For Spock, waking is like the flip of a switch, a transition from that pleasant, calm state of not-quite-meditation to full alertness in less than a heartbeat. He blinks, allowing a moment for his eyes to adjust to the minimal light so that eventually he makes out the edges of the bed and the nightstand with a darkened padd on its surface. Beyond that, the wide glass window presents the jagged silhouette of San Francisco’s skyline, speckled overhead with a scattering of stars.
The soft rustle of bedsheets sounds out stark in the silence of the room, and Spock turns to watch as Jim burrows further into his pillow. Even in the dim light, his sharp vision easily picks out the tense line of his captain’s shoulders, the slight furrow between his brows. It’s all he needs to know what woke him.
Contrary to what many people believe given Jim’s brash and flashy personality, his nightmares are actually quiet affairs. There is no kicking, no thrashing or screams—just the odd twitch and a slight curl of the body, if that. Jim barely moves when he sleeps—he told Spock it stems from a childhood habit, from a time in his life when he’d once had to stay quiet and concealed for a very long time.
Spock has never heard the rest of the story. He hopes, as this new, tentative thing between them continues to grow, that one day Jim will deem him worthy of that secret.
For now, though, Spock knows what he has to do. He turns on his side, propping himself up on one elbow, and reaches forward to brush aside the collar of Jim’s shirt so that he can press his fingers to the bare skin beneath.
Jim’s skin is always cool to the touch; Spock has been advised this is typical human temperature, yet each time he touches his lover he cannot help but marvel at how Jim feels like marble beneath his fingers, almost made of stone except for the fact that he is so unmistakably alive. Even now, Spock can feel his life, Jim’s consciousness pulsing like a second heartbeat just beneath the surface of his skin.
He must find that heartbeat now. Taking a breath, he strengthens his shields in preparation, then gathers himself and pushes—
The flood sweeps through his mind, a raging tsunami of anger and pain and blood-curdling fear, and Spock concentrates on keeping up his shields, on letting Jim’s seething emotions batter his defenses like waves breaking on a levee. After the first time he tried this, after the emotions overwhelmed him and he was driven from the bed, gasping for breath, Spock learned. He holds his breath and waits for Jim’s emotions to fade.
And, after a moment, they do. He can still feel it, the panic buzzing in the background like a swarm of angry bees, but it is manageable. He can snake around it, can worm his way through and so he does, gathering calm and steadiness in his mind and pushing it gently into Jim through their connection. It is not a meld—they have not gotten that far yet—but it is a link, and Spock feels more than sees Jim start to relax, the ragged edges of the nightmare slowly receding from his consciousness in the wake of Spock’s warmth.
When he senses the panic, too, beginning to fade, Spock gathers a pocket of his consciousness into a tiny suggestion of Wake, and with a jerk and a soft intake of breath, Jim’s eyes flutter open.
Spock withdraws his hand and allows his lover a moment to come to full awareness. He watches as Jim lifts his head and blinks, blue eyes sweeping over the room before his gaze comes to rest on Spock. Then his expression softens in recognition and he sighs, flopping back on the pillow and smoothing his palm over his face. “Another one?” he whispers, voice still raspy with sleep.
Spock nods. “I apologize for waking you. It seemed…prudent.”
“Yeah.” Jim sighs. “What is that, the third time this week?”
“The second,” Spock answers. “However, as you were having several nightmares per night only a few weeks ago, this may be construed as a significant improvement.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Jim doesn’t seem inclined to say more, gaze fixed on the ceiling overhead. Spock shifts and ventures a brush of his fingers over Jim’s own beneath the blanket, and feels warmth blossom in his chest when his lover grasps his hand without hesitation.
“May I inquire as to the content of your dream?”
Jim hums, eyes darting to Spock for an instant before returning to the ceiling. His fingers tighten around Spock’s own. “You know, the same. The Enterprise. The radiation chamber.” He swallows. “You.”
Another flicker of pain-fear-alone ripples to Spock through their contact, and he shifts closer without thought. “I see.” And he does. He was there. It is the whole not knowing what to do about it part that’s frustrating. “I…deeply regret that you were forced to undergo such an ordeal.”
That, at least, is truth. Spock does regret it. He regrets that Jim had to enter the warp core, he regrets that he had to watch his captain—his friend, his everything—draw his last terrified breath scared and alone, and above all, he regrets that he was unable to beat the life out of Khan like he had so wished to, regrets that he was unable to avenge his captain even though ultimately it was the staying of his hands that saved Jim’s life.
The rage, at least, is familiar, a hot, venomous thing that bubbles just beneath his skin. Some of it must leak past his shields, because Jim lets out a breath and shifts. Before Spock is even fully aware of it he is being kissed, gentle and loving in a way he would never have imagined Jim could be, and it is as if that single brush of Jim’s lips over his own is some cleansing wind, purging Spock of his anger and hate as easily as dust blown off a windowsill.
When Jim pulls back to look at him, his eyes are soft in the half-light. “Hey,” he says, tracing the taper of Spock’s ear with one finger. “Don’t. We’re here now. Okay?”
And he is, as always, correct. Spock takes a breath, and when he lets it out, he wills the remainder of his anger out with it. Jim is right: for better or for worse, they are here. It took Jim dying and Spock nearly losing his mind, but it brought them together at last, gave a voice and a life to the boiling, magnetic thing that had brewed between them for months. Spock has committed many regrettable actions in his life—actions that would put his Vulcan heritage to shame—but kissing Jim in that hospital bed, mere minutes after seeing those blue eyes open again…that is something Spock will never be sorry for.
He nods and curls his hand into Jim’s collar, thumb brushing soft skin. “How can I help?” he whispers, because he does not know. Spock will always be grateful for what he and Jim have now, but the nightmares still scare him, the one remnant of Khan’s attack that Spock cannot protect Jim from.
