded.
"Can you confirm the rumors of a proposed Vulcan colony?"
Spock said nothing. Jim turned his head and watched Spock's face.
"By your best estimate, how many survivors of Vulcan are seeking refuge on Earth currently?"
There was obvious tension in Spock's jaw.
"Where were you when you learned of your mother's death?"
"Jesus!" Jim snapped, turning to face her. "What is it with you? He said he doesn't want to make a statement. Get the hell out of his face."
"I'm just trying to report the news, Mister Kirk. It is my right."
"You're trying to exploit someone's loss so you can sell a few more papers. You're not getting any statements here, from any of us."
He turned back around and drained the last drops of coffee from his espresso cup, setting it too hard on the table. A chip fell from the edge nearest him. The reporter huffed. Jim heard the click of her recording machine being turned off, and she left. A few patrons applauded. Shrugging, Jim picked up the ceramic chip and turned it over on his palm. It was sharp, but he pressed a fingertip against it just firmly enough to feel pain. His anger abated.
"It was not necessary for you to defend me," Spock said.
"I hate reporters," Jim insisted, throwing the chip to the floor. "Every year on my birthday as a kid, we'd have to go to the Starfleet shipyard for a ceremony in honor of my dad. The things those people can ask is mind boggling. They'd ask how I felt knowing he'd died to save my life. If I could say anything to him, what would it be? I've been asked if I miss him. I never met him! You know what that's like as a little kid?" He rocked back on his chair. "It's like they don't have feelings of their own. No wonder my mom took up drinking."
"It's not going to stop," Bones told him. "You know that. They're going to camp outside your door, follow you around campus, insert themselves into your life until they get what they want from you. In this case, a soundbyte. That's true for both of you."
"I just won't go outside for a while," Jim joked.
"That hardly seems plausible," Spock said.
"Kidding, Spock. You know, my mom's off planet." Again. "The house is just sitting empty. With the ship undergoing repairs, we won't go back out for at least a month, that is if we get to go back. Might be time for me to take a vacation."
"You're going to run away to Iowa?" Bones deadpanned.
Jim shrugged. "Why not? Better than staying here and humoring these clowns. Spock can call me if anything happens with the trial."
"How will I contact you?" Spock asked. "Official communication channels are clearly ineffective."
"Give me your comm."
With a prim hand—and that was a laugh, considering how much power Spock's hands actually possessed—Spock took his comm device from his robes and placed it in Jim's offered palm. Jim tapped in the ID for his own comm and handed it back.
"That's my personal line," he said.
"Make sure you check the name he entered," Bones advised. "When he put himself into my address book, he ID'd himself as Captain Fine Ass. Try explaining that to a woman when you're out to dinner and some jerk is blowing up your comm with messages."
"Don't worry," Jim assured Spock, punching him lightly on the arm. "I put Jim Kirk. Found out the hard way it's best not to piss you off."
Spock cast his eyes downward and pressed his lips together but said nothing. Jim opened his mouth to apologize—it was too soon for jokes—but Bones spoke before he could.
"You sure about this, kid?"
"I'm gonna need a ride to the station tomorrow."
"Yeah, yeah," Bones said and bit into his sandwich.
As promised, and with a heavy frown, Bones drove Jim to the dock station the following afternoon, and Jim boarded the 1100 eastbound shuttle that went through Iowa City. It was nearly 2,000 miles away, and by shuttle would take roughly 4.5 hours, plus the taxi ride into Riverside. He bought a standard ticket; no need for a bigger seat when he was going to sleep most of the way (he always, always fell embarrassingly asleep on public transportation, but was practically an insomniac when he had the privacy of his own bed and something on his mind). This shuttle was more comfortable than the military style used by Starfleet, with forward facing seats in sets of three, and windows along both sides that let in ample light for reading. Jim had a few textbooks saved to his PADD and wished he'd thought to download a novel or two, since coursework only reminded him of the reason he was on this shuttle to begin with. Besides, he was done with classes. He tucked the PADD into his bag, shoved the whole bundle under his neck, and fell asleep against the window.
It was still light when he woke, and the shuttle moved at a smooth, quick pace that blurred everything outside into an ever-changing canvas of smeared colors. He checked the time on his comm—it was getting close to 1700 hours Central time—and they would be losing the sunlight soon. He hoped a taxi would be easy to find at the dock station. His comm sounded.
>> You're a pain in my ass. Let me know when you get in
>> go hypo someone
He put his head back and ignored the snoring man beside him. Maybe he should have splurged for a first-class ticket, but his account was low on credits, and with no guaranteed income…but of course they wouldn't discharge him. He was too valuable. They couldn't afford to let him go. The shuttle arrived at 1735, leaving Jim a half hour of daylight, which he used to hail a cab—another credit expense that elicited a groan. Maybe he'd pick up a shift at the Shipyard while he was in town. He still mixed a damn fine classic martini, and his blue eyes never wanted for tips. The taxi ride took 18 minutes and then he was ten years old again, kicking rocks in the front yard of his mom's house.
It was a two-story structure, tan and nondescript like the surrounding landscape, with a small front porch and railings in need of repair, and a shutter missing from the bay window. Winona Kirk had never been the domestic type. Sam used to tend the yard, and Frank, when he'd been in the picture, kept the house in good repair; but now that his mom was off planet, Sam married and living wherever, and Frank gone, the house was neglected. He ran his thumb over the old-fashioned scanner then unlocked the front door. At least she hadn't re-coded since he enlisted. She hadn't been thrilled when he wrote her from San Francisco to say he'd passed his first semester finals. He told her she was a hypocrite, since she was a lifelong slave to Starfleet and the Federation, but he understood. She didn't want George Kirk's fate to be her son's, so she'd been content to watch him drift between meaningless jobs around Riverside because it meant he came home at night, even if she wasn't able to be home with him. She called home a lot when she'd first leave on a mission, and inevitably, the frequency of her communications would taper off. She loved space, loved it perhaps more than she'd ever loved him or Sam, because space is where she felt closest to George. She'd said that once, after a few drinks at Christmas the year Frank left and they'd been snowed in, and Jim, nineteen at the time, had gotten drunk along with her as she thumbed through old holovids of her wedding, of George proudly accepting his command stripes and his first officer's position aboard the Kelvin, of Sam's birth. There weren't pictures of Jim's for obvious reasons.
"It's the only way I can be near him," she had mumbled, a glass held precariously in her fingers as she blinked in and out of consciousness. Jim had taken the glass, swallowed down its contents (whiskey, her favorite) and covered her with a blanket.
His comm chirped. He walked inside the house. It had been over a year since he'd been home to visit. He'd gone home for Christmas when Winona was on planet and called him to say they should do something. He'd caught a shuttle then too and spent a weekend with his mom eating takeout and downing as much good coffee as he could. (The caffeine addiction was hereditary; her veins ran black with the stuff, she drank so much of it.) The sun was setting, but there was enough light to see the furniture draped in old sheets and a long-dead houseplant on the kitchen table, its leaves crisp and neglected. He flicked one; it fell onto the hardened soil in the pot. He picked up the whole thing and threw it away, pushing back the curtains over the metal sink, watching dust swirl and settle in the last beam of sunlight through the window. Opening the cupboard to the right of the sink, he found his mom's liquor stash. It wasn't hidden behind drinking glasses anymore (and he'd never understood why she'd kept up that farce as long as she had, when the level dropped faster than she drank it) so he happily took what remained of a bottle of brandy and settled on the couch, sheet pulled half back, and drank it down.
He half stumbled upstairs to his old bedroom. She'd been using it as a storage room. There were boxes clumsily stacked against the wall just inside the door, and bags of what looked like clothing in front of the closet. He doubted she'd changed the sheets from his last visit. Shoving piles of paper close to the footboard, he stretched out along the bed's length. He'd always liked this mattress, the way it dipped at the center, so it sort of cocooned him while he slept. The walls needed paint. She'd never painted over the piss-poor patch job he'd done on the hole he punched in the wall (the one she knew about; there were others behind the posters). That one had come out of a fight with Frank about getting a job. The posters were peeling back at the corners; one had fallen. They were mostly reproductions of 21st century earth posters, largely music, though two were Andorian pop art, and one was the full text of Macbeth in very small letters.
He pulled out his comm and sent a message off to Bones.
>> fucking weird being back in my old room
He closed his eyes and considered kicking off his shoes but couldn't find the drive or energy. His comm chirped again.
>> I am gratified you arrived safely.
He laughed at Bones's feigned formality, then realized the message was from an ID not stored in his comm. He thumbed back through his history and found he'd accidentally replied to a message he'd never read.
>> This is Spock. Please use this ID for any communications.
A strange feeling passed through him as his eyes scanned Spock's message a third time, a fourth. He grinned at the screen. What was it he felt, excitement? Amusement? He knew he was drunk. He saved the ID as "Spock" (though he briefly considered "He of the Dreaded Eyebrow"). Flicking through the screens, he sent a quick note off to the real McCoy, laughed at his own joke, then fell asleep in his clothes.
It had been three years since Jim woke up with a house to himself and no expectations for the day ahead. It was lazy and indulgent, and he wasn't sure what to do with himself, so he started with coffee and a tour of the house, removing the sheets as he went. He spent time in each room reacquainting himself with his surroundings. In Sam's room, infuriatingly neat, he tipped over a picture just because he could. His mom's room smelled the same, like laundry soap and dust. She never spent a lot of time in there, often sleeping on the couch, puzzling over an engineering challenge. It wasn't hard to see where Jim's sometimes insomnia originated.
The rest of the house was the same, about as he remembered it, if with a little more wear and tear. The back yard, however, was a surprise. It had consisted of dirt and rocks and was always hot when he was a child. He'd never spent much time in it, apart from the day Frank had given him a bucket and instructed him to gather up all rocks in the yard as punishment for swearing at his mother. It was a punishment which, Jim being Jim, he'd promptly ignored, spending the morning reading on the front porch and the afternoon trying to override the curfew settings on the front door (he was getting tired of climbing out windows). Frank came home from work and marched out back to see Jim's progress, and that's how Jim ended up locked outside that night and slept in the ugly, rock-littered back yard (well, that Frank and Sam knew. He was just as adept at climbing up into windows and scaling fences).
What surprised him most was the color: green. Vibrant green, from a wall of plants along the back fence, which was odd considering this was February and it was near freezing outside. There were tall, exotic varieties with large, broad leaves; and smaller, spiky specimens tucked among their bases. Jim did his best impression of a Vulcan eyebrow raise. His mom was keeping all of this alive? She must have a gardener on retainer or the plants were fake. Glancing up, he saw the curve of a transparent dome. A temperature controlled environment? He spotted her old hammock, the one Frank always said he'd fix, obviously repaired and stretched on a metal base. And the crowning glory, Jim noted with pleasure, was a hot tub that stood under a small pergola. She'd always threatened to install one, despite the upkeep and the energy consumption. Frank said they were an extravagance, and if she had money to burn, she could replace the car her kid drove over a cliff. Jim would be using that hot tub later.
He replicated a plate of so-so pancakes (Bones had him spoiled) and sat in front of his bookshelf cross legged, touching each spine reverently. It wasn't a large collection, twenty two hardcovers and three fragile paperbacks in protective cases. Most he'd had to save up to afford for a few months, and in some cases barter in order to obtain. He'd read them all, some multiple times. He loved the smell and feel of a paper book, the sound of turning pages, the physical act of marking his spot or making a notation in the margin that he would stumble upon later.
Charles Dickens was a favorite, an author 400 years dead, and yet his words still rang true. Jim selected Great Expectations and curled into the tall-backed chair near the window in his room, legs hanging over the armrest. He read the book straight through, stopping for bathroom breaks, and had a cramp in his neck when he closed the back cover. It was unsettling and familiar, the story of a boy given a remarkable opportunity, only to have it dashed. Jim briefly fantasized himself in nineteenth century England, playing near his father's grave. Bones filled the roles of both the loving Joe and Pip's overbearing sister all too well. Gary was the closest approximation to Herbert. And Uhura, for as much as she resisted him, was the best candidate for Estella; though when it came to repressed emotions, Spock... Spock? A love interest? Jim laughed away the idea as absurd. Too many hours with one book had gone to his head. At least he knew Captain Pike wasn't an escaped convict (well, some Romulans might argue differently). Carefully returning the book to the shelf, he went in search of food.
The second day in Riverside, he re-read Oliver Twist while sitting in the dormer window in his bedroom, because he had a clear view of the Riverside Shipyard. It stormed the next three days, a cold mix of rain and sleet, so instead of walking into town like he'd planned, he replicated steak and fried chicken and cream-heavy pasta dishes that Bones had blocked from the apartment replicator, citing health reasons. He ate a salad out of deference to his friend's nerves. He could hear Bones now. "You're not twenty one anymore. Do you have any idea what a clogged artery looks like? Well, I do!"
The front yard filled with puddles that grew into small lakes, which were mostly re-absorbed Thursday morning, so Jim decided to put on a heavy jacket and gloves and go for a run. It took him past the neighboring houses and into town, which hadn't changed since he was a child, always retaining a quaint 20th century appeal. It was cold, so he ducked into the grocery store. He purchased a few food items (fresh bread, cheese, and more coffee) and a bottle of wine. Outside the pharmacy, he spotted a motorcycle sporting a "for sale" sign and bargained with the owner over the price, then slung a leg over the seat and rode it home. It wasn't sleek like the bike he'd owned before enlisting. That bike had been spokeless and oozed sexuality. But this was practical, ran, and had a small compartment from which he took his groceries and went into the house.
Tomorrow marked a week since his trial, and no word. There hadn't been any communications from Spock. He pulled out his comm and sent a quick message.
>> any news?
>> A planet has been selected for the new Vulcan colony.
Which wasn't at all what he wanted to know, but it would be rude to backtrack now. Besides, Spock had a lot more pressing matters on his mind than whether James Tiberius Kirk got his ass booted out of Starfleet.
>> that's great. listen if there's anything I can do to help, let me know. you're aware of my awesome computer skills
>> I will make note of your willingness to assist. Your computer skills could be of use when we begin to rebuild the Vulcan Science Academy databases.
>> how are you holding up?
>> I do not understand.
>> how are you feeling?
>> I feel fine.
>> I don't pretend to know what you've gone through but I was there. if you want to talk about anything I'll listen.
Maybe that was too much, but he had already pressed send. Spock did not write back immediately. Jim waited a full two minutes before the reply pinged through.
He cringed and began to type "sorry...didn't mean to pry." But a second later, another message arrived.
>> Your gesture is appreciated.
>> no problem
Monday morning, Jim woke to another message from Spock.
>> The Academic Council has decided to award you a commendation for original thinking. No further disciplinary action will be sought.
Thank god, Jim thought. He hadn't realized how nervous he had been waiting on their decision. And how like the Starfleet his mom knew and half loved, half despised that they decided to give him an award instead of a discharge.
>> just happy it's over
>> I thought you would be pleased.
>> thanks for sticking with me, seriously
>> The hearing was unnecessary.
>> I owe you. anything. you name it
In celebration, Jim re-read King Lear, a personal favorite, and went drinking after the sun set. The bruises on his neck had faded to green; they'd hardly be noticeable in low light. He threw on a faded t-shirt and his old riding jacket for a night out.
He stalked up to a pair of high-backed stools just left of the bar's center, a position he'd found through trial and error was ideal both for sizing up the specimens dousing themselves in liquid courage, and perfect, if he sat angled slightly to his right, to see anyone that entered the bar in his peripheral vision.
The place had been upgraded in the three years he'd been gone, but it still felt familiar. The drinks here weren't the cheapest in Riverside, and the crowd wasn't always made up of beautiful people and beings—sometimes, like tonight, the pickings were thin and he recognized nearly all of them—but the staff was friendly and had always called him by name, so he always called the Shipyard his favorite watering hole.
