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Just a Little Change (Small to Say the Least)

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, stardate 2261.33, on a far off planet, an away team appeared, hailing from the USS Enterprise. They happened upon a shining castle, well cared for by an elderly denizen. As they explored the castle, each was moved in their own way by the beauty, kindness, and wealth of knowledge they were shown. They were given fine meals and warm beds. Every night they were entertained with stories and every day they were escorted and given every consideration. Every member of the away part was enchanted by the warm hospitality. Every member, except one.

That night they were to leave, their benefactor beseeched him to name what he wanted most, no matter how big or small, and she would see he would have it before they departed.

Unmoved by her offer, the officer declined. Their benefactor warned him if he did not attempt to understand and obtain his true desires, he would be doomed to a desolate life without meaning. He dismissed her request again.

It seemed as if the castle itself heaved a tremendous sigh and the officer became dizzy, falling to the ground and lost all sense of time. When he awoke, he found himself much changed, and his crewmates even more so. He tried to apologize, but it was too late, for she had seen that his heart had the capacity for love but had been turned to stone and his mind was brilliant yet robotic.

If he could learn to recognize his Human side and understand his one true desire and have his desire returned before the warp core depleted, then the anomaly would correct itself. If not, he and the crew were doomed forever.

As the months passed, the crew fought despair but began to lose hope, for what Vulcan could ever be taught desire?

Chapter Text

As things went, Jim definitely got one of the shorter sticks in this particular adventure. He didn’t complain, he shouldered his unusual burden quietly. As if he had shoulders, that is.

“Keptin?” Jim looked over to where a small gravy boat sat on the conference table in the traditional spot where his navigator sat.

“Yes, Ensign Chekov?”

“Meester Scott reports the antimatter tanks are below sewenteen percent.”

Jim mentally frowned at the report, a substantial uptick in antimatter loss. “Thank you, Ensign.”

“Also, Keenser has managed to rip himself again. Lieutenant Batra says he’s expected to make a full recowery.”

Jim sighed. “Doctor, please make a note of that in my log.”

“Noted, Captain,” came Bones’ disembodied voice from somewhere in front of him. “Glad I’m not the sewing kit in this crew. That’s the third time this week. What’s Keenser doing, finding all secret razer blade lined conduits?”

Keenser, the overstuffed red ottoman to Scotty’s Queen Anne style wing back chair with lace antimacassars, seemed to be taking extra delight in being able to fit into even smaller spaces within the Jeffries tubes and reporting back to Scotty. Their chief engineer, by contrast, spent most of his days near the warp core, keeping watch over the antimatter tanks and reporting daily in via gravy boat. Bones had yet to figure out how to access the communication systems (“I’m a doctor, Jim, not the communications officer”) so gravy boat it was.

The turbo lift doors opened, and Spock walked into the bridge. Jim knew better than to mention the tardiness these days. The Vulcan struggled to get around, and they knew no remedy.

“Captain, I apologize for my tardiness,” the synthesized voice apologized. “I am having difficulty regulating my internal battery.”

Jim furrowed his eyebrows in concern, which he knew didn’t quite have the same effect on his face, but the numbers 3 and 7 wiggled ominously. Spock was exactly twelve minutes late. Jim always knew the precise time, one of the few benefits of this temporary form. Spock made no further comment as he gently picked up his captain from the chair (a normal chair) next to the computer console that was Bones, and put into his typical resting spot for the day.

During their shared shift he spent the day hanging loosely at Spock’s side, where his Vulcan heart would be. Jim discovered very quickly that while he didn’t breathe or feel many sensations, there were certain things that made him distinctly uncomfortable. Being carried in Spock’s pants pocket was one of them. Spock obtained a waistcoat, courtesy of Lieutenant Batra the sewing machine, in a fetching shade of evergreen and gold. Jim was tucked inside it, still able to peek out through the loose weave of the waistcoat and speak loud enough that Spock could hear him, although others had difficulty hearing his tiny tin voice.

They attempted, in their own ways, to make life aboard the Enterprise as normal as ever. As inanimate objects, none of them were tired or hungry, so shift schedules were altered drastically. They were not exploring the depths of space but maintaining orbit around LA2, so their duties had changed. And most of the crew did not have anything that resembled opposable thumbs or typical forms of locomotion, so everything got done that much slower. And Spock… well, he had troubles of his own.

“You’ve overdone it again,” Jim commented as Spock marched them back to the turbo lifts for their daily rounds.

“Yes, Captain.”

“You’re no use if you run yourself down to nuts and bolts.”

“My cortex processing speed has lost eight percent efficiency, which has impaired both my motoric and language processing. I was able to increase cognitive reflexes, but have lost some aural and visual acuity in the process.” Spock paused, probably doing another self-diagnostic scan. “I am still of use today, but will need a more lengthy charge tonight.”