Jim hums and kisses Spock again, briefly, but it’s interrupted by a yawn. He smiles at Spock’s raised eyebrow and settles down next to him, forehead pressed to Spock’s shoulder. “You can start by continuing to be my personal space heater,” he says, “and then in the morning you can make that godawful Vulcan breakfast thing you like, the may-zoid—”
“Yeah, that. And you’ll only make it for one, thanks,because I don’t care if it’s some Vulcan staple or whatever, I’m not gonna eat something that tastes like feet. And then after that you can go to all your meetings while stopping yourself from sending me roughly ten thousand comms to make sure I haven’t died during one of my meetings—don’t give me that look, Spock, I saw all those unsent messages in your outbox—and then you can come home and beat Bones off me with a stick and wake me up from these goddamned nightmares and just all around continue being my awesome First-Officer-slash-boyfriend.”
He pauses for another yawn, and his words start to slow and slur together with sleep. “Just…be here, Spock. Like y’always are. ‘Kay?”
Something in Spock softens at the words. This, the man Jim is now—who gives so much of himself yet asks for nothing in return—this is why Spock loves him so. This is why Spock’s entire world spun out off its axis when Jim drew his last breath behind those two inches of glass, why Spock threw Vulcan logic to the burning San Francisco wind and hunted Khan through half the city, screaming his rage.
This is why Spock is here now. Because he knows, without a doubt, that if Jim had stayed dead, if Spock had never met that deep blue gaze or heard that half-snorted laugh again, he himself would not have survived. Living still, a shell capable of movement and speech and Vulcan control, but nothing beneath. Alive, but lifeless.
Spock’s human half would have died with Jim.
Next to him, Jim’s breaths eventually slow and even out. Spock reaches out and sets his fingers gently against his lover’s meld points, but only brushes the surface enough to sense the soft, steady hum of contentment, a calm sea to the storm of before. Jim will have no more nightmares tonight. From this, at least, Spock has freed him.
Outside, the night insects continue their chittering chorus. Somewhere in the distance, a police siren wails to life, heralding the night over and over until it fades into nothing. Jim hums and shifts closer, pressing them together from shoulder to hip.
The morning will come. Closing his eyes, Spock gathers Jim closer and follows his lover into sleep.
The following day, they walk together toward one of the side entrances to Starfleet HQ. Jim, Spock notices, moves more steadily day by day—though each step is still slow and slightly shuffling, nothing like the brisk stride Spock is used to, he no longer has to carefully plan out where to place each foot, calling on muscles and nerves destroyed and then barely repaired only two months ago.
Considering most medical specialists would have expected Jim to still be confined to a wheelchair at this point, Spock counts it a win. His captain is nothing if not stubborn.
“So,” Jim says once they stop outside the door, sending a quick message off on his padd, “I’ll see you at sixteen hundred?”
Spock blinks. “I was unaware your meeting with Command would extend so far into the afternoon.”
Jim just shrugs. “They’re Admirals, Spock,” he answers, flapping a hand. “They’ll use any excuse to drag meetings out, they like to hear themselves talk so much. But hey, if all goes well, we’ll get our five-year mission. I’ll sacrifice an afternoon for that.”
“Indeed.” Spock pauses, unsure of how best to proceed. He has never been good at these things. “Jim…”
But Jim, as always, takes things in stride. After a quick glance around to make sure no one is watching, he leans forward to press his lips briefly to Spock’s own, pulling back just as quickly and straightening his officer’s cap. “Wish me luck.”
“If previous data is anything to go by, Captain, you are not short-supplied of that particular commodity.”
That startles a laugh out of Jim, and Spock has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling himself. Jim winks at him. “Duly noted, Commander. I’ll see you later.”
“That would please me greatly, Jim.”
Still smiling, Jim turns and heads into the building. And though Spock will never stoop so low as to subscribe to ridiculous and illogical metaphors usually found in dimestore human romances, he does feel—for only an instant, however—that his lover takes the brightness of the world with him.
0650. They will see each other again in only a few hours. Spock nods to himself, straightens the cloak of Starfleet officer over his shoulder, and proceeds with his own business.
Throughout the day, he attends back-to-back meetings and conference calls, the vast majority of them involving overseeing the Enterprise repairs and dealing with the avalanche of paperwork and bureaucracy that inevitably results from a deranged sociopath crashing a giant modified starship into a major American city. Spock recalls a comment Jim made a few weeks ago—he failed to make us explode so now he’s killing us with fucking paperwork—and remembers too late to school his expression. He receives strange looks from a few ensigns as a result.
1556 finds him walking briskly—certainly not hurrying—toward Jim’s office. Despite the captain’s teasing the previous night, Spock still composed four separate messages throughout the day intended to ascertain Jim’s well-being. He is only mildly embarrassed that this is apparently one of the few impulses he is unable to control; he witnessed firsthand how weak Jim was those first few days after waking up from the coma, and Spock does not need a medical degree to know that a full day of meetings should not be on the schedule of someone who recently died of radiation poisoning, even if that someone happens to be Jim Kirk.
Dr. McCoy has certainly made his opinion known on the matter, if his continued grumbling and Goddamnit, Jim, are you trying to give me a heart attack?s every time he visits are any indication. Still, they both know better than to try to keep Jim confined. The captain has always been striving, seeking, moving—it’s who he is, and Spock loves him too much to deny him that.
It does not stop the worry when, at 1612, Jim has still not arrived. Spock frowns and heads for Conference Room 13C.
The meeting must have just recently ended; the room is mostly empty except for a few stragglers scattered here and there, topics of conversation mostly casual and consisting of everyday pleasantries. Spock spots Jim in the far corner of the room, back straight with his hands clasped neatly behind his back as he speaks with Admiral Barrow.
As First Officer of the Enterprise, Spock has had only minimal interaction with Starfleet Command. Mostly that is Jim’s prerogative as captain. Yet, even from Spock’s limited dealings with Admiral Barrow to date, he has already acquired an intense dislike of the man.
Barrow is the type of human Spock would deem “overly ambitious”, while Jim would probably prefer the term “ass-kisser”. Throughout his career in Starfleet, most of which consisted of being captain of the USS Rodermeyer, Barrow has displayed a rather worrying pattern of taking the most dangerous missions and the most complicated tasks, not because of his crew’s competence but because of the fame and publicity that inevitably accompanies such risky assignments. It has cost him crewmember lives more than once, which has earned him no points in Spock’s favor.