They clearly recognized their former regular and co-worker, and there was a double reaction when they connected Jim to the James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, whose face had been all over the local news for the last few days: Riverside's Golden Boy and Local Hero's Son Saves Earth.
"Jim Kirk!" Lew exclaimed, throwing down a bar towel and reaching a hand over the counter to shake Jim's firmly. Lew was a large man, a good fifteen years older. "Shit, man, it's good to see you. What's it been, two years? Three? I can't believe everything they're saying on the news. Is it true?"
"I was on the ship that destroyed the drill," Jim confirmed, hoping to avoid questions about the Kobayashi Maru or Delta Vega, which had leaked out. Lew rang the old-fashioned brass bell that hung over the beer taps.
"We've got a celebrity in the house! James Kirk, ladies and aliens." There was a scattered applause. "This round's on me," he said as an aside.
Jim thanked him and ordered a beer and a shot of Jack, laughing to himself. He pulled out his communicator and drank the shot down, signaling for another. He had every intention of messaging Bones, but his earlier conversation with Spock was still on the screen. What the hell.
>> haven't been to this bar in three years and the same people are still here
He sent the message and set his comm down on the bar, watching it as he took a large swig of beer and wiped his mouth on his jacket. A thrill passed through him when the comm lit up within seconds.
>> I presume they have gone home periodically for fresh clothing during that timespan.
Chuckling, Jim found himself thrown by the existence of Spock's sense of humor. He'd sensed one in the Ambassador on Delta Vega, but given the circumstances, there hadn't been time to explore it.
>>not sure about all of them to be honest
Spock did not send back an immediate reply. Of course, Jim's response didn't call for one. Small talk wasn't logical. Jim tapped the side of the pint glass and chewed the inside of his lip, waiting. He looked down the bar. There was a red-headed human drinking something orange four seats away. She caught his eye and gave him a once over. He grinned and raised his glass a few inches off the bar in greeting. His comm lit up, and Jim jerked his head back.
>> Your absence is being reported in local news. The reporter you insulted the morning of your trial has referred to you as "Starfleet's Bad Boy on the Run." Uhura assures me you will find this amusing.
>> they're calling me the "golden boy" here
>> You do have blond hair.
>> it means an unusually successful young man
>> They are clearly biased, though your success is on record.
>> clearly. reporters leaving you alone yet?
>> I am constantly in receipt of requests for statements about the loss of my home world. I have told them to cease their inquiries, but they are relentless.
>> they're bastards. tell them to fuck off
>> Hardly a diplomatic approach. You forget my father is still an ambassador. I find it difficult to leave my apartment.
>> thank god for replicators huh?
>> They lack palatable vegetarian options, and I desire exercise.
Jim had never seen Spock at the Academy gym in three years. Working out was the one hobby of Jim's that Bones approved, with a healthy dose of "less ogling, more reps." He briefly entertained an image of Spock in running shorts and shoes, walking at (undoubtedly) a logical pace on a treadmill. He had to cover his mouth to prevent spitting beer all over the bar.
>> if it's that bad, you should come out to Iowa. there's nothing but farm fields for miles and no reporters to harass you. you can do all the walking you want if you don't mind the sub zero temperature this time of year
>> I will consider your offer.
>> you do that
>> I would not interfere with your vacation?
>> nope. bring a jacket. it's pretty cold here
>> Anything else?
>> good walking shoes
>> the last eastbound shuttle leaves san fran at 1930. you can still make it if you leave now
Jim laughed as he put his comm on the bar, shaking his head. Vulcans really did have a quirky sense of humor. Those xenobiology classes were dead wrong.
"Girlfriend?" Lew asked.
Jim frowned, pushing the comm away to make his point. "No, just a..." What was Spock, anyway, an acquaintance? Superior officer? "Colleague," he decided finally.
"You haven't taken your eyes off your comm device, and there's a little number checking you out from across the room."
Jim's frown deepened. "I saw her. I was waiting on some news."
"Ah." Lew pointed at his twice empty shot glass, and Jim nodded he'd take another.
"Didn't get kicked out of Starfleet after all."
"Congratulations. Didn't know you were in danger of that. Didn't you just save their asses?"
"You'd think they'd given you a medal or something."
"Well, I'm happy for you." Lew slid a third shot across the bar.
"Listen, you have any shifts open?" Jim asked, fingering the rim of the shot glass. "I'm getting bored as hell sitting on my ass all day."
"Still remember your pours?"
"You always did make a decent drink. How long are you staying?"
Jim took the third shot. It burned on the way down. He pounded his chest. "Maybe a month."
"I can give you a couple day shifts to start out. Even though I'd like to have you back on Saturday nights, I have my chain of command to think of. Come in tomorrow around noon? You can work through happy hour, and then I'll get you on the actual schedule."
"I said, I'm coming," Jim yawned, stomping toward the door, digging his heels in as he went. It was just shy of 0200, and he'd just gotten home from the bar and was undressing for a quick shower when the knocking sounded. Had he forgotten his credit chip? Old habits were hard to break. Maybe Lew was dropping it off. Wouldn't be the first time. Maybe that redheaded girl with the wide-set eyes had followed him home. Whoever it was knocked again, and he fussed with the door. "Do you have any idea what time— Spock!"
For the second time in a week, Spock blinked at him from a doorway. He looked out of place on Jim's front porch. He wore heavy black traveling robes and had a backpack over his shoulder. His hair was slightly ruffled, chin lifted. He regarded Jim neutrally in the dim porch light.
"James Kirk," he said in reply.
Jim gaped then closed his mouth abruptly. "I— What are you doing here?"
"You suggested that I join you in Iowa because of the problems I am experiencing with reporters in San Francisco. You provided me with travel information, which I followed." He paused, and his eyes widened slightly. "Was your offer in jest?"
So much for a Vulcan sense of humor. Spock had obviously taken his words at face value. What was he supposed to do? Now was not the time to explain sarcasm, and it was too late to get Spock a hotel room in town.
"No, not at all," Jim lied quickly. He rubbed his eyes to conceal it. "I just...well, to be honest, I never would have bet a case of Romulan Ale that you'd actually show up. Um, do you have any bags?"
"Just this," Spock said, shifting the small backpack on his shoulder. He appeared uncomfortable. Jim suspected he looked the same.
Even though Spock stood calmly before him, Jim had a sense of unease. He wondered at Spock's mental state. Vulcans weren't known for spontaneity, and he and Spock weren't exactly friends. His eyes flickered to Spock's hands, loose at his sides. Spock's breath curled like smoke in the air.
"Well, come on in," Jim said. "It's freezing out there."
Spock walked past him into the house, stopping to look at a framed photograph of Winona, Jim, and Sam, taken when Jim was maybe seven. He slipped off the outer robe; underneath, he wore simple black pants and a tunic. Jim stared at Spock's back, thinking how surreal it was that he was standing in Jim's childhood home. He locked the door and folded his arms over his chest.
"How'd you find the place? I never gave you the address."
"I accessed your Starfleet records," Spock stated, turning to look at him. The tip of his nose was green from the cold. "Captain Pike confirmed the town was correct."
Ah. That was logical. "He would know."
Jim curled a hand around the back of his neck and sighed. It struck him that Spock had nowhere else to go. Most of what he had known, Jim reasoned, had been lost with Vulcan. He was still raw from the death of his mother; that much was obvious from the way Spock continued to glance at the photograph of Winona on the wall. Jim felt a pang of regret, recalling the harsh words he had spoken on the bridge, though he knew Spock understood his reasons, now.
"Well, let's get you settled." Jim waved him to follow, and they headed up the staircase.
"You can have my brother's room. It's this one," Jim said as he swung the door fully inward, light from the hallway illuminating the edges of a full bed, various awards and plaques, and more framed photographs of Sam and Jim growing up in Riverside.
"This is the home where you were raised?" Spock asked.
"Yeah, me and my brother Sam, we lived here with mom." He felt awkward saying the word, but Spock didn't react.
"Where is your brother?"
"Who knows," Jim said. "He always talked about going to Deneva, but then it was Altair IV...I can't even remember the last time I talked to him."
"I do not speak with my brother."
"I didn't know you have a brother."
"He is my half brother," Spock clarified. His eyebrows furrowed. "He is..."
"The black sheep of the family?"
Spock looked confused and shook his head. "He is fully Vulcan."
Jim laughed. "I meant, is he the family outcast? Is that why you don't talk to him? That's pretty much why Sam doesn't talk to me."
It was a moment before Spock replied. "He embraces emotion," he said.
"Huh. I didn't know Vulcans did that."
"Some," Spock said. "They are not the majority. He was banished for it. You said your mother is off planet."
"Yeah, she's an engineer. I should introduce her to Scotty. They'd get along famously."
Laying his backpack on the bed, Spock assumed his regular stance, clasping his arms behind his back.
"I should have informed you that I intended to arrive tonight. My actions were impulsive. I made a presumption based on your messages. Forgive me."
"Hey, are you serious? This is me you're talking to. Impulsive's my middle name. And yes, before you point it out, I realize my middle name is Tiberius. It's just an expression. Are you tired? Do you want to go to sleep now, or do you want me to show you around the house?" He was rambling. He closed his mouth.
"I am tired," Spock answered, "but please show me around first so that I do not disturb you in the morning."
"Sure thing," Jim said, walking back onto the landing. "So, my room's that one, and that's the bathroom. We'll have to share. If you need your own space, there's another bathroom on the first floor. There are clean sheets and towels in the linen closet. My mom's room is the one with the door closed. Sam and I were never allowed in there as kids, so I feel funny going in there now. I just left the door shut."
"I will not enter it."
"Nah, you're welcome to explore. We Kirks aren't overly private. I'm just having childhood flashbacks. So that's the upstairs."
Jim led the way down to the kitchen and pointed out the replicator. "It's an older model," he explained, "but these are easier to program. If there's something you want that's not on the list, tell me, and I'll see if I can get it for you. I got pretty good at hacking this when I was a kid."
"Unnecessary. Any vegetarian options will do."
"Still, if there's something you prefer, just say the word. Obviously, feel free to cook whatever you want, if that's your thing. My mom used to be big into cooking, so we have pots and pans and all the major appliances. So, that's the kitchen. Living room's through there. My mom's den is nice if you need a place to study or read. I used to spend a lot of time in there or up on the roof."
"Yeah. I'll show you later. It's got a great view."
"A pitched roof is not a safe place to sit."
"I didn't say it was safe, just that I climbed onto it a lot. And this," he said, flipping on the outdoor light, "is the back yard. Mom's got it enclosed in some sort of weather dome, so it's like this all year, seventy two degrees. There's a hot tub, if you're interested."
"I prefer to bathe in private."
"It's not for bathing. It's for relaxation."
"Vulcans prefer meditation."
"Well, it's there if you want to use it. Anyway, that's it. I've got a motorcycle to get around town. I picked up a couple shifts at a bar where I used to work, so I'll be gone a few days a week in the afternoons. There's a computer in my mom's den. Feel free to use whatever you find around the house. If you need something, just ask, otherwise I'm jumping in the shower."
"I do not require anything at this time." Then he paused, frowned, and spoke again. "Do you have tea?"
"There's replicator tea, which is probably as great as replicator coffee. I can pick some up for you tomorrow. What kind do you like?"
"Replicated tea will be fine. What do you prefer for breakfast?"
"It is a Vulcan custom, when staying as a house guest, to prepare breakfast for the host."
"I appreciate the gesture, but you don't have to cook for me," Jim said. "I just want those assholes to leave you alone."
Spock pressed his lips together. Jim held up his hands.
"Of course, if you like cooking, I mean, be my guest. My house is your house. Technically, my mom's house is your house, but same difference. And I like pancakes and bacon, for the record."
Spock regarded him for a long moment. "You act differently here than you did in San Francisco," he said finally.
"I am uncertain."
"Is it a bad thing?"
Shaking his head once, Spock replied, "Just different."
"Well, I'm gonna grab a shower and get to bed. I promise to stay out of your hair," Jim said. "Metaphorically," he added on his way upstairs to the bathroom, as Spock raised a hand to his head.
The alarm on his comm went off at 1000 hours, but Jim slept past the buzzing and woke up at 1045, swore, and rolled out of bed. He had just over an hour before work, and he needed to be on his A game. There was plenty of time, and if the pillowcase marks he felt on his cheek would fade, it would be a good start to the week.
He had forgotten about his late-night visitor until he saw Sam's door was closed, and then reality came rushing back to him. He stared at the door for a minute before tiptoeing past it into the bathroom. On the counter beside the sink was a small leather dopp kit. A second toothbrush rested in the holder. Jim snatched his up and opened the medicine cabinet to retrieve the toothpaste. Someone had smoothed the tube and rolled down the crimped edge. Jim frowned. Spock had used his toothpaste? Maybe he had forgotten to bring his own. Jim squeezed the tube in its center and put it away mangled.
Upon entering the kitchen, he spotted an empty white mug next to the sink and a small white plate, which showed evidence of someone eating toast with a fork. He chewed his lip and put the dishes into the sink to wash them while his coffee brewed. Mom had a sonic dishwasher, but there was something pleasant about the feel of hot water and soap on his hands. He set the clean dishes on a towel to dry and shut off the water. The aroma of coffee began to fill the room, and his mouth watered. He took down his favorite mug, one of the few that didn't match the others (Winona liked order, if not cleaning). It was clear glass and had a depiction of the caffeine molecule on it. The design was partially rubbed off from years of use. He wished he knew where to get a replacement. Bones would love it if he had an entire set for their apartment.
He drank his coffee out in the back yard, lazing on the hammock, wondering about the actual outdoor temperature. It looked cold. He hadn't packed a lot of clothing options. Maybe he'd pick up a few long-sleeved shirts before he headed into work. He wondered idly if Spock needed anything, but he'd probably had the sense to look up the weather report before traveling.
He changed into dark jeans and a collared shirt, which he left open at his throat, and ran a little wax through his hair to give it movement. (Which, he realized as an afterthought, was futile since it would get tossed by the wind on his ride to work.) Looking in the mirror, he decided he looked good, if not a little tired. He finished his coffee and put the mug into the sink, slipped on his jacket, and went out the front door.
Realizing he'd never programmed Spock into the door lock, he bolted back inside, taking the steps two at a time. He hesitated, raised a hand and knocked lightly on Sam's door.
"Can I come in for a second?"
Jim eased the door open to find Spock seated by the window in a wooden chair, the bed already made, curtains drawn aside. He was reading something on his PADD. Jim remained in the hallway, toeing the invisible line that separated it from the bedroom.
"If you go out, make sure you program your fingerprint into the door lock. Just press your thumb to the scanner inside the house, and enter 2233."
"The year of your birth?" Spock guessed, tilting his head slightly.
"Mom's real big on security," Jim said. "If it were alpha instead of numeric, she would've picked ‘password.' I'm surprised it's not 1234. Don't lock yourself out."
"I will not."
There was an awkward pause. Jim curled his fingers into the door moulding.
"Well, I'm heading to work. See you later."
Spock nodded, and Jim gratefully closed the door behind him.
Though it was only a day shift, Jim pocketed a decent amount of credits, which he attributed to his innate ability to flirt. He left during happy hour, waving to Lew on his way out and shouting "See you tomorrow," and made a mental note to get thick lotion for his hands. They stung from working with lemon slices.
He expected to walk into a dark house, assuming Spock would be upstairs in his room reading, but the lights were on and the door unlocked for him. He could hear Spock moving around on the first floor as he hung his jacket in the closet next to Spock's travel robe.
"You play chess?" Jim said, sliding into the chair opposite Spock, whom he found setting up the pieces on a familiar 3-D set on the kitchen table. How many years had it been since he played with this board, eleven? Twelve?
"I do," Spock answered.
"Are you any good?" Jim inquired, folding his hands behind his head.
