The medbay is chaos, drowned by Spock’s own labored and wet gasps.
There is a pressure on his chest, a gaping wound near his heart, and he stares in wonder at the ceiling. At the rate that he is losing blood, he should have died no less than three point five minutes ago. He attributes his continued and frankly painful existence to one Leonard McCoy, M.D. They try in vain to stem the bleeding and Nurse Chapel flutters near his unwounded side. Spock estimates he is connected to six medical devices now, the most important of which is not yet pumping. The Vulcan blood that will replace his lost reserves cannot help him until the bleeding has ceased.
Nurse Chapel smiles down at him and there is a splash of green across her soft blue tunic.
The thoughts that touch his twitching hand are not of her mind and Spock’s head swims when he turns. His eyesight deteriorates but he can just make out the shock of blond hair, gold, and tanned human skin spoiled by dark green stains.
“Hey, Spock,” the Captain- Jim- croaks. Spock closes his eyes and the slowing beats must be his heart, but they remind him of Vulcan drums and his mother’s sweet singing. A thumb brushes his cheek and Spock supposes this is not the worst way to go. Better than in a volcano, alone. Here, surrounded by their crew, in their ship. “It’ll be alright, sweetheart,” Jim continues, voice oddly choked but Spock cannot force his heavy eyelids open, cannot move his hand, cannot quite breathe. “Bones’ll have you patched up, no problem. Nothing to worry about.” Jim laughs and it is the last sound that Spock hears.
* * *
There is little to no discussion of the failed mission, the near loss of Spock’s life, but the bridge crew awards him a standing ovation when he first returns to alpha shift. The display is curious, involving not just the humans but the other races at their consoles as well as the Captain.
He nods his head to quiet them and stands aside the Captain’s chair, regarding the display screen. “I was unaware that one could be congratulated for returning from forced leave.”
Jim only smiles and stands, stretching with a sigh of relief. “We’re just all glad to have you back, Commander. It was pretty touch and go there for a while. Bones nearly pronounced you dead when you went into that weird trance thing.”
“Healing sleep,” Spock corrects.
“Yes, that,” Jim shakes his head but Spock finds that his eyes look fond. He pats Spock’s upper arm, lingering, and waves at the chair. “I’ll leave her in your care. I could use a good night’s sleep.”
“Have you not slept well?”
Jim’s smile is mysterious. Spock does not understand what part of his question evokes this human emotional response. “Ah, Spock. Tough week.”
There is no more conversation, beyond reports and those arriving on the bridge. The chair is warm, soaked in Jim’s soft scent, and Spock finds the bridge quiet enough to meditate.
* * *
Gingerly, he touches his fully healed side. There is not a scar to remember the wound, there are no aches, and psychosomatic symptoms are unheard of in Vulcans. Yet, Spock feels the need to be careful. Lucky, McCoy had told him. He had been very lucky.
He opens his eyes, relaxes at his console, and wonders when he slipped into a light sleep. He has been on shift for the last three days, unwilling to leave his scanning to the science officers that take his station when he leaves. They are in an unexplored quadrant and he is fascinated by the formations these stars create. “Captain?”
There is a soft touch to his upper back, just under the collar of his shirt. He wonders if Jim is mindful of his exposed skin. If he purposefully avoids such intimate contact or the whisper of transferring thoughts.
“You need to sleep. Get the hell out of here.”
“Wasn’t a suggestion, Commander,” Jim says, moving back to encourage Spock to stand. With a soft sigh, Spock does so and only briefly glances at him. “And I don’t want to see you until you’ve gotten a full cycle. No lab either!”
Spock opens his mouth to protest.
Jim’s eyebrow does an astounding mimic of McCoy’s when the doctor is daring Jim or Spock to fight him and see what will occur. The argument dies before Spock voices it and he nods. Jim touches him once more, pushing him toward the turbolift. Spock moves, knowing the battle is lost.
“Humor me. Get some sleep, sweetheart,” Jim murmurs just before the turbolift slides shut and leaves Spock alone, on his way to his quarters.
He ponders the meaning behind Jim’s word choice.
In his quarters, after several hours of sleep, it occurs to him that this term is not much different from words evoked by Dr. McCoy. Perhaps then it is vernacular and Jim does not use the term exclusively with Spock. After all, McCoy uses the term darling directly and in reference to Jim consistently. Honey or variations thereof are often employed when McCoy is speaking to injured or frightened crew members, regardless of sex or species.
Spock can recall a time when McCoy also called him “princess.” Though, truthfully, Spock has yet to understand the correct meaning of that particular term. Spock is not and will never be a princess of any planet, even ones where gender do not restrict such titles. It is unlikely to be a term of affection. McCoy had been hostile at the time.
There is little to no evidence to support Jim having used such a word before, however. Spock’s theory remains ill-supported. But the idea of Jim speaking to another crew member in such an affection manner leaves Spock feeling unsettled.
However, it does not bother Spock to be referred to in such a manner.
Especially by Jim. Only by Jim.