The fact that Barrow was recently promoted to Rear Admiral, replacing Christopher Pike, certainly did not help matters. Spock can only imagine how Jim feels.
As he crosses the room toward them, Spock’s opinion of Barrow only grows darker with each step. He does not know how long the Admiral has forced Jim to remain standing during their conversation, but it is too long. Jim’s fingers tremble where they are clasped behind his back, shoulders taut with strain, and beads of sweat have gathered at the back of his neck. He is also swaying slightly on his feet, exhaustion apparent in every fiber of his being.
“…understand the importance of this, Kirk,” Barrow continues as Spock draws closer. His eyes are hard. “After that fuck-up with Marcus and Harrison, we need a win. And isn’t that what you do? Deliver wins?”
“If that’s what my record says, sir,” Jim answers, and Spock has to clamp down on the urge to reach out to him when he hears the tremor in the last word, the slight slur between the consonants.
“Very good. So we’ll have no more protests about thi—ah, Commander Spock! Just the man I wanted to see!” Barrow rounds Jim to clap Spock on the shoulder in a way he supposes is meant to be companionable. It is all Spock can manage not to break the man’s hand.
“Perhaps you can weigh in on the matter,” Barrow says. “I’m trying to convince your captain here to retake the Kobayashi Maru simulation tomorrow. We all remember the absolutely ingenious solution he came up with a couple years back, hm? And with the public breathing down our necks after this last fiasco, Starfleet needs some good publicity. What better story than to have the golden boy of the ‘Fleet finally beat the simulation that was supposed to be unbeatable?”
Somehow, his tone implies he is not using ‘golden boy’ to refer to Jim in any sort of positive manner. Spock draws a breath before speaking. “If I may, Admiral, I can think of several news stories that would be of more interest to the media at this time. Should you desire, I will compile a list of possibilities with the most potential and have it ready for you by tomorrow.”
Barrow laughs and ignores him completely. “You programmed the Maru, Commander. Surely you of all people see how this would be a win for us. Getting up after we fall, that sort of thing.” He turns back to Jim and nods, as if they have both just enthusiastically agreed with him. “Simulation room at seventeen hundred tomorrow, Kirk. Don’t be late. That’s an order.”
Something shutters in Jim’s eyes, drawing them entirely blank so that Spock has a sudden, disorienting moment when he cannot recognize his captain at all. “Yes, sir,” Jim says, and looks away.
“Excellent.” Barrow nods again and takes out his padd. “Now, I also wanted to review the details of the Enterprise’s last progress report—”
“Sir.” Spock steps forward to stand next to Jim, and if he almost involuntarily positions himself so that he is slightly between the captain and Barrow, no one says anything. “With all due respect, I have several time-sensitive documents that require Captain Kirk’s immediate attention. If the matter of the report is not urgent—”
“Oh, no, of course,” Barrow answers, waving his hand at them dismissively. “That’s fine. Gotta go be the big bad captain, after all, eh, Kirk? I know what that’s like.”
Somehow, he manages to make the words drip with contempt. Spock straightens his shoulders and salutes. “Thank you, sir.”
The instant Barrow turns away from them, Jim lists to the side. Spock catches him, gripping his upper arm and gently but firmly steering him out of the room. As they pass the other officers, Spock makes sure to draw Jim close and lift his padd with his other hand, making it look as if they are simply perusing its contents together.
There is a small broom closet six steps down the hall from the conference room door; it is not ideal, but Spock pulls Jim into it anyway. He barely has time to shut the door and lock it before Jim collapses, Spock moving just fast enough to cushion him with his own body as they both sink to the floor in a tangle of limbs.
“Oh, shit,” Jim whispers, and he’s shaking hard enough to vibrate Spock’s own lithe frame. “Oh, Jesus fucking Christ.”
He squeezes his eyes shut and whimpers in pain, and Spock holds him close, encourages Jim to rest his entire body weight against him. He rubs his fingers in soothing circles over the bare skin of Jim’s neck, but doesn’t trust himself to try for direct pain relief. He does not want to risk the churning, bubbling anger leaking through as well.
Instead, he noses into Jim’s soft hair and focuses on keeping his voice calm as he says, “Breathe, Jim. Just breathe.”
It’s difficult at first, but Jim does. His breaths start shaky, laced with pain on each laborious inhale and exhale, but after a few minutes it gets better. The trembling recedes somewhat, and Jim relaxes against Spock, voice slowed less with pain than with exhaustion. “Fuck,” he mumbles into Spock’s shirt. “Bones was fucking right, I should just stick to fucking conference calls—”
“That is not your style,” Spock reminds him gently, and is rewarded with a slight upturn of Jim’s lips.
“Yeah, and you know me. I’m all about the style.”
“I believe that particular philosophy would be more suited to Admiral Barrow.”
Jim lets out an amused snort. “Yeah. Motherfucker. Thanks, by the way.”
Spock blinks. “For what?”
“For not killing him.” At Spock’s stern look, Jim chuckles. “What, you think even when I’m feeling like crap I can’t detect murderous Vulcan rage from a mile away? He’s lucky you didn’t hurl him right through that safety glass window.”
Spock considers denying it, but then Jim has always been able to read him, sometimes better than Spock can read himself. In the end, he settles for remarking, “Technically, as we are only on the third floor and have access to a hospital nearby, the fall would not have killed Admiral Barrow, but would rather have merely crippled him.”
“Yeah, but then you’d have gone to jail for a long time,” Jim answers, “and I’d much rather have you here.”
“I, too, find that the more preferable alternative.”
“Glad you agree.”
They fall into companionable silence for a moment. Spock feels the last of Jim’s tremors leave his body, his lover’s breaths beginning to slow as he teeters on the edge of sleep. He clears his throat. “Jim.”
“I must inquire as to whether you truly intend to participate in the simulation tomorrow.”
Jim sighs. “Haven’t got much of a choice, Spock.”