“Acknowledged. Chess before bed?”

Spock nodded his agreement before they entered the aft cargo bay where a phaser, a flower vase, and a set of steak knives were putting together another attempt at a satellite probe. Ensign Waters, now a brilliant aquamarine Andorian glass, gave a full report and they hoped to have their thirty-seventh attempt ready by 0800 the next day. Pleased with their progress, they moved onto sickbay, which was more of a workshop to repair, mend, and weld any necessary parts, and thankfully Keenser had already been released, so there was nothing new to report.

They walked along outer habitat area, which was easily the dullest part of the inspection, but as Jim rarely saw it, or saw anything without Spock escorting him, he insisted on keeping it as a regular part of their rounds. It was also where Jim struck up his favorite game.

“Why is Obaje a coat rack?”

“Lieutenant Obaje is not a coat rack. She is a traditional Orion sword display rack.”

“Oh.” Jim paused, reviewing the crew. “And Lieutenant Swo, our Orion sword?”

“Self-reported the nature of their relationship three weeks before we arrived at LA2.”

While not an exact science, there seemed to be some logic (which Spock would deny vehemently every time) or at least some humor in the transmogrification. Jim was a pocket watch, almost the exact style of pocket watch his grandmother had from his so-many-great-grandfather, who she claimed was a sea captain. Every sea captain had a good pocket watch. And he was a pocket watch. Made sense to him. Although why Chekov was a gravy boat still didn’t quite add up. Chekov said repeatedly he did not mind, he was able to hop around and never chipped and could keep almost any liquid at lukewarm temperatures, which was something.

“So why is Keenser an ottoman?”

Spock sighed, which always made Jim smile because Spock didn’t need to sigh, but still felt some sort of compulsion to. He wasn’t all gears mix mashed with positronic pieces. There were feelings and a heart in there. Jim was certain.

“I do not know.”

“I think it’s interesting that he matches Scotty. I mean, that’s just perfect characterization right there. Cut from the same cloth, you know? You could not possibly make that any more perfect, although I would have seen Scotty as more of a plaid overstuffed couch, you know? More personable, less rigid.”

“One must maintain exacting standards within engineering,” Spock suggested.

Jim hummed his agreement. He spent the rest of the shift calling out greetings to staff that Spock had to relay, occasionally taking the captain out of his waistcoat pocket and holding him up to inspect or converse.

Occasionally he would need to be wound up, and Spock would gently hold his case body, carefully not to cover his half hunter cover and with his other hand carefully moved Jim’s bow and rolled the crown back and forth between his fingers. It felt like a thorough back scratch, one of the few strong sensations he could feel. Once Spock had opened Jim’s cover and that, well. It was not to be repeated again without explicit consent.

The last leg of their inspection was the shuttle bay which had been sealed, inconveniently. They had a full detail of security attempting to find new ways to breach it since the beginning of their adventure orbiting LA2. A bowling ball informed him that today’s attempt was unsuccessful as well, but the paint brush from the science department was working on a different polymer that might cut through the doors but needed the titanium-lined garden hose from astrometrics to assist because she ran the risk of melting her handles.

“Very good, Lieutenant Song,” Jim acknowledged. “Excellent progress. I wonder if maybe--”

Jim was cut off by a hollow banging.

Hollow banging coming from inside the shuttle bay.

“What was that?” Jim asked, his gears suddenly sticking.

Spock put his hand protectively over his pocket, shielding Jim’s view. “I believe someone is knocking on the door.”

Chapter Text

Lieutenant Song rolled into the access panel and the doors hissed open without a single protest. Jim could barely see between Spock’s fingers, but managed to see the unmistakable outline.

Jim’s hairspring gear gave a jolt of disbelief. It couldn’t be.

“Nyota?” Spock asked, clearly as shocked as his captain.

“Spock? Is that you?” Nyota asked, still dressed in the clothes their mysterious benefactor had given her months ago, a huge yellow organza monstrosity complete with pearl teardrop earrings and golden filigree woven into her long dark hair. She appeared just as shocked as Jim, staring at Spock in horror. She made an abortive move to touch his tin and copper skin. “What happened to you?”

Spock grabbed a tricorder hanging on the wall and began to scan her without comment as she walked closer and closer.

“No anomaly,” the tricorder reported in a chipper voice. “It’s really Lieutenant Uhura. Isn’t that great?”

Uhura glanced down at the equipment in Spock’s hand and nearly jumped out of her skin when the data panel gave her a wink.

“It’s… that’s just…”

“Hello, Lieutenant! It’s really me, Evaine!”