"Wanna play me?" He grinned.
"I hoped you would join me. Playing against myself does not present a challenge."
"Where'd you find that set? I didn't realize we still had it."
"It was in a drawer in my bedroom," Spock said, placing the last white pawn and folding his hands on the table. "I cleared it to make room for my clothing."
"Did you eat?"
"I'm gonna punch something up before we get started."
Jim replicated a burger with all the toppings, and he noted Spock turned his nose up at the smell. Jim laughed and bit into the burger.
"Vegetarianism isn't for me," he said. "You take white."
Spock made the opening move, and Jim bit the inside of his cheek, forming a strategy. He moved a pawn, his fingers lingering on the plastic figure.
"I spoke with Admiral Barnett after your trial," Spock said.
"You didn't have to do that," Jim replied, frowning.
"I wished to speak for you. I thought you should know."
"What did you say?"
"Portraying you in a negative light when you are clearly admired by the public for your recent actions is unlikely to improve Starfleet's image in the public eye, which will not aid their recruitment efforts, which they must now increase tenfold. Further, they inferred you would refuse an active commission should they pursue further disciplinary action, which is detrimental to Starfleet operations, considering the loss of 85% of cadets and the majority of the starships as a result of Nero's attack."
"You lied," Jim said. "You must know I'd never turn down a captaincy."
"I implied. It is something that I learned from..." Spock sat back and regarded him. "I understand you are acquainted with my elder self?"
Jim narrowed his eyes. "That lying sonofabitch. The universe wasn't ever in danger of you two meeting, was it."
"Then why did he say I couldn't tell you about...you?"
Looking down momentarily, Spock appeared to gather his thoughts. "I believe he felt it was important that you and I get past our differences."
"He told me that they— we were friends," Jim said. "In another life."
"A friendship to ‘define' us both were his words to me."
"What does that even mean?"
"I do not know."
"You almost choked me to death," Jim pointed out as he took one of Spock's knights captive.
"An event about which I admit regret," Spock said, scrutinizing the board.
"I had your fingerprints on my neck for days." Jim rubbed his throat where the marks had bloomed. "I guess that is pretty defining."
A slow flush crept up his neck and into his cheeks as the words left his mouth.
"I do not believe he meant 'define' in that fashion," Spock said. His eyes gravitated to where Jim's fingers touched his own skin. He blinked. Jim dropped his hand.
"Yeah, I know," Jim quipped. "Check."
"Your method of play is unorthodox," Spock said, moving his queen down a level. "Yet effective."
Jim was surprised by the compliment. "Would you expect any less?"
Spock looked at him thoughtfully. "No," he said after a pause, and Jim wiped the board with him.
Saturday, when his shift ended, Jim remembered a key reason why he'd quit bartending in the first place. Four days on his feet tending bar had been murder on his body, so he leaned into the jet blasting the soreness from his lower back and groaned into the welcome pleasure-pain. Three years of lectures at Starfleet Academy had reduced him to sitting for the better part of the day. Though he worked out regularly, standing for eight hours straight on a concrete floor took a toll on his joints and spine. Closing his eyes, he yawned and arched his back like a cat, then lay back along the curve of the seat, his chin dipping into the rolling hot water.
The glass door slid open quietly. Jim cracked an eye open and saw Spock come into the yard, moving toward the hammock, a book held to his chest.
"Hey," Jim called, closing his eyes again. The swishing of fabric ceased. Spock had stopped walking.
"I apologize," he said stiffly. "I did not realize you were out here."
"It's not a big deal," Jim said. "We can be in the same room at the same time."
Spock paused before answering. "I have no wish to disturb you."
"The only way you're going to disturb me is if you turn off these jets. I'm fucking sore from standing all afternoon. You could read the dictionary out loud to me right now, and I wouldn't mind as long as I can sit here."
"The human body is not suited for standing in one position for extended periods of time," Spock offered. His voice sounded closer. Jim glanced up at him. Spock had moved to the side of the hot tub. "You risk injury to your back and knees."
"You're telling me," Jim said, wincing as he sat upright.
"You must sit more throughout the day."
"I'll be sure to mention that to Lew," he said, laughing. "Want to jump in?"
Spock hesitated. Jim rolled his eyes.
"I'm not naked, if that's what you're wondering. I have on shorts. If you don't have a pair, you can borrow one from me, or hell, just get in. I promise not to look at your junk."
"Junk?" Spock raised a brow.
"How about I close my eyes, and you tell me when it's safe to open them again."
"You wish me to remove my clothing and sit with you in this hot tub," Spock stated.
"It'll be less awkward than you standing there watching me sit in a hot tub alone," Jim remarked.
"If you do not mind," Spock said, his fingers closing over the book's spine. "I would prefer to read."
"Theories in Warp Drive Design," Jim read, glancing at the title. "I didn't realize you were interested in history."
"It was in your mother's office. I hope you do not mind."
"No chess tonight?"
"Okay. I was gonna watch a movie after this anyway," Jim said. He grabbed his beer from where he'd left it on the ground next to the hot tub and took a swig. "You're welcome to join me."
"A movie?" Spock asked, as though he was unfamiliar with the term.
"I know they're a little old fashioned," Jim admitted, "but I like a good story. You didn't have movies on Vulcan?"
"Not for entertainment."
"You should watch one with me. I'll make it a first-rate experience. We'll watch an old Terran classic. I'll replicate popcorn and everything."
Spock glanced at the book in his hands, then back at Jim.
"You can read tomorrow while I'm at work," Jim reminded him in what he hoped was a logical tone of voice. "I won't be here to bother you."
"A valid point," Spock said.
"Besides, if you sit out here, I'll just keep talking to you. How much reading can you get done like that?"
"I am adept at concentrating even in a chaotic environment," Spock informed him. "However, I am amenable to your suggestion."
"Great!" Jim exclaimed. "Just give me five more minutes. I'm almost feeling human again."
"Did you believe yourself to be otherwise?"
Jim shot him a look. "Yeah," he said. "My back's been so stiff, I wondered if I was turning Vulcan."
A flicker on Spock's face made Jim wonder, briefly, if the flip comment had offended him. Spock set his jaw. His nostrils flared, knuckles straining white where he gripped the book.
"Sorry," Jim muttered and slumped lower in the water so his neck was submerged. "That was stupid."
Spock exhaled and turned the book over in his hands. After a minute, he reached down and picked up the towel Jim had thrown on the grass. He stared at it for a few seconds, then held it out to Jim.
"The water has turned you into a Klingon," he said. Relieved, Jim thought he detected a smirk on Spock's face and climbed out.
"What's the matter?" Jim said over the bowl of popcorn that Spock regarded blankly. "You're not going to try it? It's just corn kernels and salt. I bet you'd like it."
"It is not customary for a Vulcan to touch his food."
"Popcorn's not exactly a food you eat with a fork," Jim said, considering, "but I can get you one."
"No," Spock said, though his voice was uncertain. "It is a Terran food. I should eat it in the Terran manner." He studied the bowl, then reached a hand into it and picked up a single piece of popcorn. He placed it in his mouth.
"It is an unusual texture," Spock said. Jim took this as a positive review.
"So, for your first Terran movie," he said, "I chose Citizen Kane. It's old, and it's in black and white, but the screenplay is amazing."
"I defer to your expertise," Spock said and reached into the bowl again.
Two hours later, the movie was over. Jim raked a hand through his hair, frustrated, as Spock continued to comment on the film they had just watched.
"The movie was about a sled," Spock remarked as the picture went black. Jim tapped the screen of the entertainment system's controller, and the movie shut off. The lights were still low. Spock crunched on the unpopped kernels that remained at the bottom of the bowl.
"Not exactly," Jim said, rubbing his forehead.
"I do not understand why it took one hundred nineteen minutes to reveal this fact, when the explanation of ‘rosebud' could have simply been provided initially."
"Because it wouldn't make a very good movie."
"I would have appreciated the brevity."
"It's a reference to his childhood," Jim explained, "to the only time he was actually happy. It loses significance without the rest of his life as a comparison."
"I see," Spock said, but Jim wasn't sure he did.
"You didn't like it," Jim said, slightly disappointed.
"I did not say that."
"You talked through most of it. I'm surprised you even heard a line of dialogue," Jim said, shaking his head and rising with the popcorn bowl in hand. He headed for the kitchen and called over his shoulder, "Remind me to introduce you to silent films."
Matt called out Tuesday, so Jim had a chance at an evening shift and jumped at it, even though it meant working seven days straight. His feet were sore and his back needed cracking, but he slapped on his best smile and high-fived patrons who recognized him from the news. He shook drinks over his shoulder and tossed the bottles around a bit for effect, earning light applause and more generous tips. A few customers bought him shots, and he downed them easily. Lew rolled his eyes, but Jim knew he loved the flair and the credits that came as a result of it.
When he started to pour flaming shots and slide them down the bar, Lew tapped him on the shoulder with a scowl and said there was a voice call for him in the office. Frowning, Jim wiped his hands on a bar towel while Lew hid the lighter. He felt in his pocket for his comm but realized he must have left it at the house.
"You'll make a fortune if you leave that shot on the menu," Jim pointed out. "I nicknamed it the Supernova. I've sold ten in the last five minutes."
"I'll make a fortune if you don't burn down my bar in the process. Go take that call. Guy sounded pretty serious."
Jim slid out and under the counter, walking down the dark hallway, past the bathrooms to Lew's office. Only a handful of people knew Jim was in Iowa. Had something happened to Bones? Maybe this was Captain Pike's idea of a prank. The office was brightly lit and cluttered, yet deceptively organized. You couldn't run a bar and profit without rigorous adherence to strict record keeping, and Lew was a master. The comm was situated on Lew's desk, a heavy table-top model. A blinking red light indicated a call on hold. Jim pressed the button to connect.
"Jim Kirk," he said, perching on the edge of the desk.
"I informed your supervisor it was not necessary to speak with you directly, having ascertained you are at work. However, he insisted I wait."
"Hey, Spock," Jim laughed, shaking his head. "I should have told you — Lew asked me to cover a shift tonight. Someone called out."
"I hope I have not caused you trouble, but you were not at home and did not respon—d to my message. I knew this to be your day off."
"I forgot my comm at the house."
"I promise to tell you next time. I had to leave right after Lew called to make it in on time, and I didn't want to bother you. To be honest, I didn't think you'd notice I was gone."
"It would have been no bother. I will see you when you arrive home."
"I won't be home until pretty late," Jim said, fingering a pile of invoices. "I have to close."
Spock didn't say anything in response; Jim bit the inside of his cheek, waiting. He thought the call had disconnected until he heard Spock breathing quietly.
"Uh...so, see you later," he said after another uncomfortable beat and hung up. He wondered how Spock had found the number for the Shipyard. Had Jim even mentioned the name of the bar where he worked?
A round of cheers welcomed him when he returned to the bar, patted Lew on the back, and retrieved the lighter from the drawer where Lew had stashed it. He held it aloft.
"Who's ready for another round?"
The house smelled different when Jim opened the front door. The scent was spicy and foreign, and his mouth watered because of it. He'd never eaten dinner, and the few shots he'd done had gone straight to his head. He probably shouldn't have driven his motorcycle home. It was already past 0130, and he was getting up in a few hours. Lew better not mind him yawning through his next shift. Shrugging his jacket from his shoulders, Jim opened the closet and hung it up. Without thinking, he touched the material of Spock's black robe, expecting to find it rough. It surprised him that the fabric felt smooth under his fingers. He ran his thumb along the edge, which was tightly stitched with thin metallic thread.
Beeping from the replicator startled him, and he shut the closet firmly.
"Hey," he said, coming into the kitchen and looking at Spock through bleary eyes. "I didn't think you'd still be up."
"I require less rest than a human," Spock replied, looking up from his PADD. "You look as if you require immediate sleep."
"I require a steak," Jim said. "I'm starving."
"There is food on the counter already prepared, if you are open to Vulcan cuisine. I ate quite late."
"What the hell," Jim said, shrugging and getting out a plate. "I'm pretty buzzed. Maybe I'll like vegetables tonight."
Spock frowned. "Since you are intoxicated, you should have used an alternate mode of transportation."
"What is this stuff, anyway?" Jim asked, ignoring his statement. He poked a finger into the pan of thinly sliced vegetables, neatly layered two inches tall. It was browned and caramelized on top. He sniffed suspiciously.
"It is a Vulcan recipe," Spock explained, "though I substituted Terran vegetables."
"Looks kind of like lasagna," Jim said, cutting a slice and lifting it onto his plate. The stack fell over. He grabbed a fork and took a bite where he stood, leaning against the counter. The vegetables were room temperature. Jim questioned just how long Spock had been sitting at the table waiting for him. He chewed thoughtfully, wondering what Bones would say if he could see him right now. He thought about sending him a picture with a thumbs-up.
"You're not a bad cook," he said through a full mouth. Spock raised an eyebrow as if to point out his ill manners. Jim grinned, swallowed, and took another bite. "You know, with some cheese, this would be pretty good."
"I am pleased you enjoy it."
"Where'd you learn to cook, anyway?"
"My mother," Spock said, shifting just slightly in his seat. Jim might not have noticed it before, but being a bartender again made him keenly aware of other people's body language. He straddled the chair across from Spock.
"I used to cook with my mom, too. Well, she did the cooking. I just watched."
"The skin on your hands is irritated," Spock observed.
"Bar rot," Jim explained, holding his hand out so Spock could observe it. Spock leaned forward and studied the rash across Jim's fingers and knuckles. "It's from the prep work, cutting lemons. The citric acid is murder on my skin, plus my hands are always in hot water from washing glasses. Lew likes to do things the old-fashioned way, and there's a lot of glassware in that place. Hurts like hell. I keep meaning to pick up some lotion."
"Could you not wear protective gloves?"
"Could I? Sure," Jim said, taking another huge bite. "Am I going to? No."
"It would be practical."
"I work for tips," Jim said. "A pair of rubber gloves isn't exactly sexy, Well, unless you're into that sort of thing."
"Your patrons prefer your skin to be inflamed?"
"They're drunk," Jim said. "They probably don't notice."
"It'll go away once they give me my ship and I stop bartending." His plate was empty. He leaned back in his chair. "I'm gonna sit out in the hot tub for a while. I open tomorrow morning, and I feel like hell. Join me?"
Spock shook his head.
"Suit yourself." He pushed back from the table and dropped his plate in the sink. "Thanks for dinner," he said and headed for the backyard.
There was an amber glass jar on Jim's nightstand when he went to bed a half hour later. Hesitantly, he picked it up and unscrewed the lid. It was filled with what looked like a thick cream.
Jim's breath caught, and he looked out his door. Spock's was closed, he realized, in relief. He looked back at the jar in his hand with something like gratitude. There was a funny feeling in his chest. He lifted the jar to his nose. The cream smelled musky with heavy spice notes, sort of like the cloves his mother stuck in oranges around Christmas. He dipped a finger into it and gently smoothed some over his broken skin, concentrating on his left index finger where the skin was badly inflamed and swollen. The cream sunk in easily, leaving a light sheen. He repeated the application on his right hand.
Something in the cream had a numbing effect, and by the time Jim fell asleep, the pain had already stopped.
When Jim got up for work on the morning of Spock's twelfth day in Riverside and stumbled into the kitchen, he found a steaming cup of coffee waiting for him in his preferred mug and the chess board reset. He couldn't help the grin that appeared on his face and took the coffee in hand happily.
On his morning ride in, he remembered something Spock had said his first night in Riverside and stopped in town at a specialty kitchen store his mom had always liked. They could get spices not sold anywhere else, like Kreetassan spice, which Winona had come across at a Starbase when Jim was a boy and insisted was superior to Terran rock salt for adding flavor. The store always smelled the same, like freshly roasted coffee beans. He inhaled the familiar scent deeply and inquired at the front counter about Vulcan tea.