Spock frowns. “Retaking the Kobayashi Maru would be inadvisable at this time, given your physical and…mental state. I will arrange a meeting with Admiral Barrow later today to advise against—”
“Don’t bother.” Jim isn’t looking at him, but his voice has taken on that hardened edge it only gets when he is getting ready to enter a battle. “I can handle it, Spock. It’ll be fine.”
“Jim, I must protest—”
“You’ll be there?”
The question startles him, and for a moment Spock just blinks at Jim, who watches him with steady eyes. Finally, he answers, “As the primary programmer of the simulation, it is logical I be present to oversee the test.”
Jim looks away. “I’d prefer you not to come.”
“My presence is required as part of standard test protocol,” Spock answers, then swallows. “And…I would not leave you to face this alone, Jim.”
Jim’s reply is a bare mumble, clearly not intended for Spock to hear, but he does anyway.
“Maybe you should.”
“He’s gonna what?”
Spock barely conceals a flinch as McCoy’s voice reaches a decibel level he had not previously thought humans capable of achieving. The doctor slams his mug down on the table so hard a chip flies off the rim. “You better be joking, Spock. You better be fuckin’ joking.”
“Vulcans do not joke,” Spock reminds him.
Seated next to McCoy, Nyota grits her teeth. “What an asshole,” she hisses. “Ordering the captain to retake the Maru? In his state?”
Across from them, Sulu’s eyes gleam murder. “Un-fucking-believable.”
“But ze keptin already beat ze test, yes?” Chekov asks. “Why take it again?”
“Because Admiral Barrow has an ego the size of fucking Antarctica, that’s why,” Nyota answers. “Jesus. What I’d like to do to that man’s balls.” Even though they are in the middle of the communal mess, where anyone can hear, Spock does not correct her.
“Yeah, and I’ll bet all those goddamned reporters will love it too,” McCoy growls. “Look at Starfleet’s poster boy, taking the beating of a lifetime and coming back for more! It’s not like he was fuckin’ irradiated to death two months ago or anything. No, everything’s gonna be fuckin’ dandy!”
Sulu looks at Spock, expression determined. “He knows we’re all gonna be there, right? In the simulation?”
“No way I’m letting a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears cadets work with Kirk like this,” Nyota adds.
Spock is of the opinion that Jim does not care either way. However, he has found in the past that humans often prefer embellishment to truth. “His likelihood of success should increase considerably if he is allowed to work with those with whom he is most familiar.”
“Damn straight,” McCoy says, taking an angry sip of his coffee. “And you bet your ass I’ll be right outside the room with a whole medical team. Maybe I can stick Barrow with the Brutanian flu virus.”
“What about your oath?” Nyota asks.
“Doesn’t apply to asshats.”
“By ze way, how is ze keptin?” Chekov asks. “Usually he eats vith us, yes?”
“He is…resting.” In actuality, Jim is in a state more approaching total unconsciousness. Spock basically had to carry him up the stairs to their apartment. “His conversation with the admiral was most trying.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.” McCoy’s expression softens for just a moment. “He need anything, Spock? Painkiller or something?”
“I believe the best treatment for him right now is sleep,” Spock answers honestly.
McCoy nods, preps a hypo, and hands it across the table to him. “Just a mild sedative,” he explains at Spock’s questioning look. “It should help with his nightmares.”
Nyota furrows her brow. “He’s still having those?”
“Yes, though they have decreased considerably in frequency,” Spock replies.
“It’s funny,” Sulu says. “I mean, sure, he gets tired easily and we won’t be back to fencing practice anytime soon, but otherwise with the way Jim acts, you’d never have known what he went through two months ago.” He looks down at his plate.
“But we know,” says Nyota, softly. “And we won’t ever forget.”
Nods all around, quiet and solemn. A moment later, when Chekov makes a comment about some recent sports game and the conversation switches directions, Spock excuses himself and heads back to the apartment complex.
Jim is still asleep when he enters their bedroom, curled under the covers like a small child. He doesn’t stir when Spock slides in next to him, but Spock feels some of the tension unconsciously leave his body at the contact. He lets that be enough for now.
The control room teems with people: maintenance workers, Starfleet personnel, reporters, cameramen all bustling about like so many bees in a hive. A dozen conversations echo in the small space, a cacophonous jumble that assaults Spock’s sensitive eardrums like nails on a chalkboard. A reporter dressed in a wrinkled blouse and a short skirt carelessly bumps his shoulder as she walks past and doesn’t bother to apologize. Spock takes a breath, draws his shields more carefully about himself, and turns his attention back to the simulation room below.
Nyota, Sulu and Chekov have already taken their places at their respective stations. Dr. Marcus sits at Science, face turned carefully away from the cameras above. Spock allows the gratitude to flow. The last two months have not been easy on her, yet she’d walked into the room fifteen minutes ago and relieved the cadet in her place without so much as an ounce of hesitation.
They all know how important it is that they be here.
Jim has not yet arrived, and Spock clamps firmly down on the worry rising in his gut. They have a minute yet, and if one were to look up cutting it close in the dictionary, Spock is certain one would find its definition to be See: James T. Kirk.
Spock turns to see the reporter who had bumped into him before, now standing with her microphone about an inch from his face as her cameraman hovers over her shoulder.
“Admiral Barrow says you’re the one who programmed the Kobayashi Maru,” she continues. Spock suppresses a wince as the harsh light of the camera pierces his eyeballs. “Given your knowledge of the simulation, do you have any predictions as to how Kirk will perform today?”
Spock glances out the corner of his eye at Barrow, who is currently surrounded by reporters all asking questions, and looking quite smug about the whole thing. He is careful not to let the disgust show on his face as he turns back to the reporter and says, “I have no comment on the matter.”
The reporter doesn’t miss a beat. “As First Officer of the Enterprise, what is your opinion of Kirk’s actions during Harrison’s attack two months ago? Do you think your captain’s history as a juvenile delinquent influenced his command decisions in any way?”