“Lieutenant Nilsson is a tricorder?” she asked Spock, her hands gesturing to it helplessly. “And you… you’re…”

“An android,” Spock confirmed. “I can debrief you of the situation, but I must know if you were able to contact anyone from Starfleet or if you have received any information.”

Uhura looked around,  overwhelmed. “Where is everyone?”

“Lieutenant--”

“Spock, where did everyone go?”

“They are here, Lieutenant, everyone is accounted for but not in their original state of being.”

“I have not been in contact with Starfleet,” Uhura answered, eyes flicking down to the bowling ball near her toe. “Who are you?”

“This is Lieutenant Song,” Spock answered, probing again patiently. “Please detail your experiences in the last five months.”

“Five months,” Uhura repeated incredulously, her typical crisp professionalism hanging by a thread now that she noticed the bowling ball near her feet had eyes. “We were all together, just a few minutes, and you were normal and I- I-” she wavered, edging away from Lieutenant Song.

“Experienced an intense sensation of vertigo and now are here?”

Uhura nodded.

“I do not have the answers as to why we are here in this state, Lieutenant, but perhaps, with your assistance, we can discover how to restore the crew.”

--

Spock escorted Uhura to the bridge where the senior staff was to assemble. Jim’s mind was buzzing with questions to ask her once they were together.

“Do you think it’s her?” Jim mused quietly, knowing Spock could hear him and Uhura could not. “Could she break the spell?”

Spock huffed, but Jim could hear the gears whirring in his chest uptick slightly. “There is no spell,” he muttered back for the five millionth time.

“Spock, just stop for a moment and contemplate the facts. We’ve been here for months. Nothing we’ve tried has worked.”

The android did not reply, stalking into the turbolift, his joints a little squeakier than they were a week ago. “There is no spell.”

--

After two hours of debriefing, everyone was up to speed on what happened to Uhura (nothing much, from her perspective) and what happened to them (understandably surprising, although she was to be commended for taking it all within stride). Spock had insisted that they redouble their efforts to enter the shuttle bay, which was sealed again, but his explanation was slurred and pristine logic not at his sharpest, Jim demanded that he turn in for charging.

Uhura worked at computer-terminal/Bones (“your fingernails are like claws down my back, Lieutenant, watch where you’re drumming those things”) hoping to reestablish the inter-ship communication.

“If it works, we’ll have to get Chekov another job,” Jim mused. “Not that we all wouldn’t be delighted to get messages a bit faster than gravy boat.”

“No one else wanted to volunteer for the job?” Uhura asked idly, punching in more code as Bones coughed and wheezed, lighting up in a rainbow of colors as the communications officer worked her magic.

“Speaking of Spock, where is the robot?” Bones chirped from beneath Uhura’s palms.

“Still charging,” Chekov answered, who was hopping along the floor towards them. Spock needed at least another six hours, by his estimation, four more than the last cycle.  “I thought you might like a spot of tea, Lieutenant?”

Uhura glanced down, distaste evident. “Are you carrying that in your… what would I even consider that part of your body?”

“No idea,” Chekov said cheerily. “It’s Earl Grey, perfect temperature.”

“No, thank you.”

Chekov gave an approximation of a shrug, sloshing the tea precariously. “It has been a while since we’ve had someone on board who needed to eat and drink.”

Bones flashed orange and red. “Are we going to talk about the elephant in the room while the elephant is, thankfully, not in the room?”

“Not the time...” Jim cautioned.

Uhura peered between Jim, balancing on the edge of the computer terminal and the flashing lights Bones was throwing. She was still dressed in her gold ball gown, looking respedently out of place on the austere bridge. “Excuse me?”

“We’ve been cursed and the only way to lift the curse is to get Spock what he desires most in life.”

“Bones,” Jim lamented. “Couldn’t keep quiet, could you?”

Uhura let out a small laugh of puzzlement. “Cursed? Like evil witch and true love’s kiss and magic mirrors?”

“I’m holding out for holographic augmented reality,” Bones confided, “however, as you already heard, Spock believes this is an incredibly elaborate illusion using psi weaponry. Doesn’t explain why my nursing staff turned into lawn furniture. Jim thinks it’s the real deal. We’re cursed, and we need to break it.”

“We just need someone with some insight into Spock’s deepest desires. We’ve tried some things, but--”

“I’d imagine he didn’t take kindly to any large gesture made with the best of intentions,” Uhura raised an eyebrow at Jim’s dramatic sigh. “So we’re doomed.”

Bones lit up the dashboard in amusement. “See?”

Jim bristled at the insinuation. “Lieutenant-- Nyota-- now that you’re here, as far as desires go...”

“Oh no,” she said, pointing a long finger at him. “That’s not on the table.”

“That’s a little insensitive, considering the Ensign Pietro’s current state of reality as a table,” Jim said sorrowfully.