"We don't carry any," the middle-aged woman replied thoughtfully, tapping a pen against her lips. "But I could place a special order. It would be imitation, but I have read positive reviews of a few brands. It would be hard to get authentic tea from Vulcan, of course, after..." She looked at him and made an aborted nod, and he understood she did not wish to acknowledge the planet's loss out loud.
"How strong do you prefer your tea?"
"It's not for me, so I'm not sure," Jim said. "It's for a friend of mine. He said any tea would be fine, but I want to get him something from home."
"He grew up on Vulcan."
She put a hand to her chest.
"Do you know which type of tea he prefers? Their plain tea is an acquired taste, but I'm told Vulcans are very fond of it. I'm afraid most Terrans don't like it, which is why we don't keep it in stock. Vulcan spice tea is quite lovely, just expensive, though I might have a box somewhere, come to think of it. And there is Plomeek tea, which is mild, and unfortunately...will have to be replicated from now on, unless the plomeek can be cultivated elsewhere."
"I guess all three?"
"One box each?" she asked.
"Two, I think," Jim said after a pause. "How soon will they be in?"
"If they're in stock, just a few days," she said. "I'll have them shipped down from our larger store in Iowa City. Otherwise, it might be as long as a week or two."
"Okay. What would you recommend, in the meantime?"
"Come with me," she said, waving him to follow her further into the store. "I can recommend a few alternatives. We have a few Vulcan spices, as well."
There had been just enough time to run home before he had to be at work. Jim wasn't in the house for more than a minute; he left the bike running.
When Spock walked into the kitchen to prepare lunch, he would find three small boxes on the counter: camomile tea, ginger tea, and Janaran tea. Beside them was a slip of paper with a handwritten order dated March 13, which consisted of Vulcan tea, Vulcan spice tea, and Plomeek tea, two boxes each. It was marked "paid."
Jim spent his birthday working. Lew didn't approve of comms on the job, so Jim left his in plain view, right next to the cash register but on silent, and only checked it occasionally. Regulars bought him shots. He received messages from Scotty, Captain Pike, and even one from Gary, which surprised him. Sam and his mom both called and left videos he would watch later. Bones rang him at 1602 (probably taking a late lunch break — as much as he gave Jim hell about his health, he could be reckless with his own at times). Jim made a mental note to call him back. At 1628, it lit up again. This time, the message was from Spock.
>> I am preparing something for dinner if you are hungry.
Spock cooking meant vegetarian fare, but Jim knew it meant something to him culturally, so he decided he could survive on plants for another night. He cancelled the food order he'd just put in (a shame, too, because the Shipyard's pulled pork was epic and there wasn't a drop of peanut oil in the joint) and went home as soon as his shift ended. Spock was in the kitchen standing over the cutting board with a knife. He wore an apron over his black robes and stared at the vegetable in his hand seriously. Jim bit back a smile when he saw him.
"Were the taro roots I got you okay?" Jim asked, leaning against the sink and peering at the pile of vegetables that took up seemingly half the counter space. "Never bought those before, so I wasn't sure."
"Yes," Spock said as he chopped up what might have been a parsnip. Jim thought they all looked pretty similar. "I wish to thank you for procuring fresh vegetables. I am grateful, though it was unnecessary for you to purchase them."
A green flush crept up Spock's neck.
"Riverside has its charms," Jim said, dispensing a glass of water and drinking it down. He wiped his mouth on his arm. "And its boutique grocery stores. Can't have everyone thinking we're just a bunch of hicks."
"Allow me to reimburse you for the credits."
"It's not a big deal," Jim said, dismissing him. Spock did not protest.
Jim's comm chirped. He glanced down at the screen.
>> Are you dead?
"It's Bones again," he said. "I'd better give him a call."
He went into the den and closed the door.
"Hey," he said when Bones picked up.
"I haven't heard word one from you in nearly a month, and all you have to say is ‘hey'?"
"I've been busy. Picked up a couple shifts at a bar where I used to work."
"Which of course makes it impossible to communicate with your friends."
"Sorry. I guess between work and Spock, I've been pretty distracted."
"Spock?" Bones sputtered. "As in, our pointy eared friend who attempted to choke you to death a few weeks ago?"
"Yeah," Jim said, raking a hand through his hair. "Didn't I mention he's out here with me?"
"I think I might have remembered if you had told me you were shacking up with a Vulcan. And that Vulcan in particular!"
"He said reporters were harassing him, so I joked he was welcome here. I didn't think he'd actually take me up on the offer. Not gonna lie, I was getting drunk when I invited him, and I figured he'd realize I was kidding."
"And he just showed up on your doorstep?"
"That same night. He got here about two in the morning. Been here almost two weeks."
"I'll be damned. No choking incidents?"
"None yet. We play chess a lot. Sometimes we cook together. Well, he cooks. I watch him. He doesn't like movies much — I tried to show him Citizen Kane; he talked through the whole thing. I almost shut it off — but we read. Mostly we stay out of each other's way. He's downstairs right now finishing up dinner. Actually, he's a pretty decent cook."
"You're eating vegetables willingly?"
"I know," Jim laughed. "And don't worry, he takes my food allergies dead seriously."
"You've got yourself a Vulcan husband. Never thought I'd live to see the day Jim Kirk went domestic."
"Must be those baby blues."
"It's not like that," Jim said frowning.
"That's what you said about Gary."
"Yeah, well, this isn't like Gary."
"Whatever you say, darlin."
"I'm serious. It's not like that with us."
"I've heard that before. "
"He needed a place to crash for a while, and having someone here is keeping me from being lonely and drinking too much," Jim said pacing in front of his mom's desk. He noted the neatly stacked data PADDs and the way Spock had rearranged the computer for better ergonomics. "He's nothing like Gary. Trust me."
"I hope you're not idiot enough to make that mistake twice in a lifetime."
"I know you didn't like him," Jim said. "Hell, I think our entire apartment building heard that fight."
"What's not to like about a guy who used my best friend for sex?"
"Lots of people use each other for sex."
"Which is fine," Bones said, "if it's casual for everyone involved."
"I wasn't in love with him," Jim defended. "He was my roommate and a good friend."
"I know heartbroken when I see it, kiddo. I've been there. Remember?"
"Are you trying to depress me?"
"No, actually, I called earlier to tell you to check your Starfleet communications, because I know you haven't. There have been a few ship updates. Repairs are going smoothly. There's a possible launch date."
"Oh," Jim said. "That's great."
"Of course, preference is being given to the transports headed out to the new Vulcan colony. They're scheduled to leave first."
"Is that so?"
"No official date, but I'm sure Spock will know when one is selected. We're giving them all full medical work ups, treating for post traumatic stress disorder, which is a challenge with a race that won't admit to having emotions, let me tell you."
The conversation lulled for a few seconds.
"You know I don't care who you sleep with."
"Yeah, I know."
"If he goes with them to the colony..."
"Bones," Jim interrupted.
"...you probably won't see him again."
"I'm not sleeping with him."
"Don't want to see you get hurt."
"We'll be plenty busy when we head out. There won't be time to think about any of that."
Jim heard what sounded like muffled voices and heard Bones speak to someone briefly.
"I've got people coming into the clinic," he said. "Think about what I said. Happy birthday."
"Thanks," Jim laughed. "I'll talk to you later."
"Behave," Bones said and signed off.
It wasn't true. This wasn't anything like his fling with Gary Mitchell. First, this wasn't a fling. You had to be having sex for it to qualify as a fling, and Jim had yet to convince Spock to get into the hot tub with him. He'd never even seen him walk from his bedroom to the bathroom in just a towel or his boxers (did Vulcans wear boxers?). And Jim had no reason to think that Spock would be interested in a relationship with another man, especially a casual one. He probably saw it as his duty to marry a nice Vulcan girl and produce a few pointy eared Vulcan babies to help rebuild his race, because that would be logical. Warping through space with a very human, very male starship captain and putting himself, an endangered species, at risk, was on the less logical end of the spectrum.
And that was assuming Jim was even interested in a fling with Spock. Which he wasn't, of course. Besides, Spock was dating Uhura. He frowned at her name.
Jim sighed and went upstairs to his room, dragging his favorite chair next to the window. He tossed the comm on the bed. It fell to the floor, but he didn't pick it up. There was a knock on his door.
"Dinner is in the oven and will bake for an hour," Spock informed him from the doorway.
"You can come in."
"I brought you this," Spock said hesitantly, passing a mug into his hands. "It is chamomile. It is meant to soothe."
"Your conversation with Doctor McCoy...your tone was strained."
Jim froze. He had forgotten Vulcans possessed keen hearing. How much had he overheard? His heart began to race. "You could hear my conversation?" he asked, keeping his voice even. He forced himself to look Spock in the face.
"No, just your intonation. My mother used to make me tea when I was upset."
Relieved, Jim drank from his mug and waited for Spock to say something else, maybe something more about his mother, but he didn't. "You mean you weren't always this centered?" Jim offered.
"Vulcan children can be cruel," Spock said, settling on the window seat a few inches from Jim's knees, "as all children can be cruel."
"I would've thought cruelty is illogical."
"As children, we are not in full control of our emotions. It is a lifelong challenge, to master them. For many, it is a struggle that persists into adulthood."
"You would've loved me as a kid. I was an asshole."
"And I was proud. I stood up for my mother when others taunted me for my human heritage."
"I don't get that," Jim said, resting his forearms on his thighs as he leaned forward. The mug was warm between his hands. "You're smart and accomplished. Why do they care if you're half human?"
"On Vulcan, it was considered a disadvantage," Spock said, meeting his eyes, then drifted back to the window. "I suppose now, even my half Vulcan heritage will be seen as an asset."
"You're the reason the elders were saved."
"Any Vulcan in my position would have done the same."
"Spock, there were no other Vulcans in your position. If you hadn't joined Starfleet, if you hadn't been on that bridge, if you hadn't made the decision to beam down to the surface, everything would have been lost." Jim paused and raked a hand through his hair, laughing bitterly. "What you did was reckless and brave, and anyone who thinks of you as disadvantaged is really fucking stupid."
Spock looked down at the cup between his hands, and Jim wondered if he'd said too much. He turned his attention toward the window, pointing to a great gray shape in the distance.
"That's where they build the ships," he said. "I grew up in the shadow of the Enterprise. This is where I first saw her, through this window."
"And yet you did not wish to join Starfleet?"
Jim shook his head. "I laughed at Captain Pike when he suggested it."
"I wanted to join from a young age," Spock confessed, "but I knew I would not go. I was prepared to accept admission to the Vulcan Science Academy."
"It is what my father wanted," Spock answered simply. "It is what was expected."
"You were going to give up control over your own life because of what other people expected of you?"
"My father is an ambassador," Spock explained. "His choice of a wife was seen as a betrayal by some of our people. As the product of that union, it was my responsibility and my choice to demonstrate my family's honor. It was my father's plan that I enter the Vulcan Science Academy. Later, I planned to pursue the Vulcan discipline of kolinahr, to purge all emotion."
"But you're half human," Jim protested. "Your dad had to like something about humans. He married one."
"It was his wish that I follow the Vulcan way."
"I don't see why you can't do both."
"Both?" Spock looked at him again. Jim swallowed.
"Be human and Vulcan. I mean, you are biologically, but why do you have to choose? Why can't you be the best of both: logical like a Vulcan, but with the compassion and capacity for emotion of a human? Don't you think there's value to that?"
Spock was contemplative. "My mother encouraged me to combine elements of my two heritages. My father—"
"Made his own decisions," Jim interrupted, "and you should get to make yours. And if my experience with parents means anything, he'll still love you, even if you don't choose the path he had in mind for you."
"Your mother does not approve of you joining Starfleet? Is she not an officer?"
"She doesn't want me getting myself blown up," Jim admitted, sipping his tea. "This is good, by the way. Thanks."
Spock nodded at him. When he spoke, there was a change in his voice, a softening. "I am grateful you have allowed me to stay with you," he said, staring into the depths of his mug.
Jim shrugged and sat back in the chair, ignoring the warm feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Sure."
Somewhere between talking to Spock and the chamomile, Jim must have dozed off. He woke in his darkened bedroom, the mug safely moved to the windowsill, and a blanket he recognized from Spock's room draped over his legs. Blinking himself awake, he yawned and rubbed the sleep from his eyes and padded downstairs.
Spock was playing himself in chess, an empty bowl beside him.
"I didn't want to wake you," he said without looking up. "Let me prepare your dish."
"Thanks," Jim said, falling into his seat at the table. "Mind if I reset?"
"I do not."
Spock set a bowl of the root vegetable stew in front of him. Leaning over the bowl, Jim inhaled the steam rising from it.
"Smells good. Thanks," he said and picked up a spoon.
"It is hearty," Spock explained. "I hope you find it satisfying."
He sampled the stew. It was full in taste and not too heavy. This was the fifth meal Spock had prepared in as many days. Despite his conviction to swallow copious amounts of mammal daily, Jim had to admit that there were redeeming qualities where Vulcan cuisine was concerned. The food was not overly seasoned, but the flavor was pleasing. It never made him feel sated, but he wasn't hungry either. It gave him ample energy, and his waist felt a bit lighter.
"Not bad," he commented. "I think this is my favorite so far."
"I will make it for you again," Spock said, obviously gratified. He folded his hands on the table and watched Jim eat, which, had it been anyone else, would have disconcerted Jim. Since it was Spock, he continued to chew in companionable silence. He finished his bowl, and Spock brought him another.
"You are certain you could never be a vegetarian? You eat what I prepare readily."
"I'll consider it if it makes you happy, as long as you let me have a good steak once in a while. Maybe two, three times a week..."
He stopped talking, closing his mouth and feeling clumsy. Why had he just said that? He'd made it sound like they'd be living together indefinitely. Spock looked pleased, however, and sat up straighter in his chair.
"Would you prefer to take white tonight?" he asked.
"Why don't we move this game out into the yard?" Jim suggested. "My back's sore from standing all day, and falling asleep in that chair didn't help. We can drag a table over next to the hot tub. That way it'll fix the kink in my back and I'll still beat you."
"I am winning at a rate of 52.5 percent."
"Not tonight. What do you say?"
Spock hesitated, his mouth settling into a thin line.
"Come on," Jim pleaded. "It's my birthday. By Terran tradition, you sort of have to indulge me."
"I did not realize the significance of the date."
Snorting, Jim shook his head. "It's not exactly a day we celebrated in my family, if you catch my meaning. It usually involved enduring a memorial ceremony at the shipyard. I got cake and presents when Sam got his in July."
"We do not celebrate birthdays on Vulcan," Spock said slowly. "But I would be pleased to celebrate yours."
Jim found an old pair of shorts in his room when he went up to change and tossed them at Spock, who was in the yard relocating the chess board.
"They might be a little big, but you're just gonna sit in them."
"Would it not be more comfortable without clothing?"
Jim stared and felt his face grow warm. "Yeah, I guess," he said, rubbing his neck.
"I would prefer to be comfortable."
"The water itself is pretty comforting, but suit yourself. I got you a towel."
Jim pushed a few buttons to start the jets and another to retract the cover.
"It's 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Is that okay?"
"I am able to tolerate much higher temperatures than you."
"Cool," Jim said and hopped in. Spock's eyebrow twitched at his choice of word. "Uh, hot, then. Get in," and he reached over the edge to slide the board into an easier position. "I promise not to look at you."
"I am not ashamed of my body," Spock said against the rustle of fabric. Jim doubled his concentration efforts on the board.
It was a plastic set, one he'd owned since he was eleven and Winona discovered that Jim would actually shut his mouth and concentrate with an army of chess pieces at his command. He'd work out strategies in his head, battle tactics, and quickly got better than Winona (who played recreationally, if there was drinking involved), Frank (whose strategy consisted of "wing it"), and Sam, who was a good player but sore about losing to his little brother.