* * *
“Captain, Doctor. What are your thoughts on the endearment ‘sweetheart’?” It is not subtle. Spock does not practice subtly.
Jim’s mouth is full and McCoy replies first. “Hell, I think it’s a nice one. Partial to dear and love myself, you understand.”
“After a couple Tennessee whiskeys, Bones calls anything with a pulse ‘sugar’ if you wait long enough!” Jim pipes up, grinning wide until McCoy lands a solid kick to his shin. He grunts, wincing and hiding his pain in a sip of his coffee. “It is nice, though. Why, what’s going on?”
Spock raises an eyebrow at Jim. Was such an addition to Jim’s vocabulary really unnoticed?
“Ah,” McCoy says softly, knowingly, and he takes Spock’s tray with his own. “Leave y’all to it.”
“What? Where are you going, Bones?”
McCoy gives him a stern look and Jim resettles into his seat. “Back to medical. Now you just sit there and listen well to your First,” the Doctor orders and inclines his head to Spock.
If Spock were given to human emotions, he perhaps would have felt a surge of affection for the older man.
“Are you aware that you have twice called me ‘sweetheart’ in recent weeks?” Spock asks immediately when they are left alone.
Though his voice is lowered, Jim looks around, blushing to the top of his rounded ears, and finally settles a wide eyed stare at Spock. Disbelief? Spock is not adept at reading human body language. It speaks emotion to loudly and Spock cannot always decipher what he is meant to see. Jim’s voice is a squeak, “I’ve what?” Spock can almost see Jim puzzle it out, find the moments. The line of his shoulders tenses visibly. There is no doubt what he is remembering.
Spock blinks away the image of Jim stained with dark green.
“I do not find it displeasing.”
Jim opens his mouth. Closes it. “Excuse me?” His hand closes on the table as if to steady himself. “Can’t imagine that you find it flattering. Sweetheart is usually... I mean, well, it’s romantic so.” The blush returns, though Spock notes it spreads to Jim’s neck now. “I didn’t... Well, I guess I meant to. I mean, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. As your captain, it was inappropriate.”
Spock raises a hand and Jim stops in his tracks. As your captain, Jim says. Yet Spock is in control of their conversations. “You do not use this term with others?”
The reply is quick, a snap, too fast for a lie. Jim does not hesitate and Spock feels something unfurl in his chest and warm him.
“That is most agreeable. I would find myself... unsettled if you used it with another. I am flattered by your choice and would be amenable to its continued use.”
Instead of looking pleased, Jim’s lips thin and he removes his hand from the side of the table to lay both palms flat before him. He leans close, eyes steady, and frowns. Spock cannot interpret this body language. It unnerves him. Has he angered his captain somehow? This is not the reaction that he had hoped for.
“Spock,” Jim says finally, when he has finished searching Spock’s face for something. “Do you understand what you’re saying? You’re agreeing to more than just an endearment here. Is this some weird Vulcan prelude to dating? Are we about to be exclusive?”
Spock tries not to sigh. He should have known. “I do not enter into such situations lightly, nor come to conclusions such as this without weighing all factors.” Including his own feelings, though he will not admit to that. And still there are some things he cannot decide. He has not touched Jim’s mind to know their compatibility but their chemistry is undeniable. “To your point of exclusivity, I find it fascinating that you do not imagine we are not already. You touch me with more frequency, intimacy, and purpose than you do any other member of the crew, including Dr. McCoy. I do not allow anyone else such liberties with my person, even in times of peril. Are we not already exclusive to one another? This is a formality at best.”
Jim stares at him, makes a small noise, and finally nods, face alight with color. There are a few straying eyes that watch them, curious over their Captain’s distress. They do not linger when they see they’ve been caught by Spock.
“Jesus, wow, okay. Holy shit.” Jim rubs at his face. “This isn’t a one and done, Spock. Seeing you on that biobed...” Jim does not say that he loves Spock. Perhaps it is uncommon for humans to be so forthright.
Unspoken, it hangs in the air between them.
“Are you aware that Vulcans do not kiss in the same manner as humans?”
Jim does not seem to know what to do with the deflection. He only blinks, waiting. Curiosity evident.
“Vulcan kisses are achieved with our hands.” Spock finishes, taking Jim’s tray to dispose of it. He doesn’t stand from the table just yet. There is too much reward in watching his captain’s face slide from confusion, to sudden realization, to complete and utter embarrassment. Even before the touch of Jim’s hand to his own as he lay dying, there had been many that could be considered kisses. “Yes, Jim, I find that I have been more serious regarding this matter than even I had realized.”
He stands, finally, when Jim’s face seems to glow with happiness. His mother often proclaimed that faces he made as a Vulcan child would stay if kept too long. Illogical, in a way only a Terran saying can be.
Spock half hopes that wide, careless smile will stay on Jim’s face.
Though he cannot help himself when he leans down to whisper, “As per our normal arrangements, I will join you in your quarters this evening for a game of chess, sweetheart.”
It is worth the splutters and squeaks that trail behind Spock as he returns to the bridge.