Uhura’s face darkened at the reminder. “You said that desire had to be returned.”

“You don’t even know what I’m suggesting.”  Uhura frowned deeper, prompting Jim to spill his hastily imagined plan. “A little dinner, some good conversation, maybe a little dancing. See if anything ignites, and then poof! We’re human again by 2400 hours!”

“That’s ridiculous,” Uhura said. “No, thank you.”

“Dinner,” Bones wheedled, surprisingly Jim with being on board with his plan. “Just a dinner. You can’t spend your entire time helping us fix the warp core and set up communications.”

Uhura sighed, resigned. “Fine. Dinner with Spock. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“You could be dismissed,” Bones said brightly. “Rejected. Publicly humiliated.”

“Oh,” she retorted sarcastically, “it’s almost more than I can bear.”

“More beer?” Chekov misheard. “Only if you like it somewhat warm.”

Chapter Text

Uhura carried Jim back to Spock’s quarters, cupping him carefully between her hands.

“This dress has about seventy yards of fabric but no pockets,” she grumbled, waiting for the turbo lift to arrive on the habitat deck. “I can’t wait to change out of this and take a nice long sonic shower.”

Jim yawned. “I’m run down, myself.”

Uhura frowned. “Do you need… batteries or something?”

“I’m a stem wound watch,” Jim said, a little proud. “Earth made, around 1854, Spock thinks. Seaboat captains would carry pieces like me because I can show multiple times, for multiple ports.”

When they arrived at Spock's door, Spock was fully charged and a little surprised to see both of them. He immediately held out his hand to take possession of Jim.

“It is nearly 1800 hours,” Spock said, the chiding note clear in his voice.

“Yes, Commander, I’m well aware. Not a moment slips past me, remember?”

Spock’s narrow fingers closed around his edges, brushing along the sides of his half hunter cover. Spock made no move to start winding, which Jim was grateful for. As odd as it sounded, it was a private affair between the two of them, not something he wanted everyone to see.

“Well, I’d better get going. I never thought I’d be so happy to wear a standard issue uniform again.”

“AH HEM!!” Jim cried, his approximation of a subtle cough at his size.

Uhura glared at Spock’s hand. “Spock, would you meet me in the mess hall at 2000 hours?”

Spock paused for an inordinately long amount of time.

“AAAH HEM!” Jim repeated.

“I do not eat, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, I inferred that,” she drawled, looking down at her fingernails, nonplussed. “But I do. I would… enjoy your company. For dinner.”

“I can update you on the latest reports from the warp core assessments,” Spock suggested.

Uhura’s jaw tightened. “Sure. See you then.” She turned on her heel, leaving Jim and Spock alone.

Jim sighed.

“Spock, we have to talk.”

--

He and Spock finished their previously abandoned rounds, making excellent time through the winding corridors of the last three decks. It may have been because Spock avoided anything that would provide Jim a moment of opportunity to bring up That Which Was Not A Curse.  He got his opportunity around Deck 8.

“Spock, let me take this moment to head off all the typical discourse and simply remind you that the Kirk Logic Rule is in effect and the crew needs you to make a good impression during dinner with Lieutenant Uhura tonight.”

Spock reminded silent for a beat longer than usual. “Understood,” he said, voice modulated to something not quite resembling a grumble.

“So you can start by making yourself more presentable. Wear something other than the uniform for once.”

“Captain--”

“And try to act like a gentleman.”

“I am not a gentleman. I am an android.”

“Then help her to see past all that,” Bones snarked from where the ship’s computer would be relaying information in the corridor.

Spock’s posture became stiffer, somehow. “Doctor, while I am pleased that the Lieutenant made it possible for you to access the other computers, I don’t see why you must join us, unwelcomed, I might add.”

“Too bad. A lot could be riding on this.”

“Or none at all, doctor,” Spock shot back.

“Kirk Logic,” Jim reminded them. “That which is impossible is now merely distinctly improbable.”

Jim imagined he could hear the Spock’s antique android circuits combust a little from having to entertain the idea.

--

They spent the remaining hour in Spock’s quarters, allowing Spock some time to top off his charge while Jim pondered what Spock would wear. When Spock’s eyes stopped glowing an ominous blue, indicating he was awake again, he picked Jim up and slipped him into his waistcoat pocket again and opened his small closet revealing a dress uniform, two more duty uniforms, and one set of brown Vulcan robes.

Jim sighed. “This will not work. Let’s go to my quarters.”

“Are you sure, Captain?”

“Yes,” Jim said, failing to insert some steel into his voice. “I’m ready.”