The board had accompanied him when he joined the experimental colony at thirteen, and he found a few people willing to play him (a few could even win). That was before...well, that was before. Not all of his chess partners survived, but the board made it back with him. Jim couldn't bear to look at it, so Sam had put it away.
"You take white," Spock reiterated. Jim finally looked at him, not two feet away. Spock was naked, with no vulnerability on his face, water swishing gently against his chest. Jim was not looking down. No, sir. He felt his face flush red, and thank god he could blame it on sitting in really hot water, because he was definitely not being turned on by a naked half-Vulcan who had a delicate greenish hue settling over his chest and cheekbones.
Jim switched on the bubbler. He made the first move and turned his attention to the game. At one point, Spock's wet hand brushed his wrist as he reached for the board, and Jim felt a jolt run up his spine. If Spock felt anything, then he didn't react. Jim put it down to being really, really horny. He'd had plans to hook up with someone on his vacation, but no one at the Shipyard had interested him. Now his body was decidedly interested. Maybe Bones was right.
"Fuck," Jim swore.
"Isn't that word used to express frustration?"
"But you have just won."
"Yes. Also, you are correct about this hot tub. I am very comfortable. You should suggest the Enterprise have one for senior officers, or for the captain's personal use." Spock caught his gaze and held it.
"Yeah," Jim said slowly. He took a deep breath. Spock didn't blink. If this had been anyone else, even Bones (and that idea, no), Jim would have sworn he was flirting.
"I've gotta take a leak," he blurted and climbed out, dripping on the floor as he walked in the house. Get it together, Kirk, he told himself. Don't ruin a good thing. He needed a drink if he was going to get through this.
Scrounging in the cupboard, he came up with the bottle of wine he'd bought and forgotten his first week home. The corkscrew was nowhere to be found. He opened every drawer in the kitchen and didn't see it. Maybe he could break the bottle's neck. Broken glass in his throat? Not a solid idea. He had to figure something out. He'd been gone too long. Spock probably knew down to the second how long it took a human male to urinate. It dawned on him: the bottle was a screwcap. Classy. He twisted and the bottle opened in silence, lacking the satisfying pop of a cork, but the wine was satisfying as he took a first sip from a tumbler and retreated to the back yard with the bottle.
Art by CanneDeBonbon
Spock had reset the board and was waiting for him, leaning back against the tub, both arms out of the water, outstretched, resting along the edge like an invitation. Did he have any idea how he looked? Probably not. Jim could put the moves on him to find out, but he wasn't that much of an asshole. Spock was a friend. Plus, he knew what Spock was like when he was angry. Spock watched him intently as he stood the bottle beside the board and settled back into the water.
"It's wine," Jim said in answer to the unasked question. "Want some?"
Spock shook his head. His dark hair stuck to his forehead. Jim felt an urge to brush it away. He curled his hands into fists beneath the water's surface.
"I'm gonna wipe the board with you," he said instead. Spock licked his lips.
"I would like to see you try."
Jim lost the next two games ("I have now won 53.488 percent of our games." "That's great, Spock.") and went to bed drunk and frustrated. Sure, Spock was attractive, but anyone looked good naked when the observer just consumed a bottle of wine. And Jim was pretty much certain that Vulcans don't flirt. He needed to get laid. He needed a night of hot, anonymous sex. That would get these crazy thoughts of out his system.
His comm sounded before his alarm the next morning. Head aching slightly from the wine, he rubbed his temples and flipped the comm open.
"Yeah?" he said gruffly, squinting against the light and hiding his eyes in the pillow.
"Mr. Kirk, this is Mona from The Pot and Kettle. Your special order is in."
Special order. What special order? He wasn't expecting anything. The only things he'd bought recently were a few groceries and a couple shirts. Oh, and tea for Spock. Jim's brain booted up.
"Great, I'll be in today to pick it up. Thanks."
Spock wasn't in the kitchen when he got downstairs, but the coffee was ready and waiting for him. He didn't work today and wasn't sure what to do with himself. If it had warmed up outside, he could go for a walk. Spock would like that. Jim knew he'd been itching to stretch his legs since he got here, and the cold weather had prevented it, but now it was the twenty third of March and warmer, by Riverside standards.
Pulling on his jacket, he shouted "Be back soon!" and was out the door. The shopkeeper recognized him when he stepped into the store, pointing at him with a knowing look.
"The one with the Vulcan friend," she said. "I have your order in the back. Is there anything else I can get for you today?"
"Well, actually..." Jim said as the idea dawned on him. "Do you know any good Vulcan recipes? I'm off today and thought I could try my hand at one."
And that's how Jim ended up with a recipe for plomeek soup. He frowned at the replicator, as though frowning at it would cause its programming to spontaneously expel a perfect crop of plomeek for his purposes. He spent an hour on the computer looking up shady replicator hacks, and another forty minutes programming and adjusting the code snippets he'd found to suit an older replicator. When two hours had elapsed, it was producing what looked nearly identical to the images of plomeek he could find. These would have to do. He was not using carrots, no matter how many times the shopkeeper assured him the taste would be similar.
It had been a few years since he'd cooked something from scratch, but he had spent hours in this kitchen with his mother. He took out a large, sharp knife and began preparing the plomeek. It was dense like a potato, a pale pink color beneath a rough, thick, mottled skin that he cut away in strips. It took a half hour to slice enough for the recipe, four cups to be exact. He set the fruit aside and cut up the celery.
Art by CanneDeBonbon
He replicated a large white onion. He chopped it finely — miraculously, his eyes never reacted to onions, despite how his body liked reacting to everything and anything — and cooked it in butter until it took on a translucent quality. To this, he added the cubed plomeek, stirring occasionally to cook the fruit evenly, and watched the color deepen from pink to rose into a royal purple. When the plomeek was cooked and softened, he added the celery, stirring, and seasoned the mixture well with salt and pepper before pouring enough vegetable stock into the soup pot to just cover everything. He brought the pot to a boil and reduced the heat, covering it with a lid and left it to simmer while he grabbed a shower.
Hair wet, he returned to the kitchen forty five minutes later, just in time to replicate a loaf of crusty bread. One from-scratch item was enough for the day. He didn't need to embarrass himself by attempting to bake. Replicated bread was usually pretty good, especially with a generous smear of real butter, and he had that from the store.
The smell of the soup cooking roused Spock from the den, where he had spent the morning making sense of notes his father had sent him in regards to the new colony.
"You're right on time," Jim said as he ladled the deeply colored soup into two bowls and set them on the table, on either side of the bread, which was steaming and sliced in a basket. A pot of Vulcan tea steeped next to two mugs. He placed a knife on the butter dish.
Spock sat and stared at the bowl, looking up at Jim with eyes that were wide and questioning.
"It's plomeek soup," Jim explained. "I hope it's something you like. I should've asked, but I wanted it to be a surprise."
"It is...my favorite," Spock said. He ducked his head and continued. "It is illogical to have a preference for one food versus another. Food is intended to nourish and sustain the body, but my mother indulged my illogic. She grew plomeek in our garden. I spent much time in that garden with her as a child. She prepared this soup for me regularly. I never thought I would taste it again. Thank you, Jim."
It struck him, as he heard the word from Spock's mouth, that this was the first time since he'd arrived in Iowa that Spock addressed him by name. The sound of it made him feel lit up inside. He hadn't known of the connection between this soup and Spock's mother. If he had, he never would have had the courage to prepare this meal. As it was, he didn't understand his own motivation. But Spock didn't seem sad, just contemplative. Jim didn't know what to say in response. He recalled sitting beside Spock in the transport as they left the Enterprise, knowing his mind was awash with emotions for his mother and his planet. He remembered wanting to reach out to him then, but had kept his hand to himself, knowing Spock would not welcome it. He pushed that thought aside now and clasped Spock's shoulder. Spock did not flinch. Jim squeezed gently.
"Don't thank me until you try it," he said. "It might be a terrible facsimile."
Spock reached a hand to his shoulder and placed it over Jim's. A warmth filled his mind as the depth of Spock's gratitude seeped into his consciousness. His mouth went dry. For an entire minute, he couldn't move, staring at the fingers resting on top of his own. Spock was overwhelmed. The last time that happened, he'd nearly killed Jim, but Jim felt no fear at the sight of their hands touching. He felt his heart rate quicken, blood rising in his face.
"I'm adding cream to my soup. I left it out of yours. There's Vulcan tea, too," he said finally, patting Spock's shoulder when the hand came away from his, and moving to his place across the table. "I was told humans don't like it much."
"My mother never cared for it, despite her years on Vulcan."
"She must have been quite a lady."
Spock took up his spoon and lowered it into the soup, bringing it to his lips and blowing before tasting it. His eyes fluttered closed. His mouth curved into a smile which abruptly fell, but Jim had seen it. He replayed it in his head. His heart skipped.
Grinning stupidly, Jim smeared ample butter onto a slice of bread and dipped it into his soup. He was surprised to find he liked the taste. It was simple but immensely satisfying. Of course, the look on Spock's face might have contributed slightly to Jim's enjoyment.
"Hey," he said, and Spock looked at him expectantly. "After we eat, you want to see something?"
Spock agreed. Jim poured them each a mug of tea and slid one across the table while he sipped his. It tasted like dust.
"Your mom was right, by the way," Jim said, grimacing. Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "This tea is terrible."
"Can we not walk?" Spock asked.
"C'mon," Jim said, tossing the key between his hands. Spock folded his arms across his chest.
"I have never ridden on this type of machine," he declared.
"Well, I have. A lot. Don't you trust me?"
"Oddly," Spock said, cocking his head. "I do."
"Then trust that I won't let you fall."
Spock remained several feet from the motorcycle.
"You are not wearing a helmet," he said.
"I should. I just don't. I probably have an old one upstairs that would fit you. Do you want me to get it?"
Spock opened his mouth as though he would answer, then closed it. He walked the two steps forward until his leg brushed Jim's thigh, and Jim looked up at him, waiting. In his eyes, Jim read confusion and interest. He patted the seat behind him. The bike leaned under Spock's additional weight as he climbed on. A hand found Jim's waist, and its twin snaked around to his stomach and held tightly to his jacket.
"If I lean, you lean," Jim instructed. "Match my movements."
Shifting closer, Spock's body came to rest along his back. A chin grazed Jim's shoulder, and he felt Spock exhale.
"Am I seated properly?" Spock asked, his voice a breath against Jim's ear.
"Fine," Jim said quickly, fighting the flush of arousal that sparked in him, and started the engine.
Spock held him tightly when the bike first started to move, but as they rolled down the short driveway and into the street and along the straight roads that dissected the great stretches of dormant farm fields, Jim felt him relax, his body curving into Jim's rather than pressing stiffly against him. It was remarkable how far they'd come in such a short time. Spock had been here twenty two days. They'd known each other for forty. In the time they'd lived together, they'd played chess forty three times. They ate dinner together most nights, and Spock brewed a killer pot of coffee. And now, for some reason, a part of him insisted he bring Spock to the quarry, to let Spock touch a place inside him he'd never let anyone see — not Bones, not Gary, not Sam, not even his own mother.
The caution signs were still there "Danger - Quarry Ahead - Iowa Mining Company," blocking the road as before, and as before he ignored them, guiding the bike through an opening in the gate and twisting the throttle so the bike screamed forward. The wide expanse of dirt lay before him. Dust kicked up from his tires. In the distance, fast approaching, he could just make out the edge. Spock's arms came around him tightly again, so he stopped immediately, a safe distance from the drop off, and shut off the engine. Heart pounding from the rush of adrenaline he experienced at the memory, he lowered the kick stand. Spock climbed off the bike and moved several paces away, his hair wind tossed, his face slightly green. Jim leaned over the handlebars and pointed to the canyon.
"I drove a car over that cliff when I was eleven."
Spock's head turned sharply, and he regarded Jim with a slight frown and said nothing. Jim dismounted and began to walk toward the quarry, the gravel crunching underfoot. Silently, Spock followed him. The wind blew through the canyon below and whistled in his ears. He inched closer to the edge of the cliff, until his toes were just brushing the earth where it fell away. Spock remained several feet back.
"Be careful," Spock warned him.
"It was my dad's," Jim continued as though he hadn't spoken, staring down at the rectangular cuts in the sand colored rock. The remains of the car had been cleared away long ago. "A Corvette, antique. Course, dad was dead, and my asshole stepfather decided it was his. I used to clean it sometimes, polish it, or just climb in and sit. Wonder what he was really like. Wonder what my life would be like if he hadn't died. Nero took a parent from both of us. Did you ever think of that? I knew my father in that other life, but I have no memories of him in this one, just his last name and his legacy. It followed me around my whole childhood. I told you that you shouldn't let your dad make your decisions for you, but I'm a fucking hypocrite. I've let my dad run my life. That's why I drove that car over the cliff."
"You wished to die?"
"No. It wasn't about death, and it wasn't about wrecking a car, and it wasn't for the adrenaline rush. I was trying to exorcise my dad. I was mad at him for dying. I jumped out at the last minute. I jumped because he couldn't."
"Did it work?"
Jim snorted. "Hardly. Plus, my stepdad was pissed about the car. And in the end, I ended up exactly where my dad had been, staring down the tentacles of a Romulan ship."
"I've never admitted it to anyone, but I guess all I really wanted was to live up to my dad's reputation. Always felt that'd be impossible. I told you I didn't join Starfleet because of my mom. Fact is, I didn't join Starfleet because I was scared I'd never be as good as a dead man."
Jim looked at Spock over his shoulder.
"What do you want?"
"I do not know."
"I want a ship," Jim said, returning his eyes to the canyon. "I want the Enterprise."
Spock regarded him for a long while. He turned his head and stared out over the quarry.
"I believe you will get it one day."
Jim glanced over where he stood, shivering.
"You're cold," he said. "Let's get back to the house."
The next day he had off work, so Jim spent it catching up on official communications and pestering Spock for something to do that could help the Vulcan colony. Spock finally took pity on him and asked him to compile a database of Vulcan food items and comparable replicator codes that might be used to recreate them.
"Since you are so fond of computer programming," Spock said evenly, but Jim knew he was teasing. Jim would have worked faster but insisted on testing out each piece of code he could find in his research, then bringing Spock the replicator's attempts and asking him to taste each one.
"Yes or no? What do I need to change?" he asked with every item, taking copious notes, until Spock finally held up a hand and declared he was too full for the project to go on any longer.
"Today," he qualified. "Perhaps we can do more tomorrow."
Thursday, he worked first shift, and a bug got under his skin. He itched to go out. He'd been spending a lot of time in a bar, but he hadn't been out for fun in weeks, not since Spock arrived. As much as he liked being at home, enjoying time to himself, he was a social creature and craved interaction. It had seemed wrong to go out drinking and leave Spock home alone, even though he knew a Vulcan wouldn't be offended by it. He messaged Spock around lunch time in plain sight of Lew, who cocked his head at Jim's comm use. Jim winked at him and leaned his hip against the bar, his black t-shirt rising slightly and revealing a sliver of skin, and a woman seated there tipped him a few credits. Lew rolled his eyes and waved away the offense.
>> hey we're going out tonight. no excuses
>> Should I make any preparations?
After work and a quick dinner, Jim dressed Spock in Terran clothes, throwing him a pair of worn jeans and a dark t-shirt, and giving him the jacket he wore riding. Spock looked at him skeptically, raising both eyebrows as he held the jeans up between two fingers.
"What is wrong with my clothes?"
"Nothing. I just think you'd be more comfortable in these. In case someone spills something on you," Jim said quickly. "I don't want your robes to get ruined."
"I see. That is practical. I will wear them."
