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Pressure

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He's worn them since his first year at the Academy, the soft thermasilk snug around his wrists, keeping him warm, reminding him of the gravitational pressure of his lost home planet. Even when Jim would remove his uniform, stroking over his pale, chilled flesh, promising to warm it with his own, Spock never let him take them off. The fabric hid the near-white scars, hid the sage dermal layers growing over freshly sealed wounds, hid the ridges and dips of his mottled skin, and Spock despaired of Kirk ever finding out the depths of his depravity.

 

 

"I thought they were a modified style of the undershirt at first, you know," his captain had told him one day as they ate lunch, the tip of a tan finger taping the side of Spock's hand where the tight-knit black fabric covered his palm up to the base of his fingers. "I had to look very closely before I realized they're a separate article of clothing entirely. What are they?" Jim's blue eyes were curious, open in that clear, inquisitive manner he had anytime the opportunity to learn something new arose, and for once Spock didn't feel as though his privacy was being invaded by the question.

"My mother made them for me. She called them "armwarmers," an early twentieth-century fad predominantly found in teenage women. However, the decreased gravity and temperature of Earth became progressively more uncomfortable in regards to my joints, and my mother created these for me to help compensate. They are high-density thermasilk blend that both keeps me warm, and adds an element of compression to my wrists and forearms."

"...Compression?" It took a moment, but Spock saw Jim's mind put it together. "The gravity. You actually feel less atmospheric pressure on your body?" Spock nodded. "Wait, I don't mean to pry, Spock, but this could be important for me to know--are the conditions on the ship damaging to you? The temperature and pressure? Do we need to look into other ways to accommodate you for your health?" The curiosity in those eyes shifted rapidly to gentle concern.

"I do not believe it is necessary at this time, Captain. My current condition is managed sufficiently by Dr. McCoy's regimen of supplementary hyposprays and frequent resistance exercise. For the future, however, Mr. Scott and I are already discussing modifications to the environmental controls for individual crew quarters given the increase of non-human Starfleet personnel. The ability to alter cabin pressure, gravity, humidity, oxygen/nitrogen balance, and other environmental factors in addition to the current temperature and lighting controls would be exceptionally useful in future starships."

The look Jim gave him was clear, open, brilliant -- and utterly indecipherable.

 

 

Jim paused after Spock pulled him close that first time. Spock's clothes were gone -- compression socks and all -- but the armwarmers still hugged tight about his wrists. The urge to inquire was forefront in his mind, coloring the nervous lust, and Spock hesitated when his telepathy caught it through the press of his captain's skin.

Unlike Nyota, Jim did not ask. He went into Spock's arms, drove fervent, trembling fingers into the Vulcan's hair, and used his warm, wet, human lips to explore instead of speak.

Spock had been intimate with the lieutenant, yes, but intercourse with her, while fulfilling, had never once held the intense riot of emotion and sensation he felt now with Jim; not at any part during their lovemaking, and his captain had done nothing so far but kiss him.

The heat of Jim's body was like hearth fires, desert sands, molten gold, and Spock curled up into it, pressing his chilled form against his captain, opening to him as he returned the kiss and wound his arms around the slim triangle of his hips. Vulcan strength shuddered into bonelessness as those warm hands tilted his head to the side, hot lips traveling down his cheek, his throat, the fire of Jim's tongue flicking against his collarbone and the pulse of his heart beating there. 

He was relentless, thorough, caressing Spock with a dizzying blend of tenderness and intensity, calloused palms smoothing over cool skin, fingers working their way inside his trembling body, making room for the heat and pressure of that moment when their bodies existed as one entity. It was a symphony, a concerto, an entire composition all of its own that swelled and then eased, leaving Spock's heart dancing in his side, his body damp with Jim's sweat as his captain lay across him, breathing hard, holding him tightly, and the Vulcan could almost imagine the Man never wished to let him go.

 

 

It had been barbarous, days of psi-inhibitors taking his controls away from him, his ability to meditate destroyed, the tendrils of connection to his father, to Nyota, the thin familial threads of McCoy and Jim and the others no longer creating a small bundle in the empty space where the telepathic weight of his entire race had once resided. Destruction in its purest of forms, watching the woman he loved as a sister brutalized, thrown back into the arms of the Doctor after each 'session,' her clothes increasingly torn and blood slowly collecting in the scattered length of her hair. Chekov, the crew's little brother, holding a broken arm to his bruised chest, staring at the floor as Sulu raged, desperate to take the young navigator's place this time -- but their captors refused to release the chains binding him to the stone, leaving him straining to pull scraped, bleeding hands through the intractable metal shackles. There was little fight left in him once they ran his own katana through his abdomen. 