Jim began bunking with Spock very shortly after their change. He had spent but one night alone in his own quarters. Spock had left him there, on Jim’s bed, after Jim had urged the crew to find and adopt some normalcy within familiar surroundings. When Spock returned for the start of the next shift, Jim admitted his quarters were more upsetting than anything. A shell for a man, a reminder of what he currently was not. Spock never suggested they enter the captain’s quarters in all the months since.

Jim directed him to his personal closet and suggested he try on the bright cerulean shirt with yellow accents and a wide collar. “If you roll up the sleeves a little, it looks like it could fit,” he mused.

Spock deposited Jim against a lamp on a side table, propped up so he could observe Spock trying on the shirt. Jim noted with some concern that Spock’s seams on his torso were rusted, as if by decades of wear.

“Spock…”

“It is of no matter, Jim,” Spock said, well aware what Jim saw.

“It does matter. I need you to take care of yourself. You can’t go running yourself down, falling to bits--”

“I will not endanger the crew,” he said, shoving the shirt over his head. It stretched over the shoulders, but not too badly. The sleeves ended too far north over this wrists, as Jim predicted, but the overall effect was pleasant against Spock’s polished brass complexion.

“Hey,” Jim said, once Spock rolled the sleeves, exposing his bare metallic forearms. “Hey, I need to say something.”

Once he had been scooped up and held in Spock’s hand, face to face, Jim attempted a reassuring expression.

“I’m being hard on you.” Jim attempted a complicated movement of his minute and hour hands to stall Spock’s inevitable objection. “I've been putting so much pressure on you, because I know you can handle it. I know you will always do what’s right, what is always best for the need of the many and this crew. It was never in doubt, then or now. As your captain I’ll never need to apologize for that, but I feel like I need to acknowledge it and ressure you, as your friend.”

Jim missed Spock’s eyes-- the most obviously Human part of him-- which were now polished onyx set in bronze, inscrutable as stone.

“As you said, it is only dinner with Nyota, who is a friend.”

“That’s right! A very good friend and it might be nice, you know, to just talk to someone... who isn’t me.”

Spock stared at Jim a moment more before nodding, his face hiding whatever the circuits in his mind

“Captain, do you know your deepest, most ardent desire?” Spock queried suddenly.

“My what?” Jim asked, feigning confusion.

“What do you want most in the universe?”

Something within him twisted tight as if being wound too fast and if he let loose what was on the tip of his tongue, he’d be unwound for eternity.

“I don’t know,” he lied.

--

Jim stared up at the unbelievably shiny ceiling of the bridge, where Spock had deposited him before he left for the mess hall with Nyota.

“How does the ceiling stay so clean?” Jim wondered idly.

“No idea, but it causes all sorts of light flares for most of the humanoids on this ship,” Bones said.

“Really? That’s not just me?”

The doctor sighed. “No.”

“Can’t you spy a little better?”

“I’m patching in the audio from the mess as best I can, Jimmy.”

Jim sighed, rocking a bit to get himself to the edge of Bones’s console. “Chekov?”

“Yes, keptin?”

“Let’s try that diving maneuver one more time, hopefully, you can catch me this time and we can break free of the bridge. I can't be here not knowing what’s going on with Spock. And Bones?”

“Yes, Captain?”

“See if you can’t help out a little from here. What is dinner without a little music?”

“I’m not sure I can help there. All I have access to is what Keenser was listening to before we were magicked. Peabo Bryson’s Greatest Hits .”

“Who the hell is Peabo Bryson?”

Chapter Text

“Closer,” Jim urged. “Closer.”

Chekov scooted a little further on the floor, almost completing the half circuit around the mess hall where Uhura and Spock sat, Jim jostling inside of him. “I cannot hear anything, keptin.”

“Under the table, Ensign.”

“Aye, keptin.” They hobbled across the floor, ducking between Spock’s boot and skidding to a halt directly under the table. Jim strained and was able to make out words from the soft murmuring of the couple.

“... desire,” Spock said softly.

“Me?”

“Yes, more than anything.”

“I… I don’t know.” She sighed, legs kicking out, barely avoiding knocking into Chekov. “I wasn’t cut out for a provincial life,” she mused. “I want adventure in the galaxy, somewhere. And I have it. There are things I want, my goals, but that’s not what you are asking. I want to understand the universe, to listen to it all and understand.” She paused, fork scraping against the china. “What about you, Spock?”

“I, too, wanted to explore something bigger than myself and what the Vulcan Science Academy could offer. I think it is what, you and I, at least initially…”

“It certainly was something we shared,” Nyota acknowledged gently. “A sign of compatibility, perhaps.”

Spock nodded. “While I did not understand then, I understand now, why you left.”

“I’m glad,” Uhura said, not unkindly.

“It is not just aligned ambitions, but to share and build upon those emotions with someone who understands.”

“Yeah,” Jim whispered, his gears groaning a bit, feeling distinctly like heartache. “That would be grand.”