"I'm gonna run and get changed," Jim said, escaping to his own room, where he pulled out a clean t-shirt (blue like his eyes, because, hello, he knew how to flaunt his second-best asset) and a pair of dark-washed jeans that hugged his ass (because he knew how to flaunt his first). He styled his hair, looked himself over in the mirror (would he pick himself up? yes, he would) and was satisfied.
Spock was hanging his robes in the closet when Jim walked into the room without knocking. The jeans were a little loose but stayed up on their own, and the t-shirt fit Spock well. The jacket lay across the bed, so Spock's arms were bare. He clasped them behind his back.
"Do I look appropriate?" he asked. Jim gave him a once over.
"Can I mess with your hair?"
"What is wrong with my hair?"
"Nothing, it just makes you look so...serious. May I?"
Spock frowned but agreed. Jim took his arms and walked him to the bathroom. From the cabinet, he took a small jar of hair wax and rubbed it between his palms, reaching up and raking his fingers through Spock's hair. It was smooth and thick, and Jim pushed the fringe of bangs away from his forehead. Spock's eyes widened but he let Jim continue. He watched Jim closely, and Jim looked at him and smiled, then focused his concentration on the task at hand. His wrists brushed the tip of Spock's ears as he worked, and he felt a tremor pass through him. The edges of Spock's ears grew warmer and took on a greenish hue. Spock was blushing, Jim realized. They were almost the same height. Jim had moved in so close, if he leaned forward at all, their mouths would touch. His fingers slid to the back of Spock's skull and cradled it. From Spock's throat came a small choked sound, and Jim's hands stilled. He dropped them.
"There," he said, rinsing his hands in the sink. "Now they won't be able to keep their hands off of you."
"I do not desire—"
"Figure of speech," Jim said, punching him lightly, and moving quickly from the room. "C'mon."
"We'll miss you when you head back out into space, my friend," Lew said, clapping Jim on the shoulder. The happy hour crowd had left, and the regulars had come for their nightcaps. The bar was crowded but not overly so, and it felt good to relax. Jim scored his favorite bar stool and gave it to Spock. He stood beside him until another one opened up to Spock's left.
"This one worked earlier today, but it's good to see his face in here again," Lew said to Spock. "Used to come in here all the time before he enlisted. Worked here a couple summers too. Business has picked up now that the rumor's out he's back in town. First round's on me. Even top shelf, you and your friend here."
"I'll take a beer," Jim said. "Give me that new thing we got in earlier today, and Spock will take..." He looked at Spock expectantly. Lew placed a pint of dark beer in front of Jim and a napkin in front of Spock.
"I do not know," Spock answered. "You are more familiar with recreational alcohol consumption than I. Please select for me."
"Okay." Jim chewed on his lip. "I don't think you're a beer type. What about something sweet?"
"Nah," Jim continued, cutting him off, "you didn't like that ice cream I brought home last week." He perused the colorful selection of labels before him on the dimly lighted shelf and tapped his chin. "You'd probably like something made with fruit juice okay, but...hey—" He turned his attention to Lew. "Is any of my galaxy-famous spicy mix still made up from this morning?"
"Do you really think I'd let us run out of our secret weapon? I made up a new batch a couple hours ago. Do you know how many of those I'll sell tomorrow morning?"
Jim grinned widely. "He'll take one, not too spicy — he's new at this. And give him extra celery."
"You picked a pro to train with," Lew said to Spock as he picked up a pint glass and filled it with ice, then tomato juice and vodka, and transferred it to a shaker.
"Train?" Spock asked, raising an eyebrow at Jim quizzically.
"He means I'm an accomplished alcoholic, and you're obviously not. Which makes you my protege."
Lew set the full glass in front of Spock with enough force it sloshed a little over the sides. Spock regarded the dark red contents and stalks of celery that bloomed from it. "What is it?" he asked.
"A bloody mary," Jim defined. "It's tomato juice, horseradish, pepper, a little celery salt, hot sauce, Worcestershire, and vodka. Not too different from a couple of those cold soups you like, well, except for the vodka, but you shouldn't really taste it. Tell me what you think."
"May I have a straw?"
"He's Vulcan," Jim clarified when Lew opened his mouth to protest, leaning over the bar. "A cold glass plus desert-bred fingers — not a smart combination." He fished a straw from the holder and removed the paper wrapper, sliding it into Spock's drink.
"You're the one from the news," Lew exclaimed, looking at Spock intently. "I didn't recognize you. That's two celebs in the house tonight, and two rounds on me." He deposited two shot glasses, rim side down, in front of them. "Just let me know when you're ready for another," he said and moved down the bar to a signaling patron.
"He is fond of you," Spock observed, forming his lips around the straw and sucking. Jim took a long drink from his beer — it was dark and bitter, a chocolate stout, and left a creamy foam on his upper lip that he wiped on his sleeve — and never removed his eyes from the sight of Spock's pursed mouth.
"Good?" he asked after Spock swallowed. Spock was a moment before replying.
"I find it oddly satisfying," he remarked. "You are correct. It is not unlike the gazpacho I prepared for you."
"Just keeping my roommate happy."
"As we do not share a single room, but rather an entire dwelling, surely the term housemate would be more appropriate?"
"How about friend?"
There was a pregnant pause, and Spock finally nodded, almost imperceptibly.
"Yes," he murmured. "That term is accurate."
Thirty minutes later, Jim threw his credit chip on the bar and ordered rounds three and four for himself (Cardassian Sunrises this time, and two shots of Jack). Crunching in his right ear told him Spock was consuming another stalk of celery. Jim had gone ahead and ordered him a whole plate, which he had been enthusiastically devouring, punctuated by extended silent straw worship of his newfound favorite indulgence. The way he lingered on the straw, his lips formed around it, had Jim thinking about Spock's mouth on him, so he decided this was an appropriate time to take a leak.
"Be right back," he shouted over the music at Spock, who bobbed his head (in agreement and in rhythm to the music thrumming through the bar) and deep throated a celery stalk. Jim forced away the mental image of Spock deep throating him. He tried to recall details of Nero's ship, of Bones stabbing him in the neck with a hypo, of the mind-splitting pain from the vaccine that got him onto the Enterprise. He pushed his chair away from the bar.
When he returned from the bathroom, his hands clean and his dick sternly lectured, a tall woman was standing in the space between Jim's stool and Spock's, leaning toward him in a manner that could not be misconstrued as anything but an invitation. He felt a stab of jealousy and hightailed it back to his seat, sliding it back noisily on the hard floor, but she didn't acknowledge him.
"I have already selected a partner for the evening," he heard Spock inform the woman crisply, who shrugged and faded into the tangle of bodies.
Jim's heart rate picked up at the thought of being Spock's selection — he hadn't observed him talking to anyone else, after all — but to be honest, all Jim knew of Spock's sexual proclivities was that he'd once seen Spock and Uhura together on the transporter pad, so there was no reason to think he'd have his eye on a corn-fed Iowa boy. And where was Uhura, anyway? Jim realized he hadn't heard Spock mention her except in passing since he'd arrived. If he called her, Jim wasn't aware of it.
He hadn't really thought about the two of them together since the day Scotty beamed them onto Nero's ship, the way Spock politely angled his face toward hers; how Spock seemed lost, pressed against her; how stiffly he stood with his eyes closed in a human embrace. Uhura had looked so worried and lovesick, and Jim recalled Spock's words before he piloted the Vulcan craft from Nero's ship:
"Please tell Lieutenant Uhura—"
Then too, Jim had cut him off, as he closed his eyes now to erase the sight of them touching. He drank his remaining shot. Lew poured him another. He liked Uhura. Hell, he'd sleep with her right now if she walked in and asked; and if she threatened to cut off his balls if he ever came near her in just his briefs again, that was okay, too.
But he cared for Spock, he realized, staring at him in his peripheral vision. Jim preferred to sleep with people he didn't like or didn't know well enough to form an opinion either way. It was a new sensation to look at Spock beside him, to feel that first bubbling of affection, and to wonder how his mouth would taste; if the skin along his neck would be smooth against his lips as he grazed it with his teeth; if that verdant blush extended everywhere on Spock's body. He didn't want to think about her, but he had to know.
"You know, I met Uhura right here," Jim offered. "Right where you're sitting."
"She mentioned your previous acquaintance but provided no details."
"Did she mention she's seen me in my underwear?"
Spock swallowed visibly and Jim laughed, slapping him on the back.
"Don't worry. I don't have any interest in your girlfriend."
"She is not my girlfriend."
"You two break up?" Jim said, leaning against the bar.
"There was nothing to break. I have been bound to another since I was seven. She perished in Vulcan's destruction. Cadet Uhura and I had become close, but I let it go no further than friendship. What you witnessed was the effect of my emotional instability in the wake of my mother's death, and Nyota's desire to comfort me in the way humans prefer. I allowed it to happen. I...welcomed her touch."
Spock paused to sip his drink. Jim waited, hoping he would continue.
"My mother was the only person who touched me with regularity and affection. It humiliated me as a child. I was ashamed of her as an adult, but knowing I would never feel her hands again terrified me, and I reached out to Nyota. However, upon our return to Earth, I told her about T'Pring, my intended, and my plan to live on the new colony. She expressed happiness for me but prefers a more emotionally satisfying union. She, too, was compromised by what happened and felt guilt for not realizing the significance of the transmission she intercepted. I tried to reassure her that her guilt is illogical."
"I hold her in the highest esteem. She has become acquainted with Mr. Scott, whom she described in a recent message as ‘quite the charmer.' I assume this is a human expression and not an indication of supernatural abilities."
Jim found himself beaming, a smile he couldn't force down, and he covered it by laughing jovially at Spock's words.
"You know," he said, knocking Spock in the shoulder. "I didn't believe you — the other you — when he said we were friends in another life."
"I wonder how they met. I'm trying to imagine what it would have been like if we met under different circumstances."
"For what purpose?"
"Entertainment. I'm imagining you as my professor."
"I never had the...pleasure of having you in one of my classes."
"Probably best. I would have found it hard to concentrate."
"I understand you were a dedicated student. Your academic record is impressive. You are top in your class in survival skills and tactical analysis, and I understand you served as treasurer of the xenolinguistics club."
"I have a talented tongue," Jim said, and it darted out to wet his lips. "You looked up my grades?"
"I was made aware of them before the hearing."
Spock frowned at his celery. "I fail to see why you doubt your ability to concentrate were I to instruct you."
Spock looked so human in that moment, in a leather jacket and jeans, arms resting on the wooden bar, his face slightly flushed. Jim wanted to thread his fingers through Spock's hair again, to make him blush. Fuck it. Jim was drunk. He aimed for the cliff and leaped.
"My other professors didn't look like you," Jim said pointedly, and he met Spock's eyes and held them to ensure his meaning was clear.
"You are inebriated," Spock answered after a beat. It was not the answer Jim wanted. He sunk into his chair.
"Yes. Yes, I am."
"I also find myself compromised."
"Well, I promise not to take advantage of you," Jim sulked. "Anyway, I didn't think Vulcans got drunk."
"Full blooded Vulcans metabolize alcohol quickly, thereby rendering its effects weak, but you forget I am half human."
"So you're, like, half drunk."
"My vision is slightly blurred, and I find my physical reflexes to external stimuli such as light and sound are reduced by 37%. Also, I can feel a lowering of my inhibitions. I find I have a strong desire to touch your hand."
Jim swallowed hard. Heat rose in his face, and he could feel his heart rate quicken. His blood pounded in his ears. He breathed in deeply through his mouth.
"Be my guest," he said.
"We have been cohabitating for twenty four days."
"I know you know what I meant," he stressed, floating his hand out in the space between them.
Tentatively, Spock reached out and took Jim's hand in his. Jim closed his eyes momentarily as sensations of wonder and arousal passed into him. Though he appeared collected, Spock trembled, and he looked down at where they touched, as though Jim's skin and fingers were part of a sample he was studying. His eyes moved across the surface of Jim's hand deliberately, seeming to trace each vein and crease. Spock's hand was a little cooler than his own, which was flushed hot like his face. Jim's breath quickened when Spock gently drew two fingers across the back of his hand, the touch so light and fleeting, Jim might have missed it if he had been able to remove his eyes from the sight of Spock's hand holding his own. Something bright sparked in his brain. His voice caught in his throat.
"That feels nice," he said finally.
"This is how we kiss."
Oh. Rotating his wrist, he exposed the back of Spock's own hand and mimicked the motion. Spock tensed slightly, and Jim looked up to watch his eyes close.
"So we're making out right now?"
"Among Vulcans, such a public display would be considered lewd."
The skin of Spock's hands was smooth and felt dry. Jim drank in the new sensations. He was getting hard. He shuddered.
"You are aroused when I touch you," Spock said. Surprise tinged his voice.
"So are you. I've gotta get you drunk more often."
"I have wished to touch you for twelve days."
"You gave me a gift," Spock explained, still stroking his hand. "Gifts are illogical. And yet, I found myself overwhelmed by emotion. I wished to thank you. I wished to make you understand the depth of my gratitude for your gift, for your kindness."
"For the tea? I'm pretty sure you said thank you."
"It was not enough. You treat me as no one else does, despite my behavior toward you when we first met. I was hostile and cruel. It was unbecoming for a Vulcan. You stir something in me. I have tried to make you understand, but you do not respond to my advances."
"You have been flirting with me!" Jim accused, poking him in the chest.
"I attempted. I felt foolish."
Dark eyes stared him down with an animalistic hunger. Jim felt Spock's arousal surge. His cock twitched. His pants were too tight.
"If you don't stop staring at me like that," Jim murmured, leaning in, "we're gonna have to get naked right here against the bar."
"Then perhaps," Spock insisted, licking his mouth, "we should go somewhere private."
"Let's go home," he said, signaling Lew for his credit chip.
"You are not capable of driving," Spock advised. "Nor am I."
"So we'll leave the bike and get a cab, or we can walk. It's only a couple miles. I'll walk to work tomorrow. It's not a big deal."
"We will walk then. I do not wish to share you."
"You really are wasted."
They weren't three steps outside the door before Jim had his hands on Spock's waist and pushed him up against the rough exterior of the building, kissing him fiercely in a very human way this time. Spock wrapped his arms around Jim's neck. His mouth tasted of tomato juice and vodka, and it was warm. His tongue was a little rougher than Jim was used to, but he sucked on it urgently. Jim was surprised that Spock as so adept at human kissing, or was very good at reading minds, because he moved his lips against Jim's with fervor and bit at his mouth with freakishly good timing to Jim's own movements. Jim pushed his body against Spock's, trying to crush their hips together, too drunk to care that they were in public, and was disappointed when Spock took him by the wrists and led him gently toward the road, despite a raging hard on he had no interest in concealing.
As they walked along, Spock took Jim's hand and cradled it against his chest, continuing to move his fingers over Jim's skin in the most delicious patterns. Jim couldn't remember anyone holding his hand before, not like this, not like it was something precious. The affection Spock poured into him made him dizzy.
"Why're you here?" he asked, kicking at the dirt. He lost his balance, and Spock put an arm around his shoulder to stabilize him.
"You asked me to accompany you home," Spock said. Jim sagged against him.
"I mean, why are you here in Riverside?"
"You invited me."
"Why did you accept?"
"It is my intention to go to the new colony and help rebuild my race. However, my elder self advised me to return to Starfleet. He told me to put aside logic and to ‘do what feels right.'"
"And what does feel right?"
"I am attempting to determine that fact."
"Come back to Starfleet with me. When they give me a ship, you can be my first officer. We can become what we were in that other life."
"I find the idea compelling," Spock said, "but I cannot make that decision right now. That life is not ours."
They stumbled into the house and up the stairs, and slid against each other onto Jim's bed, mouths locked sloppily, Jim half sprawled over Spock, hand curled tightly into his shirt. Jim moaned when Spock ground earnestly against Jim's hip. He was hard. So was Jim. This was good. This was so good.