Yes. In fact, I think it is because Jim Kirk has learned never to accept defeat that you and your cameraman are even alive today to ask me these questions. “No comment.”
“What is your opinion of Kirk’s mental state following his recent resurrection?”
Spock startles inwardly and narrows his eyes. “That is classified information. How did you—”
“I have my sources, Commander,” the reporter answers with a smile that Spock does not like at all. “So tell me. Given the intense psychological trauma Kirk has been through, how do you feel about his competence as a commanding offi—”
“All right, that’s enough.”
The cameraman squeaks as McCoy shoves him out of the way as easily as a piece of paper, barreling into the reporter’s space with an anger so palpable Spock can almost see it coming off his body in waves. “No more questions, lady. We’re all busy here.”
Spock has to give the reporter credit; she recovers herself quickly. “And who might you be?” she asks, already bringing her microphone up.
McCoy pushes it away so hard it nearly topples her over. “Maintenance,” he growls, “which means I’m not above taking out the garbage every once in a while, if you get my drift.”
She does, straightening with a cool look. She and the cameraman melt back into the crowd.
Spock lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “I thank you for your intervention, Doctor.”
“Whatever.” McCoy glares in the direction the reporter and her cameraman disappeared in. “Did I hear right? Was she asking you about Jim’s death?”
Spock nods. “It would appear we have a confidentiality breach at the hospital.”
“Fuck.” McCoy takes out his padd and starts furiously inputting commands. “All those new goddamned nurses. Or maybe it was one of the fucking residents, I keep telling the board to stop bringing in civilians, they don’t know shit about keeping their mouths shut—Santos! Conter! I need to talk to you now!”
He is gone as quickly as he arrived. Spock allows himself a small private smile as he turns back to the simulation room. An instant later, the clock on the wall announces 1700, Jim walks through the door, and the smile disappears.
The control room goes almost completely silent upon his entrance, dozens of eyes fixed on Jim as he crosses to the captain’s chair, strides even and measured and giving not a hint of weakness. He does not seem surprised to see his entire bridge crew present in the room, indeed does not even acknowledge the soft “Captain” Nyota sends his way as he sits, and instantly Spock knows something is wrong.
Usually Jim treats the command chair like it was made for him, sprawling back into it like he’d been poured there, his charisma enough to fill the room even if he physically cannot. Yet today he sits ramrod straight, facing directly ahead with one palm on each of the armrests, strict to regulation. It is nothing like him at all, and Spock can tell from the confused and slightly worried looks the rest of the bridge crew send each other that they have noticed it too.
Admiral Barrow clears his throat and steps up to the intercom. “Captain Kirk.”
Jim looks up. His gaze sweeps the room, taking in all the faces and cameras, before coming to rest on Spock. Spock has to resist the urge to take a step back. Whose eyes are those, so empty and blank?
Then Jim refocuses on the screens in front of him, and Spock is able to breathe again. “Admiral,” Jim says. His voice betrays nothing.
“The rules of the simulation have not changed,” Barrow says. “You are to use whatever means at your disposal to end the scenario with minimal loss of life. We will begin now.”
He nods at the technician on duty, who dutifully inputs the start-up sequence. Below, the lights in the simulation room darken just enough to bring out the contrast on the monitors, which flicker to reveal empty space. Spock isn’t sure, but he thinks Jim lets out a shaky breath.
At her station, Nyota straightens her shoulders and says, “Sir, we’re picking up a distress signal from the USS Kobayashi Maru. The ship has lost power and is stranded. Command has ordered us to rescue them.”
Jim nods, but doesn’t look at her. “Ensign Chekov, set course for the Kobayashi Maru. Make sure we emerge from warp within phaser range.”
Chekov blinks at the odd order, but nods nevertheless. “Coordinates set, sir.”
“Mr. Sulu, take us out.”
Silence for three seconds before the screens change. The Kobayashi Maru looms at the center, dead weight in space.
“Mr. Chekov, scan the Maru for life signs.”
“Ah…aye, Keptin. Scans show forty-three crewmembers aliwe on ze ship.”
“Status of their shields?”
“They’re down,” Sulu says. “One hit’ll end them.”
“Sir, five Klingon warbirds just decloaked and are attacking us,” Nyota reports. On screen, the warbirds come in on their attack runs, launching energy blasts that make fake, tinny explosions over the room’s speakers.
For all the reaction Jim shows, the warbirds might as well not be there at all. “Sulu, charge particle lasers. Neutralize as many of the Klingon torpedoes as you can.”
In the control room, someone—Spock does not know who—remarks, “He’s not going to fire back?”
Down below, Marcus calls out from her station, “Captain, shields at fifteen percent and dropping. We’ll sustain serious hull damage if we don’t do something about those ships.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
“Sir, we’re going to be destroyed if we don’t either engage or retreat,” Nyota says.
Jim doesn’t say anything for a moment. On screen, the warbirds come in for another pass, and Sulu’s lasers only neutralize about half their torpedoes. More explosions sound out over the speakers.
“Shields at two percent,” says Marcus. “Orders, Captain?”
Jim straightens and does not take his eyes from the screen in front of him. “Dr. Marcus. What are the specs of the Kobayashi Maru’s core?”
Brief silence. The crew exchanges confused looks. Marcus clears her throat. “I’m sorry, sir, I don’t think I heard correctly—”
“Just give me the specs, Doctor.”
“Um, yes, sir.” Marcus brings the appropriate information up on her screen. “It’s an older model, Marx 67.”
“Unshielded dilithium chambers?”
Jim nods and says nothing. Slowly, Spock begins to feel something icy and unpleasant twist in his gut. He does not like this. He does not like that cold look on Jim’s face, does not like him inquiring about the Kobayashi Maru’s core, does not like his lover being forced to do something none of them are ready for.
He turns to the technician and opens his mouth, fully intending to call an end to the simulation—and that is when Jim speaks.
“Mr. Sulu,” he says, and each word is complete blank. “Arm phasers. Fire on the Kobayashi Maru.”
Silence. Spock hears several intakes of breath around him, as well as a bitten-off curse from McCoy in the corner. He suddenly finds it very hard to breathe.