“What would?” Chekov whispered back.

“Nothing, Ensign. This is all very encouraging.”

“What is?”

Jim sighed. “I’ll tell you when you’re older, Ensign.”

“Are you speaking of the Lieutenant and the Commander?” Chekov said, his voice starting to rise above a whisper. “I do not think it is going well. Keptin, this is probably the worst date I’ve ever been-”

“Chekov?”

“Yes, Keptin?”

“Hush.”

“Yes, Keptin.”

“Did you hear something?” Uhura asked. Spock paused. Jim sighed, imagining the non-expression on Spock’s I Am Vulcan And I Cannot Tell A Lie face. “You did, didn’t you?”

Uhura feet shifted under the table and both Jim and Chekov inexplicably held a breath (they didn’t breathe, as Yeoman White discovered, being an aquaponics oxygenation sensor). When she ducked her head under the table, Jim flashed her a winning, debonaire smile.

“Good evening, Lieutenant.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Captain. May I help you?”

“Oh, no. Just… inspecting wear and tear on the truly inanimate objects on the ship, seeing what needs to be fixed. This table doesn’t look broke.”

“Agreed, Keptin,” Chekov added with forced enthusiasm, shuffling away from the table and out the pneumatic doors. “And if it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”

--

After the tepid dinner that lasted just long enough for Chekov to get Jim back into Spock’s quarters for the night, Spock stalked to his quarters in a terrible mood. Jim could tell.

“I have requested another inspection of the warp core at 1200,” he informed Jim, barely looking at his PADD of crew updates. There was an inspection of the core every two hours by the science team led by Spock. He and Jim always reviewed the inspection first thing in the morning, Spock knew that. Jim knew that.

“Any reports to review?” Jim asked, keeping his voice light and unassuming.

“Negative. I am ready for another charge cycle.”

Jim mentally frowned. Two hours in between cycles, at the most. “Okay.” As was their new habit, Spock reached for Jim and started to wind him.

“Ow,” Jim complained. “That’s a little tight there, Spock.”

Spock stopped winding Jim, blinking down at him as if he had forgotten he was there. “If you would hold still, it would not hurt as much.”

“If you were paying attention, it wouldn’t hurt!” he shot back. Swinging his half-hunter cover close with a snap.

“My apologies, Captain.” He set Jim down on his customary counter, walking away to his charging alcove.

“Jim.” Spock paused. “It’s Jim, remember?”

“Yes, Jim. I apologize again. My attention is, as you noted, not where it needed to be.”

“It’s okay.”

“Jim?” Spock stood in front of his alcove, illuminated by the star outside the porthole. “What Ensign Chekov said was correct. The dinner did not go well.”

“It's not as bad as all that," Jim said softly. "It was worth a shot. Goodnight, Spock.”

“Goodnight, Jim.”

And within a blink of an eye (if Jim had eyelids to blink) Spock entered the alcove, his eyes glowing a soft blue that bathed the room in the darkness. Jim waited in the dark, wondering the rest of the night.

--

Morning found Jim, Uhura, Chekov and Bones together again, this time trying to find a way to reroute the comm links to give Scotty real time updates to the warp core. Spock had taken one look at Uhura on the bridge and promptly busied himself with a sensory relay inspection on deck twelve.

“I’m just glad we’re redoubling our efforts to something that will actually change,” Uhura muttered, attempting to tweak some circuits in a control panel. “Because Spock and I? Emphasis on the Spock, not a variable worth trying to change.”

“There’s a lot to recommend Spock,” Jim objected.

Uhura looked up from her work to the captain, hanging from the control panel by his chain. “Is that so?”

“He’s sweet, in his own way. Kind. He was a little overly logical, a little rough around the edges before, but-”

“Oooh,” Uhura said uneasily as if she just figured out a particularly difficult equation. “I see.”

“See what?” Chekov asked.

“Well bless my soul,” Bones drawled. “Who’d have known?”

“Who indeed,” Uhura muttered, pushing away from the console.

“Known what?” Chekov pestered again.

“True,” Jim said sternly, trying to redirect the conversation back to where it was supposed to be, away from Jim, the captain, the only man who couldn’t possibly be… in any case… “he’s no prince charming.”

“I wonder why I didn’t see it there before,” Bones asked.

“See what, doctor?” Chekov trilled, hopping up and down.

“Hush, Chekov. We’ll tell you when you’re older.”

Uhura scooped Jim up, carrying him to the next control panel, away from the ears of prying gravy boats. “You care for him, don’t you?” Uhura whispered, ignoring Chekov's affronted sputter.

“More than anything.”

“Then you must tell him.”

Jim’s gears caught and sped, an uneven pace that left him dizzy. “No, I can’t, I’m not even…”

“He loves you,” Uhura said. “I’m sure he does.”