Spock's hands found the waist of Jim's pants and pushed them down, his fingertips pressing bruises into Jim's flesh. Spock's cool hand wrapped around him, and Jim made a desperate whining noise and thrust into it. Gripping Spock's face between his hands, Jim kissed him until he couldn't breathe, and whispered harshly against his lips, "I'm too drunk to know if this is a bad idea, so if you don't want to do this, leave right now."
"I have no desire to be elsewhere."
Sharp teeth sunk into Jim's skin where his neck and shoulder met, and he winced and groaned at the pain, rubbing his body against Spock's as a warm tongue laved the throbbing bite mark. Jim shivered and slid his hands into Spock's hair, holding his mouth against him.
"I have considered the advice given to me by my elder self. I do wish to define you," Spock growled, touching the bite mark. He rolled on top, pinning Jim's wrists above his head. Meeting his eyes, Jim grinned wickedly.
"I'm all yours."
He woke to dark eyes watching him a few inches away. Jim trailed a hand over Spock's throat. He suspected that Spock had been awake for a while. The sun was just beginning to spill through the window, and Spock stared up at him now, his expression soft, hair tousled. He had an arm slung casually over Jim's side, pressing their hips together, and his head rested on Jim's pillow. Jim propped himself up on his left elbow, and explored the curves of Spock's face with his right hand. He touched the hollow of his neck, the point of his left ear.
"You have stubble," Jim said.
"I've never thought of you having to shave."
"My hair grows at a rate similar to that of a human's. I imagine I shave as often as you."
"You look really good like this."
"In my bed," Jim said, blushing. "Are you going to tell me this was illogical? Because if you are, I'm going to need a lot of coffee first. Or liquor."
"Illogical, perhaps," Spock said, raising a hand to caress Jim's, "but not undesirable. I do not regret what happened."
"I bruised you," Spock observed, gingerly touching the purple mark on Jim's neck.
"Wouldn't be the first time. Don't worry; I liked it."
Spock flushed but touched the mark again. Jim felt a faint surge of possessiveness.
"I think you like it, too," he said, angling his face down to kiss Spock, who nipped at his lips and held his face close. Jim's mouth tasted bitter, but he kissed Spock deeply. Spock didn't seem to mind. Jim rolled them over, so he lay on top, and rocked their hips together. Spock moaned quietly. Jim slid beneath the sheet and took Spock in his mouth. Spock reciprocated Jim's ministrations with enthusiasm.
"That will never get old," Jim declared breathlessly as Spock lay back down beside him and stroked his hand. Jim smiled at him lazily. His hand tingled where Spock touched him. His stomach growled.
"You require nourishment," Spock said, rising naked from the bed. "Please, allow me."
The view of his exit did not go unnoticed by the young man who smiled after it from the bed and buried his face in the pillow, awaiting his return. Preferably with coffee and stamina for another round.
The message came through to both of them through official Starfleet communications, so of course Jim learned about it when Spock told him to "check your messages. I think you will be pleased." And Jim, not wanting to get up from the couch because it was comfortable and he was sprawled with his head on Spock's lap while he read, pouted until Spock read it to him between mouthfuls of popcorn.
"Starfleet has accepted the resignation of Captain Christopher Pike's command of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701. Captain Pike will be advanced to the rank of Admiral effective immediately. Command will be transferred to Captain James T. Kirk in a formal ceremony April 9, 2258. The Enterprise will launch on an exploratory mission April 16, 2258. All crew are ordered to report by April 12, 2258 at 0800 to begin preparations for departure. Individual orders will follow."
"I'm getting my ship," Jim whispered, pressing his face into Spock's leg. Spock touched the back of his neck, and Jim felt happiness and pride burst through him. "I'm getting my ship!" he exclaimed and sat up, crawling over Spock and kissing him thoroughly. "I've got to call Bones. I've got to call Scotty. I need to go over my crew list. Oh, my god," he laughed, covering his mouth and dropping the weight of his head into his hand. "There's so much to do. That's just over two weeks from now. Just think! Two weeks and we'll be back out there."
He smiled so hard it felt like his face would split, but Spock's expression was blank, almost pained, and Jim felt the excitement wane. He bit his lip and sat back, resting his head against the couch. He exhaled.
"You're not coming, are you." It was not a question.
"You're going to the colony with the others."
"You are the one who told me I must make my own decisions."
Frowning, Jim nodded several times and ran his teeth over his lips. Spock would go to New Vulcan, and he would have the Enterprise. They would both have what they wanted. His eyes stung.
"We will keep in touch," Spock said, laying a hand gently on his arm. "This is not goodbye."
Jim looked down at his fingers and wondered how many times Spock had touched him in the last six days. It had not been enough. It would never be enough.
"I had a communication from my father. The transports to the Vulcan colony leave in a few days. I must return to San Francisco immediately."
Jim felt cold and insignificant.
"When did you find out?"
"Just this morning."
"I would not keep this from you."
"So...this is it?"
Spock sat up fully and crossed his arms. He lowered his head and his voice was unsteady.
"Yes," he said quietly.
"I wish—" Spock began but he said no more and went upstairs to pack.
Jim knocked on his door a while later, after a quick call to Lew to let him know he was headed back to San Francisco and could come off the schedule immediately. Lew said he was sad to lose his best worker but congratulations, and any time he was back in town, stop in for a drink. Jim promised to come and say goodbye before he returned to California.
"Hey," he said, leaning against the doorjamb. "What do you say to one last night on the town? Leave on a positive note?"
Spock rose from the floor and came to stand in front of him, pressing his face into Jim's neck. Jim placed a hand at the small of his back.
"Yes," Spock spoke against his skin. "I would like that."
"Where are we going?" Spock asked when the cab sped past the turn for the bar.
"A little place I found," Jim said slyly, patting his knee. "Wanted to make your last night special, not just the two of us sitting around drinking for the sixth night in a row."
"That is not necessary," Spock said, but he looked...pleased. Jim's heart skipped. "But I thank you."
The cab took them into Iowa City, to a restaurant Lew assured him was the best rated vegetarian joint in town. It served mostly Terran cuisine but offered occasional alien specials. Jim had made sure to ask whether they had any Vulcan dishes, and they assured him that even if it was off menu, they'd be happy to prepare anything he requested.
The restaurant, Vege, was in a trendy section of town. Jim was glad he'd taken Lew's advice and reserved a table, because there was a line out the door when they arrived, and the temperature dropped as the sun set. Jim pushed his way past the waiting crowd to the hostess stand and gave his name. They were ushered to a semi-private table in an alcove, with carved lattice screens that stretched from the back of each booth to the ceiling, breaking up the light into geometric patterns that criss-crossed the walls.
"So the rule for tonight," Jim said after the server brought them both a glass of water with organic mint and lemon, "is that we don't talk about the fact you're leaving tomorrow. We just have a good time. Deal?"
"Agreed," Spock said and Jim ordered a round of drinks and seaweed salad.
They talked about their childhoods, about favorite school subjects, about their experiences at Starfleet academy. Jim told him about the sky on Tarsus IV. Spock told him about fist fighting in primary school and having his lip split open.
"So, I'm not the first person to bring out your dark side?" Jim teased, reaching a forkful of salad across the table to Spock, who blushed but opened his mouth to accept it.
He shook his head.
"Am I your first anything?"
"Many things," Spock murmured, turning his attention toward his own plate. Jim reached forward to lace his fingers through Spock's. Jim smiled, but it faded, and he ran a thumb over Spock's knuckles.
"I'm really glad you came to Iowa."
"This has been most illuminating for me." Spock gripped his hand tightly. "I have experienced emotions I had once thought shameful, but I find that I am not ashamed any longer."
"You asked me if you hold any of my firsts. You hold the most important. For the first time in my life, Jim, I am happy."
It was different between them that night. They had ended up in Jim's bed the previous nights, but Spock led Jim up the staircase silently and into his room. Spock stretched out alongside Jim on the bed. His hands were less gentle, kisses almost painful, as if he intended to claim Jim. Spock removed Jim's clothing forcefully, latching onto Jim's collarbone, his throat, his stomach, sucking bruises into his skin. He knelt between Jim's legs and took him into his mouth.
Jim tried to arch up, but Spock held his hips firmly against the mattress. Jim groaned in frustration. He slid his hands into Spock's hair as Spock's tongue worked him. He could feel his face growing hot, and his fingers and toes tingled.
"Your mouth feels so good," he moaned. "So fucking good."
Spock hummed around him and pulled off, licking along the underside and dipping his head lower. Jim tensed when Spock's tongue flicked and teased his opening. He clenched, and Spock's hands softened and smoothed circles over Jim's thighs. It had been a couple years since he'd done this, not since Gary, and only ever with Gary. A growl tore from Spock's throat as the name crossed Jim's mind, and he felt a spike of Spock's jealousy. Spock's tongue pushed inside, just barely, and Gary was forgotten.
Jim began to relax and stroke Spock's hair again, sliding a hand down to his jaw and lifting his face until Spock looked at him. He crawled up the length of Jim's body and lay on top of him, still fully clothed. Jim kissed him as he removed Spock's shirt, pausing to pull it over his head, and then their skin met. Jim was alive with sensations Spock poured into him through the expanse of their contact. Jim fingered the fastenings of Spock's pants and eased them off his hips. When their cocks touched, Jim wrapped both arms tightly around Spock's neck as Spock began to rub against him.
Jim had no sense of how long they'd been kissing when Spock took a jar of the same cream he'd given Jim for his hands and slicked himself with it. He lowered a hand between Jim's legs and began to massage and work a finger inside of him.
"I wish to join our bodies and our minds," Spock said against his lips. Jim nodded furiously and hooked a leg over Spock's.
When Spock finally pushed inside, Jim gasped at the burning stretch, and Spock stilled. Breathing hard, Jim concentrated on the point where his body ended and Spock's began, tightening around him. Spock's fingers came to rest along the left side of Jim's face, and Jim closed his eyes.
"Do it," he whispered, and Spock murmured something in Vulcan.
It was nothing like his meld with the ambassador. This felt like floating in a great void, and before him he saw Spock, suspended. Jim reached out to him across the expanse, and their hands met. Spock's memories rushed at him. He saw the red dirt of Vulcan, a delicate human woman who must have been Amanda Grayson, a gathering of mocking Vulcan children, Spock stepping off the transport in San Francisco for the first time, the shape and curve of Uhura's mouth, a brash cadet crunching an apple during his simulation, materializing onto a transporter pad with an outstretched hand his mother did not hold, a sense of isolation being back on Earth, a message telling him to come to Iowa, a pair of blue eyes staring at him over a chessboard.
Jim's mind became enveloped by something warm and beautiful. He held Spock tighter against his chest as Spock began to thrust into him. When Jim came, it was with Spock in his mind and in his body. He kissed Spock lazily for long minutes after, staring at him in the dark. It had never been like that with anyone. Jim still felt the brush of Spock's mind against his as he drifted to sleep, Spock curled around him, lips pressed to Jim's neck.
Spock wanted to take a cab back to Iowa City for the morning transport, but Jim insisted on driving him to the dock station. He haunted the bedroom door while Spock tucked his nightshirt neatly into his backpack, and he tried to navigate the asteroid field of emotions his brain charged into, watching Spock readying to leave.
Is this the last time I'm going to see him? Starfleet has to send me on a mission to the Vulcan colony eventually, right? We'll still talk. We'll send messages. We'll both have what we want. What did I think would happen, that we'd get married and live on a starship? It's not like this was going anywhere, anyway.
"Ready?" he asked, forcing a grin and starting down the staircase. "Do you want any food for the road?"
He waited for Spock to take the opening and come back with a quip that it wasn't necessary to provide nourishment for a paved surface, but he just shook his head.
"Let's go, then."
The ride was silent, and Jim was painfully aware of how tightly Spock's arms were clasped to his sides; how his fingers curled into the leather jacket; how, around a curve, and only for a moment, Spock lay his head against Jim's shoulder.
The station wasn't crowded. Jim pulled up in front of the doors and shut off the bike. He felt Spock's arms fall away from him. Inwardly, something began to hurt again.
"Got your ticket?" he asked brightly, but it was in vain, because Spock looked at him despondently over the seat. Jim sighed and walked around to him.
"I'll see you soon," he lied, shoving his hands into his pockets. The crease between Spock's eyebrows, the one Jim hadn't seen since he arrived, was back and severely pronounced. Stepping forward, Jim smoothed a thumb over it.
"Don't," he said, sliding his hand across Spock's face to cup his chin. He kissed him harder than he meant to, taking his face in both hands. Their mouths pressed together so roughly it hurt, but he didn't stop. He nipped at Spock's lips, sliding his tongue against his, tasting his own blood where Spock bit him. Spock brought his hands up and placed them on top of Jim's, gently stroking along the back of them. Jim's thoughts were a litany of missyoumissyoumissyou and Spock spoke against his lips once, quietly.
Art by CanneDeBonbon
Spock didn't look back as he walked into the station, and Jim didn't look back as he climbed on his bike and rode away. He was grateful for the long stretches of dirt. He opened the throttle and let the bike surge under him, tearing down the road with terrible speed. Something ached in his chest and rose to his throat. His eyes stung from the wind and dirt whipping into them, and his vision blurred. He pulled over to the side and wiped away the dust-stained streaks on his face, but more tears fell. Closing his eyes, he pressed a fist to his chest and breathed through his mouth, unsteady and choked. He gripped the handle tightly with his left hand.
"Fuck," he swore. He stayed like that a long time, the bike humming beneath him, trying to put words to the gnawing emptiness inside of him.
There were no messages on his comm when he got home, and no messages arrived.
>> i miss you
He typed the words but never pressed "send."
Jim decided to stay in Riverside through the weekend. He booked a return ticket for Monday morning and called Bones to let him know he'd be back soon.
"Will you be traveling alone?" Bones asked.
"Yeah," Jim answered flatly.
"I'm real sorry to hear that, kiddo."
"Can you pick me up? I should get in around noon."
"I'll see you then."
Sunday morning, he ran Winona's dust sheets through the laundry, taking them from the dryer and re-covering the couch and armchairs. For lunch, he replicated a cheeseburger and ate three bites. He picked off the lettuce and tomato, flicking them onto his plate. Removing a few leftovers from the refrigerator, he disposed of them, and wiped down the counters and sink. Upstairs, he stripped the sheets from his bed, gathered the towels from the bathroom, and left them in a pile at the top of the stairs. He took a deep breath before opening the door to Spock's room.
It was Spock's smell that hit him first, already fading after just a day, but still strong enough that Jim felt a wave of sadness as he approached the bed. He ran a hand over the pillow, still indented from where their heads lay Thursday morning, when Spock had woken him with a kiss to his shoulder. He made quick work of removing the sheets and pillowcase, balling them up, and shutting the door tightly behind him. He held the sheets to his chest, picked up the pile at the top of the staircase, and allowed himself one indulgent inhale against them before he shoved them into the washing machine.
He knew he wouldn't be able to sleep, so once the house was clean and his bag packed, he rode to the Shipyard. He owed Lew a goodbye and could use a drink. Being Sunday night, the bar wasn't crowded, and Jim claimed his usual barstool.
"Heading out soon?" Lew asked, wiping down the bar and placing a napkin in front of Jim.
"Tomorrow morning," Jim said, setting down his comm and leaning his forearms against the bar. "I got my ship." He grinned, but his smile was short lived.
"I heard on the news," Lew said. "Congratulations. Beer?"
"Thanks. Think I need something a little stronger today. Shot of tequila."
"Are you sure tequila is a good idea? You know what it does to you."
"I wouldn't mind a blackout right now," Jim muttered. Lew shrugged and reached for a shot glass.
"Where's your friend?"
"On his way to the Vulcan colony," Jim said blankly, staring at his hands.
"That's a shame," Lew said, placing the shot in front of him. "You seemed pretty fond of him."