Down below, Sulu swivels in his chair to stare at Jim, expression painfully lost. “Sir…?”
Jim looks at him, and even though those icy blue eyes are not focused on him, Spock cannot help but flinch.
“You heard me, Lieutenant.”
Sulu obeys. On screen, phaser fire sears through black space, striking the Kobayashi Maru, and it is immediately consumed by a giant blue fireball of radiation. For an instant Spock wonders why it looks strangely familiar, and then Marcus says, softly, from her station, “Sir, the Maru’s core has detonated.”
So that’s it. Spock watches as the fireball expands until it fills all the screens, engulfing the Klingon warbirds before fading into the vacuum of space like a camera flash. Not a single ship remains.
The silence that follows is deafening.
Then, very slowly, Jim rises from his chair. “Lieutenant Uhura,” he says, and he is still not looking at anyone, gaze fixed straight ahead. “Send a report to Starfleet Command telling them what happened here. Ensign Chekov, set a course for Earth. I don’t want to miss my court-martial.”
Chekov swallows; he has seen all manner of battle and death during their tours on the Enterprise, yet Spock does not think he has ever seen the young man so shaken as he is now. “Keptin, vhy did you fire on ze ship?”
For the first time since he entered the room, Jim looks down. “We’re a crew of nine hundred; the Maru’s only got forty-three,” he says, then sighs. His gaze flicks up to Spock, and Spock feels physical pain at the broken-open expression on Jim’s face.
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Then, without another word, Jim turns and walks out of the room.
For a long time after that, no one moves. Sulu glares down at his console as if wanting it to melt by sheer force of will. Marcus grits her teeth and stares determinedly at her blank screen. Chekov looks at everybody, eyes big and confused as if waiting for someone to come up with all the answers and set everything right again. Nyota lifts her chin and sends a piercing glare in Admiral Barrow’s direction, not bothering to hide her naked fury.
Spock seriously considers the ramifications of breaking the admiral’s neck. He gets as far as calculating how many times Jim will be allowed to visit him per week while he is in prison, before someone breaks the silence by asking, “Was that how it’s supposed to go?”
It is as if a spell has been broken. The room instantly fills with noise: shouting, orders, questions, demands. Spock allows himself a moment of savage satisfaction when he sees the reporters assault Barrow, microphones shoved so close to his face it’s a wonder he doesn’t break his nose on them.
“Admiral, what is your opinion of Captain Kirk’s performance just now?”
“Do you condone firing on allied ships in neutral space?”
“I really don’t think—”
“Do Kirk’s actions represent a change in Starfleet’s standard operating procedure?”
“Would you deem Kirk’s performance a win? And what does that mean about Starfleet’s approach to intergalactic diplomacy?”
“Well, I…that is, uh…”
“Fuck,” McCoy snarls as he comes to stand next to Spock. “Fucking Jesus Christ on a popsicle stick. I knew this would happen. Fuck.”
Spock can agree with that sentiment. He clenches his fist. “If you have indeed prepared a hypo,” he says, “it would be my pleasure to restrain Admiral Barrow as you administer the Brutanian flu.”
But McCoy hardly seems to have heard him. “He wasn’t ready,” the doctor hisses, crossing his arms and shaking his head. “Shit, when would he ever be ready? Should’ve seen this coming. Should’ve fucking known.”
He is right. They should have known. Yet Spock cannot place any blame on the crew. That honor goes to Barrow, who has now been backed into a corner by the swarm of reporters, wide-eyed and panicked like a frightened animal.
“Did the order for Kirk to retake this simulation originate from you or from Starfleet Command?”
“How would you compare your own performance on the Kobayashi Maru to Captain Kirk’s?”
All of a sudden, Spock cannot stand it anymore. He needs to be away from this room, away from the crowds and the blathering reporters, away from the overwhelming urge to strangle Admiral Barrow, away from everything.
He needs to be with Jim.
He straightens and looks at McCoy. “Doctor…”
Something must show in his expression because McCoy sighs, dragging a hand over his face, looking all of a sudden like a very old man.
“Shit, Spock,” he murmurs. “Go.”
Jim is not in the building. Neither is he in the mess, the rec room, or their apartment. Spock’s repeated attempts to reach him on his comm are met with silence, and in desperation, he messages McCoy.
The response he gets is terse: Try the Wall.
Spock’s heart sinks.
Even though he has been in Starfleet for over five years, Spock has never had much occasion to visit the Starfleet Memorial Wall. He had, of course, paid visits in his childhood as was customary whenever he accompanied his father on diplomatic trips, but since enlisting he has not lost anyone close enough to merit regular visits.
Jim, he knows, is different.
The Wall has not changed much from what Spock remembers as a child. He read that it was modeled on a similar memorial erected for veterans of an old twentieth-century Earth conflict, a stone monument designed to forever preserve the names of those who gave their lives in the line of duty. Technological advancements, however, have made it so that, instead of having to continuously add more sections to accommodate an ever-increasing list of names, Starfleet instead maintains the Wall at its standard length of approximately a hundred feet. There are also no names inscribed directly into the Wall; instead, a complex computer interface wired into the stone surface reads visitors’ fingerprints and other identifying information in order to bring up a display of the relevant name and service record.
Spock knows who Jim is looking for there.
He finds him near the end of the memorial, seated with his back against the stone, upper body curled over his knees as if wanting to duck away from the world itself. Listless fingers just barely maintain their grip on a half-empty bottle of beer, and the way Jim’s head is bowed, he might have been asleep except for how Spock can see his eyes are open, staring unseeing at the ground in front of him.
His approach is unacknowledged, but Spock does not let that deter him from slowly sinking into a seated position next to his lover. The sun is just beginning to set, and the stone bites cold into his back.
The silence stretches between them for a long time. Spock glances sideways at Jim, but doesn’t trust himself to speak. He does not know what Jim wants from him; he only knows that he needs to be here. That right now, he does not wish to be anywhere else.
The sun has just disappeared below the horizon when Jim finally lifts his head. “So how badly did I fuck up?” he asks, gaze fixed on the darkening sky.