“No,” Jim protested. “He doesn’t, it’s me, I can’t be.”

“Can’t be what?”

Jim sighed, his minute hand swinging loosely. “I am not enough. I’m the captain, Uhura. Do you know why I’m the watch, of all things? Spock never guessed, but I knew.

“A captain’s timepiece was the difference between the ship making it to port, or not. Fed, or not. Alive, or not. I can do that, I can be that for my crew, but Spock needs more than someone who can promise to get him home in one piece. Judging by my track record, personal and professional, I can't tangle up Spock needing me to get us home and him just needing me. I can't do that to him.”

“Oh, Jim. You sell yourself short.”

Chapter Text

At precisely 1155 Spock found Uhura and Jim to visit Engineering for their daily inspection of the warp core. As if Jim could forget, chronometer super powers aside.

“As you can see, the EPS manifold cannot be aligned with our present conditions,” Scotty, the armchair, explained, shuffling alongside Lieutenant Uhura as Jim and Spock walked behind them and Keenser-turned-ottoman scuttled at Uhura’s feet. “We’ve attempted to try a to triangulate most of the warp residue to find a source of its increased degradation, but no luck.”

“Remember the old Academy lab trick?” Uhura asked, thumbing through Scotty’s data.

“Stick a spanner in it, watch it explode?” Jim asked, a little alarmed.

“Aye, but that was for first-year cadets working with a very wee bit of antimatter.”

“That’s pretty much this situation, unfortunately,” Uhura pointed out. “Could be worth trying.”

“Aye…” Scotty conceded, shuffling over to another console. “Doctor McCoy, I don’t suppose you could run some calculations?”

“Yes, and I already know the answer is going to mean you’ll do stupid things,” he grumbled.

“I miss the old computer, didn’t state so much of the obvious,” Scotty confided to the rest of the assembled group. “I’m not sure I like the look of the data.”

“Margin of error?” Spock inquired.

“Higher than I’d like.”

Jim frowned, the hour hand quivering in deep thought. “Let’s do it.”

“Aye, captain,” Uhura immediately volunteered.

“No, Lieutenant, I will,” Jim said. “I’m made of alloy and no power source. It should be me.”

“Captain,” Spock objected, lifting him up to argue face to face. “You cannot risk yourself.”

“No other crew fits the criteria in this unique situation,” Jim pointed out. “I can roll in there, do the trial, and roll myself out.”

“Unacceptable, the risks are too high, as Mr. Scott indicated. I will conduct the trial,” Spock said firmly, reluctantly handing Jim to Uhura.

“No--” Jim objected, willing to pull rank.

“Please, Jim,” Spock said, his voice tight. “I ask for this. Please.”

Uhura’s hand tightened around Jim. “Very well.”

“It’s a bit like throwing a stick of dynamite at a tornado,” Scotty explained before Spock entered the protective chamber. “Do it and then get the hell out.”

Spock looked back at them, unamused. “Understood.”

Uhura held Jim up so he could see Spock’s progress in the chamber, as he set the spanner and activated the controls.

“Alright, Commander,” Scotty said, watching the readings in the warp core intently. “Easy does it.”

Spock extended the spanner with his hand into the eye of a small antimatter storm. It worked, immediately, the computers spilling out new data, indicating increased efficiency across the core.

“Amazing,” Scotty whispered.

And then it all went to hell.

As if peaking, efficiency began to plummet and Jim could hear the groaning of the warp core.

“Spock, get out of there,” Jim commanded, but it was too late.

Like a stick of dynamite in a tornado, and the dynamite turned on Spock.

Uhura had tossed Jim onto the seat of Scotty and couldn’t see how Uhura managed to drag Spock back to safety or what exactly happened in the chamber with the antimatter.

“Spock?” Jim asked. “What’s wrong with Spock?”

“I need more engineers down here,” Scotty said, frantically trying to contain the antimatter. “We’re down to three percent and antimatter is dropping.”

“Red alert!” Jim commanded, “engineering team and repair personnel to engineering.”

“Aye, Captain.” Bones said, relaying the message.

“Spock?” Uhura muttered, “talk to me.”

“I am,” Spock said, his voice shorting in and out, his eyes rolling back into his head intermittently. “Here.”

Jim threw himself off of Scotty, chipping his half-hunter cover. Glass be damned. He rolled over to her where she was joined by two other crew, a pair of galoshes and a Ressikan flute taking diagnostic information. “Status?”

“He needs alloys we don’t have on the ship,” Bones reported, displaying charts and lists on the screen. “He’s got pieces that haven’t been around for hundreds of years, hence the battery degradation, which isn’t helping matters. We just don’t have the materials to intervene.”