Jim made a face and raised the glass to his mouth. The shot went down sour and burning, and left a warmth in his chest. It wasn't enough to overpower the emptiness he felt in his head. "Pour me another," he said.
"That bad, huh?" Lew said, raising the bottle in a neat pour. Jim downed it and exhaled loudly.
"I just want to be able to sleep tonight."
"I give you too many of these, and you'll be sleeping on the bar," Lew said, setting the bottle down and leaning across the bar at Jim. "Now you can tell me what's bothering you, or I can guess. From the look on your face, pretty obvious."
Jim snorted. "Then it should be obvious why I need hard liquor," he said.
"I'm not surprised," Lew said. "Every time the two of you were in here, you looked at him like you were three seconds from undressing him."
Jim scrubbed his left hand across his face and he rapped his right fist on the bar. "One more."
Lew shook his head. "It hurts me to see a man drinking alone," he said, pouring them both a shot this time. He held his out and clinked his glass against Jim's. "Cheers."
Jim drank quickly and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
"Any chance he's coming back?" Lew asked.
"Nope," Jim said, a hard edge to his voice.
"This wasn't just about sex, was it."
Jim shrugged. "I knew it wasn't going to last."
The door to the bar opened, and a few customers walked in. Lew held up a finger at Jim to indicate he'd be back, and Jim nodded and poured himself a fourth shot when Lew's back was toward him. He swirled it in the glass a little and fingered his comm. No messages.
He lied and said he was fine to drive when he stood up to leave the Shipyard an hour later. Lew regarded him skeptically and gave him a slap on the back.
"I'll call you a cab," he said. "You can come pick your bike up in the morning."
"Keep it," Jim said, sliding his keys across the counter. "I won't be back for a few years."
The commendation ceremony was brief. Admiral Barnett began by giving a speech honoring Admiral Pike's career with Starfleet, culminating with his heroic actions against Nero. Jim sat beside Bones in the front row and kept his head level, looking over the faces of the admiralty as Barnett spoke. These were the same people who, only weeks ago, had been content to see him thrown out of Starfleet. In a few minutes, they would give him a ship. He laughed, a quiet exhale, and lowered his head.
The room was hot from the bodies pressed into it. He ran a finger around his collar to loosen it and swallowed as Admiral Barnett finished speaking. There was thunderous applause for Admiral Pike, who raised a hand in recognition.
"This assembly calls Captain James Tiberius Kirk."
Jim stood and stepped forward, standing before Admiral Barnett with his arms at his sides.
"Your inspirational valor and supreme dedication to your comrades is in keeping with the highest traditions of service, and to reflect utmost credit to yourself, your crew, and the Federation, it is my honor to award you this commendation. By Starfleet Order 28455, you are hereby directed to report to Admiral Pike, USS Enterprise, for duty as his relief."
Admiral Barnett pinned a commendation medal to Jim's red uniform and shook his hand. Jim met his eyes and shook firmly. He turned on his heel and went to stand before Admiral Pike.
"I relieve you, sir."
Admiral Pike smiled and sighed. "I am relieved."
Jim met his eyes. "Thank you, sir."
"Congratulations, Captain," Pike said. "Your father would be proud."
Jim pressed his lips into a line and nodded his thanks. Around him, observers rose to their feet and applauded, looking down at him happily. He found himself wishing his mother and Sam could be here. The din rose, and he felt it swell and rush at him. This should have been the proudest moment of his life, yet he felt deflated. You want this, he reminded himself. He wanted this ship and the missions it would follow. He wanted the life his father never got to live. He wanted everything he was being handed, but it was hollow.
Forcing a smile, he scanned the room for familiar faces. He spotted Scotty and Uhura seated four rows up. Uhura shook her head at him amiably and laughed, her ponytail swinging. Scotty, his arm across the back of her seat, gave him a thumbs up. Sulu was present, and Chekov. Even Cupcake — Jim made a mental note to learn his formal name later — looked pleased and applauded. He continued to look for the one face he knew he would not find. In fact, he did not see a single Vulcan present.
Jim stood outside the auditorium speaking quietly with Bones, shaking hands with the cadets and officers who passed by, offering their congratulations. He didn't recognize most of them but continued to smile and say thank you. He couldn't wait to get back to the apartment and out of his cadet uniform. He was about to say as much to Bones when he heard his name.
Jim turned at the familiar voice to see Pike wheeling toward him, looking a little melancholy but a lot proud. Bones said he'd see him back at the apartment and took off after shaking Pike's hand briefly and nodding at the striking woman who stood tall beside his chair in a gold Starfleet pant suit, her face intelligent, red lips neutral to the side of amused. He recognized her from the framed photograph Pike kept in his office.
"Jim Kirk, allow me to introduce my better half. This is Number One, my former first officer, and my wife. She just got back from a three-year science exploration in the Gamma quadrant aboard the Tesla. Now she's agreed to teach at the academy for a while while I get adjusted."
"Great to finally meet you, ma'am. I've heard a lot about you," Jim said, extending his hand. Her shake was firm.
"Chris talks about you so often," she said, and her tone was deep yet amicable, "we might as well adopt you."
"Or at least steal you for dinner. Do you have plans?"
"None, sir. I'd be honored."
"Do you have your own transportation, or do you want to ride with us?"
"I walked here from my apartment," Jim said. "A ride would be great."
Number One drove the aircar. Jim sat up front. She drove like she walked: confidently and with purpose. He had followed her out of the building, walking beside Pike's chair. Pike insisted on wheeling himself. She kept both hands on the wheel. Her fingernails were blue. She swore creatively under her breath at a passing driver, then checked on Pike in the rear-view mirror.
"Put on your seatbelt," she snapped.
"Yes, dear," Pike replied but ignored her request.
"Is this what it was like when you served together?"
"Chris was my superior officer," she said. "I was a Lieutenant."
"That's not an answer."
"She ruled the roost," Pike said. "Every man on that crew was afraid of her, except Boyce, my chief medical officer. But then, ship's doctors are their own breed."
"Dirty old men," she said and switched on her turn signal. "They weren't afraid of me. They were afraid of my chromosomes."
The restaurant was a small cafe ten minutes off base, known for pizza and good beer. He'd eaten here with Pike occasionally. Number One ordered a pint before she sat down.
"So the Vulcans have left for the new colony," Jim said as he looked over the menu.
"They're on their way."
"Did Spock go with them?" He tried to sound nonchalant.
"He did. He came by our apartment to say goodbye. He knew Number One, you know. I understand the two of you got to know each other pretty well before he left. He said he spent some time with you in Iowa."
"Yeah," Jim said. Number One caught his eye over the rim of her glass and raised an eyebrow at him. Since she was acquainted with Spock, he wondered if she did it on purpose and stared down at the checkered tablecloth.
"I'm glad," Pike said. "He could use more friends. It's a damn shame he won't be on your crew. You've got a lot of tough decisions ahead of you, and not least among them is choosing your first officer. I'm sure you know I was hoping he would serve under you."
"I'd hoped so too."
Number One cleared her throat and perused the menu. Jim rubbed the back of his neck.
"You're going to make a lot of mistakes," Pike continued. "You need to know that going in. You are going to make choices, and some of them will be wrong. And sometimes you make a choice that kills someone, but it was the right choice. Being a starship captain isn't easy. It might be the toughest job in Starfleet. You alone are responsible for your ship and the lives of your crew. That's why having a strong first officer is so important. A good first officer is your best confidant, your greatest advocate, and the biggest pain in your ass you can imagine. Otherwise, it doesn't work."
"With that definition, I need to promote my CMO."
"It's not a decision you should rush, but you need to make it soon, otherwise one will be assigned to you, and that can be problematic if personalities clash. After all, you're stuck with these people in a small space for years. So, what are we thinking, a large pie for the table?" Pike inquired. "Meat lovers?" Number One nodded.
"Or the veggie," Jim said absentmindedly. "I'm good with either."
Pike sat back in his chair, a look of surprise crossing his face. "You're our guest, you choose. I have to go make nice," he said, motioning at a table across the room where three men in Starfleet uniforms waved at him. He pushed away from the table and wheeled across the room, leaving Jim alone with Number One, who took a breadstick from a basket on the table and slid the rest across to him. She broke off a piece and dipped it in oil and hot pepper flakes, and regarded him thoughtfully as she chewed.
"I've known my share of Vulcans," she said to him when Pike was out of earshot. "But I'd never seen one in love before last week. It took me a few minutes to discern what was wrong with him. You're less opaque."
Jim gaped at her.
"I have access to the communication channels for the colony transports," she added casually. "They'll be returning to Earth before the Enterprise departs."
"You're a little scary, you know that?"
One day before the Enterprise's scheduled departure, Jim regarded his crew proudly from the Captain's seat on the bridge. His eyes scanned over Bones, who was frowning at Scotty and Uhura, which meant he was most likely in a good mood. Chekov and Sulu prodded their control panels as they adjusted settings and bantered. He paused on the empty seat that should belong to his Chief Science Officer. He still had to promote someone to that position. Pike had been on him to select a First Officer for the last week, ever since they had dinner, and had taken to forwarding him applications from candidates he deemed fit. Jim had ignored every one of them, waiting, despite a sinking feeling in his stomach, to see a particular name flash across his screen. Pike had even suggested he consider Number One. Jim didn't have the heart to transfer her back to a starship when Pike was just getting adjusted to the loss of his legs. Maybe on the next mission. That woman was a fireball.
Despite her interference (because she had insisted on sending a communication to the transports despite Jim's half-hearted protests), the name hadn't come up yet. Jim resigned himself to the fact it never would. The chess set remained unpacked in his quarters.
For the fourth time that morning, he reviewed the candidates suggested by Captain Pike. Gary Mitchell's name was among them. Jim scrolled past it again. Sulu was on the list. Sulu would make a good first officer. He was reliable and even tempered, and they got along well. Uhura's name wasn't on the list, and Jim thought about asking her if she'd like to apply, though she'd probably be pissed at having to give up part or all of her linguistics responsibilities. Jim knew she lived for those. Plus, she was better at linguistics than anyone else on the ship, so it would be a waste to assign her a first officer's duties.
He yawned. His insomnia had returned ever since leaving Iowa. He hadn't slept a full night in almost a week, and the yeoman was starting to question his constant requests for coffee.
His eyes scanned back to Gary's name. It had been a couple years, and Jim had gotten over the one-sided relationship. Gary wasn't a bad guy; they'd both been young. He was smart as hell. Jim tapped his name and skimmed the full application.
The turbolift swished open and Jim looked up as a voice spoke clearly.
"Permission to come aboard, Captain."
It had been fifteen days since he heard Spock's voice. Jim's heart thumped loudly and something in the back of his mind awoke. The look on his face must have been comical, because Spock almost smirked where he stood just outside the turbolift, waiting for Jim to answer him. He was wearing science blues, his Starfleet science insignia pin in place, and stood at attention with his arms behind his back. The other officers on the bridge had turned to look at him, and now focused their attention on the captain, whispering among themselves. He suspected they had heard about Iowa from Uhura and Scotty, who winked.
Jim realized his mouth was hanging open slightly and closed it, but he couldn't escape the grin that spread over his face. He owed Number One a case of Romulan Ale. Bones regarded him with a scowl and folded arms.
Rising to his feet, he met Spock at eye level as he crossed the bridge and stepped up toward Jim.
"I understand from a mutual acquaintance that you have yet to select a first officer," Spock said, coming to stand in front of Jim at attention, "and that it would be illogical to allow you to warp into space alone."
"She got to you, didn't she."
"She can be most...persuasive. Therefore, respectfully, I would like to submit my candidacy. Should you desire," Spock said, lowering his gaze. He brushed his fingers lightly against Jim's hand. It was the barest of touches. Jim's breath caught at the fondness that washed over him. Straightening, Spock clasped his arms behind his back. The look on his face was soft. "I can provide character references."
"Is this what you want, though?" Jim asked quietly. "Really?"
Spock's eyes held his, and Jim could see the smile reflected in them, not quite extending to Spock's mouth, but real and offered up just for him. The reality of Spock standing here crashed over him. Spock had come back. He had chosen Starfleet over the Vulcan colony. He had chosen Jim. And now Jim would have several years of that smile, of those hands, of epic chess battles, exploits into Vulcan cuisine, and a warm body to hold onto while they curled into each other in sleep. If Jim was lucky, it would not end when the mission did.
Maybe they wouldn't become the legendary command team they had been in another lifetime, but they would become something together. His heart swelled as the place in the back of his mind began to sing. Jim understood what the ambassador had told Spock: this felt right. He smiled.
"It would be my honor, Commander."
Chapter 7: Epilogue
Spock opened the front door to the house and pushed it with his shoulder as he half carried, half dragged a semi-conscious Jim inside. It was well past midnight. They'd grabbed the last transport out of California. It had been impulsive, a desire to escape after Jim had been released from the hospital. No one could blame them for leaving after the stress of the past few weeks. Jim still couldn't think about Pike without crying and was himself a walking miracle. They would inform Starfleet and their friends of the sudden vacation in the morning. For now, it was just the two of them.
Jim smiled lazily as the familiar smell of home hit him, and he opened his eyes fully, gaze falling on the framed portrait of his family. He rubbed the side of his face as he stretched. He had fallen asleep on the transport from San Francisco and again during the taxi ride from Iowa City, his head on Spock's shoulder. Spock hadn't seemed to mind.
"I still can't believe you wanted to come back here," Jim said through a yawn, dropping his duffel bag in the hallway. Spock slipped off his own jacket and helped Jim out of his, hanging them both in the hall closet. "If I didn't know better," Jim said, "I'd think you were secretly romantic."
Spock was quiet as Jim led him up the staircase and into Jim's old room. Jim took sheets from the hall closet, and together they made up the bed. Spock allowed Jim to undress him; Jim removed his own clothes, and their bodies met as they lay back on the mattress and pulled the covers over their entangled legs.
Jim switched off the bedside lamp. Spock's eyebrows furrowed as he stared at Jim across the pillow in the darkened room. Jim was just able to make out his features in the dim glow from the porch light.
"Spit it out," Jim said gently, stroking the side of Spock's face, smoothing a thumb over that crease as if to erase it. He had seen it too often lately.
"You do not understand what it was like, for me," Spock said slowly. He let out an unsteady breath and regarded Jim with wide, imploring eyes. Jim wrapped his arms around Spock and breathed in against his neck until Spock stopped shaking.
"Hey," Jim said, smoothing his hands over Spock's back. "It's okay."
"I could not touch you," Spock said, his voice breaking as he buried his face in Jim's shoulder. "I could not—"
"Spock, it's okay," Jim whispered, reaching a hand to cradle the back of Spock's head. "It's okay."
I'm alive, he continued in thought.
I am immeasurably grateful.
Their mouths met, chaste and soft.
Jim held up a hand, palm outward, facing Spock, whose eyes traced the outline of Jim's fingers. Spock understood his meaning, because his eyes shone. He raised a hand and pressed his palm against Jim's in return. Jim closed his eyes and focused on the reality of Spock's body against his, the coolness of Spock's hand, his own heart beating steadily in his ears. Spock was unshielded, and Jim felt waves of his anguish as he remembered their last moments. Jim opened his eyes to find Spock's squeezed closed.
"Hey," he said. "Look at me."
Slowly, Spock's eyes opened, pained. Jim stared into them and lightly stroked Spock's fingertips. Their hands entwined, the anguish ebbed, and Jim filled with a sense of peace.
"This is where I fell in love with you," Jim murmured.
"That is why," Spock whispered, "I wished to return."
Raising an eyebrow, Jim smirked. "I thought it was because you don't want to share me."
"That is true," Spock agreed. "I do not."
Laughing, Jim kissed him for long moments, until he could fight off exhaustion no longer. They closed their eyes, and through the hum of the bond, they reached for one another. Palms touching, they slept.