Spock looks at him. “That is an inaccurate assessment of your performance.”
Jim chuckles at that, but it’s humorless. “Yeah, sure.” He lifts his head so that the back of his skull thunks against the stone of the Wall.
When he offers nothing more, Spock reaches across him for the beer bottle, taking a swig of the bitter liquid inside. He has never been partial to human alcoholic beverages, yet he also does not want Jim imbibing any more of the bottle’s contents, especially with the medications McCoy currently has him on.
“Jim,” he says after another moment. “I…would know what you are thinking.”
Jim sighs and turns just enough to press his bare hand to the wall. A low hum sounds out, followed by a soft beep, and an abridged Starfleet personnel file flickers to life on the cool black surface. Spock does not need to look at the name. The young man pictured in the photograph has Jim’s eyes and dirty-blond hair.
Jim doesn’t look at the display, eyes fixed instead on the ground. “You know, my entire life I swore I’d be better than him,” he whispers. “Getting through the Academy faster. Making Captain earlier. Doing everything I could to get out of his goddamned shadow.”
He pauses and draws a shaky breath. His hand leaves the stone, and the image fades away. “But in the end I couldn’t. Couldn’t find another solution, so I died for my ship the same way he did. You want a no-win scenario? That’s it.”
Spock frowns, something inside him breaking at the open hurt on his lover’s face. “Jim—”
“And you know what the saddest part is?” Jim continues, curling into himself. “Pike, when he recruited me…he dared me to do better.” His voice cracks. “And now I’ve failed them both.”
“You have done no such thing.”
The outburst surprises them both; Spock at first doesn’t recognize the voice as his own, and Jim startles out of his slump, staring at him with wide eyes.
Spock gathers his bearings immediately, though, and plows on. “Your father and Admiral Pike both died in the line of fire, but neither of them came back. You did.”
Jim blinks, then looks away. “That wasn’t me, it was Khan—”
“That’s bullshit, Jim.” Another startled look, and again Spock takes advantage. “We were only able to retrieve Khan’s blood because I chased him down. And I only chased him because he had killed you. I did not do it for Pike, I did not do it for your father. I did it for you.”
He shifts closer and reaches out to touch the side of Jim’s face. “Nyota has not told you,” he says. “I would have killed him, Jim. I needed to kill him, after what he took away from me. I was in the process of beating him to death with my bare hands when Nyota informed me we needed his blood to save your life.”
“You…” Jim frowns and reaches up to wrap his fingers around Spock’s. “Jesus. I didn’t know it was that bad.”
Spock shakes his head, drawing Jim close until their foreheads touch. “You were dead,” he whispers, and cannot keep the tremor from his voice. “You were dead, and all I knew was rage. I did not feel that with Pike. I have never felt that with anyone.” He swallows. “And that is another thing you have achieved that your father and Pike did not. You have made me love you, Jim. Given my heritage, I believe that is a rare point in your favor.”
Jim doesn’t answer for a long time. Above them, the sky finally melts into total blackness, a blanket of stars that they have spent their lives pursuing. Spock barely notices, focusing on Jim, the softness of his gaze, the gentle wash of his breath in their mingled air. He cannot look away. He needs Jim to know this, how far Spock will go for him, how he would gladly sacrifice all of himself if it meant staying by Jim’s side just a little longer.
Then, at last, Jim smiles. It is small, barely there, but it reaches his eyes for the first time since that conversation with Barrow yesterday, and Spock has never seen anything more mesmerizing.
“Please don’t talk about Pike being in love with you,” Jim says then. “I mean, okay, he wasn’t bad-looking but Jesus, Spock, he was like fifty—”
“Jim,” Spock says, and tries to force some exasperation into his voice. By the way Jim’s grin widens, he thinks he mostly fails.
“And oh my god, my dad? Seriously? I mean you can be kinky sometimes but—”
The suspicion that he is playing right into Jim’s hand does not stop Spock from surging forward to kiss him. Jim chuckles and deepens the kiss immediately, grabbing Spock by the collar to pull him close as they learn each other again, familiar contours and familiar taste. Safe, and here, and alive. Spock can ask for nothing more.
It goes on forever before they are suddenly interrupted by an insistent beeping from Spock’s padd indicating an incoming transmission. Pulling reluctantly back from Jim, he glances at the screen—and frowns. “It is from Command.”
Jim winces, and Spock squeezes his hand. They quickly arrange themselves to be about a foot apart, so that Jim will be off-screen while still angled to watch the exchange. Spock presses ‘CONNECT’.
The screen flickers to reveal the head and shoulders of a middle-aged Asian woman, streaks of gray visible in her severe-looking bun. Her eyes are sharp and her uniform immaculate, Admiral’s stripes clear.
Spock straightens. “Admiral Wong.”
Fleet Admiral Alicia Wong is perhaps Starfleet’s greatest story of merit and perseverance. A young country girl who grew up in one of the rare corners of China where poverty still existed, she’d worked three jobs simultaneously for four years—while taking care of an ailing mother and five younger siblings—in order to save enough money to pay for Starfleet’s entrance exam. She shared a single room with a family of three her first two years at the Academy, working a night job in order to pay for textbooks and food, and inevitably found herself at the local soup kitchen at least once a week when she was unable to make ends meet.
Four years later she graduated at the top of her class and served two tours as an ensign in Engineering, enduring constant caustic remarks from her captain—and not a few other superior officers—about everything from her age to her gender to her ethnicity. When she finally made captain herself, though, she proved her worth, doing everything from establishing a trade treaty with the notoriously xenophobic Sini’i to brokering a peace between the Halians and the Pme, who had been at war for over three centuries.
When she was promoted to Rear Admiral, a few disgruntled captains hinted that she might be too emotional for a top command position. Wong responded by personally leading—and winning—a skirmish with fifteen Klingon warbirds at the edge of the Neutral Zone.
Now, more than thirty years later, no one questions Wong’s competence as a Starfleet officer. The fact that she was promoted as Marcus’s replacement is more than testament to that.