“What materials? Surely we could find something,” Uhura asked, stripping Spock out of his uniform, exposing the charred casing around his midsection. She pressed along the rusted seams opening him up, revealing the unusual mix of positronic pieces and gears that made up Spock.

The gears.

“You need gold,” Jim answered.

“Yes, gol-- why, how did you know that?” Bones asked, concerned.

Jim flipped, opened his case cover, exposing his balance wheel and regulator. “I’m made of gold.”

“No,” Uhura and Bones said at the same time.

“No,” Spock slurred.

Behind him there was a crash, Scotty shouting orders as Keenser scrabbled behind the warp core. Damn it, there was no time.

“You need to do it,” Jim insisted. “Just a few of the gears, they’re the right alloy, I’m sure. It’s like I was made for this. You can replace them with any other metal, I’m sure,” he told the galoshes, unsure if it was true. “I will be okay, but if Spock loses power, we don’t know what will happen to him.”

“No,” Spock insisted, trying to move his hand towards where Jim was on the floor. “Jim, the ship--”

“The ship needs its science officer, it needs you to figure out how to fix this. Captain’s orders.” At Spock’s distressed look, Jim scooted forward so he could look at him eye-level. “I will be okay. It’s like donating a kidney. No big deal.”

“I cannooo-tuh tuh tuh tuh.”

Jim felt Spock’s fingertips against him, felt him trace the small crack across his face. “I must. I never said-- but I have to.”

“Jiiiiii--” Spock clutched at Jim, bringing him closer to his face, and Jim could see Spock’s eyes starting to dim.

“I love you,” he whispered, watching Spock’s eyes widen, hearing but unseeing.

“Luh-luh-luh-luuuh,” Spock gasped, fingers twitching around Jim’s case and then went slack.

“Now,” Jim begged, “please, do it now.”

Uhura’s face peered down at him, her face wet with tears. She moved the case cover. “Captain,” she whispered, her voice quavering.

“Do it, please.”

--

Dying as a watch was strange. The time had been a gentle breeze that was caught between his precise gears and now it was gum, molasses, and then ice, freezing him down to his bow and crown. The flashing of the warp core faded from his view, and then he felt like his consciousness was being sucked through a straw.

When he finally awoke, he was more disoriented that he had no idea how much time had passed, rather than the actual event of awakening. He blinked, startled that he could blink.

He had eyelids. And eyeballs.

A pneumatic hiss and blinding light hit his face, making him flinch. He delicately stumbled forward, equilibrium upended, blinking at his new surroundings. The ballroom, the same one owned the mysterious benefactor/curse giver of LA2, but the ballroom was filled with stasis pods. Jim suspected there was probably over 400, one for every member of the Enterprise.

Hiss after hiss of stasis doors filled the room and Jim stumbled to see who emerged next.

“Uhura!” Jim beamed, squeezing her arm and accepting an earnest hug of relief. “Chekov? Is that you?”

“Whoa,” the ensign said, dazed as he stumbled out of his stasis chamber. “You’ve got to try zis zing.”

“Pavel, there you are. And where’s Sulu?” Jim asked, delighted when his navigator popped out from behind a corner where more and more crew were pouring out. “Look at us!”

“Captain, I’ve got a working transporter here with a note instructing us to go home,” Scotty called. Jim stared at it, then turned to Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu, who all shrugged. “The computer says it’s only been twenty minutes since our last communication with the ship. We haven't even lost a full hour in the real world.”

“How?” Jim asked, the reality of it all knocking him for another loop. Why? And who?

“Augmented reality!” the Bones crowed. “I knew it.” Jim laughed, an honest to goodness belly laugh, that stuck in his throat as soon as he caught Spock’s intense gaze from across the room. He’d honestly forgotten how gears could never compensate for flesh and blood, as his heart almost burst when Spock cut through the crowd of elated people straight to his captain.

“Jim,” Spock murmured, swaying a little into the other man, and then his face crumpled, reaching out for the captain. “Jim, your face.”

Jim reached up, feeling his cheeks, finding the edge of a scar near his jaw that cut up to his ear, like flesh had cracked. “Huh, I think I did that as a pocket watch.”

“Yes,” Spock murmured, covering Jim’s hand with his own, perplexed as he was. Jim relished the heat, the smoothness of his hands.

“Do you think it was real?” Jim asked.

Spock pondered, and then lifted his other hand to cradle Jim’s head as gently as he held Jim when he was but glass and gears and kept near Spock’s heart.

“All the important parts were.”

--
Chekov stared with rapt curiosity at the science officer and his captain, locked in a passionate kiss. The doctor slapped him on the shoulder, bringing the ensign back to matters at hand.

“Off to the barracks with you now, Chekov. It’s past your bedtime.”

 

And they lived happily ever after...