On screen, Wong gives him a nod of acknowledgement. “Commander Spock. Pardon the interruption. I have been trying to reach your captain, but he’s not responding on his comm.”
Jim shifts, uncomfortable. Spock clears his throat. “My apologies, ma’am. He is currently…indisposed.”
“I see.” She gives no indication of believing him either way. “Very well. Would you relay a message to him for me then?”
Wong nods. “Barrow is being…investigated. Thoroughly. To the point where I’m pretty sure he won’t be cluttering Command’s meeting room with his presence anymore.” She blows out a breath and straightens something on her desk. “If you ask me, bastard had it coming. Anyone who joins Starfleet looking for glory is just asking for a boot out the door.”
Spock doesn’t disagree. Wong nods again and continues. “We’ve also met to discuss Kirk’s…case.” Next to him, Jim ducks his head. Spock aborts a half-unconscious attempt to reach out to him.
“Kirk’s performance in the simulation today was…unconventional,” Wong says, “and certainly may have given many people the wrong idea about Starfleet.” She pauses, then leans forward, as though to make her next point absolutely clear. “Yet at the same time, he’s the first to emerge from the simulation with a more than zero percent survival rate. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a win to me.”
Jim blinks. Spock clears his throat. “The captain will be pleased to hear such an assessment.”
“I’m sure he will.” Wong straightens in her chair, brushing imaginary lint from her shoulder. “If he’s looking for another commendation, though, he can forget it. Kid’s racked up so many of them he might as well start using them as currency.”
Jim snorts before he can stop himself and quickly slaps a hand over his mouth. Wong, thankfully, doesn’t seem to have noticed the sound because she continues, “So tell him to get some rest and stop beating himself up over what happened today. Far as I’m concerned, he brought Barrow down a much-needed peg.”
“Good.” The corner of Wong’s mouth twitches up. “And by the way, Captain Kirk? Stop hiding behind your First Officer and get over here.”
Jim blanches, but accepts the padd when Spock hands it to him. “Um. Ma’am. I can explain—”
“No need.” Wong’s smile is warm. “How are you feeling?”
“Uh.” Jim swallows. “Okay. Fine.”
“Yeah, I believe that.” The admiral’s eyes soften. “You know, Kirk…what you did, it wasn’t wrong.”
Jim sighed. “I think Admiral Barrow would disagree.”
“That’s not what I was referring to.”
Brief silence. Jim presses his lips into a thin line; out of Wong’s view, Spock reaches down to brush his fingers over his lover’s wrist. “I understand, ma’am.”
“No, actually, I don’t think you do.” Wong looks away briefly. “Throughout all my years in command, I’ve lost a lot of people. Good people. People with lives, and families, and dreams. I remember all their faces, Kirk. And a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about them.”
Jim says nothing. Wong nods and continues, “But that doesn’t mean I’m sorry about it. I’m sorry they had to die, but I’m not sorry about the decisions I made that led to their deaths. Because those decisions ultimately meant other people got to continue living. They got to go home to their families, and they got to live out their dreams. Every time I’ve lost a life, I’ve also saved a life. And in a job like this one, that’s something you have to remember.”
Jim swallows. “Even if the life you lose is your own?”
“Especially if it’s your own.” Wong sets her jaw. “Kirk, your father gave his life to save yours. You gave your life to save your crew’s. That doesn’t make you different, or similar. It just means you both did what was right.” She leans forward, eyes intense. “Never be sorry about saving a life, Kirk, no matter what the cost. Never. Understand?”
She looks at Jim. So does Spock. Jim takes a breath, closes his eyes, lets it out, opens them again. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good. Oh, and Kirk?”
Wong smiles. “Chris would be proud of you. You know that, right?”
A myriad of emotions flicker across Jim’s face: surprise, grief, regret…then eventually, acceptance. “Y…Yes, ma’am.”
“Okay. Take care of yourself, Captain. Wong out.”
The screen flicks off. Jim stares at the blank glass for a long time. Spock doesn’t dare break the silence.
After another long moment, Jim lifts his head, looking up at the stars above. When at last he turns to Spock, his eyes glint with ease and amusement and, most importantly, show not a hint of guilt.
“That woman,” he says, shaking his head as he hands the padd back over. “Goddamn. She’ll have all of Starfleet whipped within a year.”
Spock blinks. “I do not believe Admiral Wong is an advocate of archaic forms of corporal punishment.”
“No, it’s—never mind.” Jim waves his hand and takes another breath. Spock risks a move closer, and Jim rewards him by dropping his head to rest it on Spock’s shoulder. His entire body sags with exhaustion, as if all the fragile strings he has been straining to keep hold of have suddenly been cut. “Damn. Shouldn’t have walked all the way here from HQ. I’m gonna pay for it tomorrow.”
Spock hums and shifts just enough so that he can card his fingers through Jim’s soft hair. “Given the events of today, I am sure your colleagues will understand if you choose to cancel your morning meetings.”
“Are you kidding? Scotty’s been hounding me about the new replicator specs for weeks. I think he might actually resign again if I cancel on him, and then Chekov will have a heart attack when I ask him to be his replacement, and then his scary Russian family will nuke the United States in retaliation, and then a war will start and Earth will be wiped out.”
Spock stifled a smile. “It is reassuring to see you have remained immune to the human fallacy of hyperbole.”
“Shut up. I’m serious. I saw the warhead Chekov’s mom keeps in their basement.”
“Indeed.” The sad thing is, Spock actually believes him. They had the…dubious fortune of meeting Chekov’s abundant family during the Enterprise’s last shore leave. “Perhaps, then, it would be more advisable to retire early so that you may be well rested for your meetings tomorrow.”
“Yeah.” Jim yawns, but makes no move to rise. If anything, he presses closer, eyes falling closed as he noses sleepily at Spock’s neck. “In a minute. Okay?”
And even though they are out in the open, even though anyone could walk by and see them and start asking questions, Spock just murmurs, “Yes, Jim,” and gathers his lover closer.
They have earned this respite, this time together. The rest of the world will still be there in the morning.