Spock realized the drug was more than a psi-inhibitor then, as he screamed along with the pilot, feeling the hot-sharp-cold-slice-pain of the blade impaling the  man, felt McCoy's horror and rage at knowing that to withdraw the blade would be sentencing Sulu to a somewhat faster, but still achingly slow death, felt the bruises pressed into Nyota's thighs and the anguished fear of what-if-next-time-they-actually as the explosion of empathic force began to fade into a steady awareness of everything happening in the minds and bodies of those around him.

Four days, Jim told him.  Four days of being held by unknown aliens, for unknown reasons, and all they seemed to want was to cause pain. Three days of telepathic evisceration, of being inundated by every sensation experienced in every sense by those surrounding him in that prison of stone, of being so deeply immersed in their individual and collective trauma that Spock sat catatonic for hours in the Medbay, unable to separate himself from it, to meditate, to fall into a healing trance, to break from the experience. It had taken another day of sedation, several tox-screens, and finally a course of drugs to counteract the psychic poison to bring the Vulcan back into some semblance of his normal self, and as soon as he could speak, he seized Jim's arm with a grip hard enough to bruise and begged the captain to take him somewhere, anywhere but a space filled with others.

He'd fled to the bathroom off his cabin as soon as the door slid closed behind them, barely hearing Jim seal the door and settle into the chair at Spock's desk. The armwarmers were still snug about his wrists; he'd struck the nurse who tried to remove them, and M'Benga had told her not to try again. They were filthy, and he set them aside carefully, visible beside the sink, waiting for the gentle, delicate cleaning he would give them later. Having his captain there as he scrubbed the emotional residue of the experience from his already-clean skin in the sonic shower, parted from him only by the barrier of a single bulkhead, was somehow comforting instead of oppressive, and he reveled in it, stopping only to pull on an unsoiled pair of the long almost-gloves over his arms and a towel around his waist before he left the small room.

Jim was still there, waiting. He watched with a furrowed brow and worried eyes as Spock crossed the space between them, standing as the Vulcan trembled before him, feeling adrift, lost, needing contact to reaffirm even one of the bonds that his mind had thought lost during the ordeal. They existed, but all were covered in grey mist, waiting for him to find them and center them again.

"Please, Jim..." He didn't know what he was asking for. Contact. Something to tie him back down, to make him feel connected again, to feel himself and not the unfocused agony of being other than himself. A quivering of the lip, a forward lean, and Spock seized him, reached for him, held him, pressed the warmth of Jim's clothed body to the unbearable chill of his naked one. The embrace was returned, strong, brave, unreserved, emotions swirling wildly under a tight canopy that kept them from escaping into the Vulcan's mind, though he felt the barest wisps of them dancing over his skin.

"Spock," Jim pulled back after a moment, blue eyes staring into brown, uncertain, but not unwilling, and Spock was lost.

"Jim. Jim...please." He gasped, panicked for a moment, feeling the burgeoning contact slipping away. "I do not feel as though I am...Spock."

This time, when he tugged on the blond, the man did not resist, and the heat of his body, the fire of his passion, burned away the echoes of remembered despair.

 

 

They stayed wrapped around each other for some time, the emissions of their bodies cloying, tacking them together, but the throbbing pulse of Jim's heart against Spock's ribs was a comfort he was unwilling to remove himself from. Jim spoke first, his words nearly lost to the space between Spock's shoulder and the dip of his throat.

"This can be whatever you need, Spock," his captain said quietly. "I won't ask you for anything. It doesn't have to be anything, or mean something. Just...you can come to me, or I can come to you, if you need to feel--if you need to feel something, or you don't know how to manage." If misery swirled through Spock, somehow separated from himself, distanced as all but the tactile sensations of Jim were, he refused to acknowledge it.

"I am...gratified."

The misery became heartbreak, an emotion Spock had learned intimately through the past days of experiencing Sulu's failed attempts to protect Chekov, McCoy's hands trying to wipe away the black stains of invasive fingers on Nyota's skin. Jim gave him one final, gentle squeeze and then rose, drawing him into the shower, cleaning them both under the sonic stream, using careful hands to soothe his tired body.

He had not been tucked into a bed since he was a child. Jim's warmth stayed with him even after the Man had finished wrapping a coverlet snugly around Spock, cued the lights down to ten percent, and slipped out of the cabin.

The heartbreak remained.

 


 

 

It became 'a thing,' as Nyota called it; a thing he and Jim never spoke of, but did when the trials of their mission became too much, when they needed to connect, to reconnect, to release stress, to feel. The lieutenant didn't approve, but then, she was struggling to overcome the horror of being faced with repeated assaults on her person, all out of her control, each one coming closer and closer to the terrible invasion that she barely escaped. There was no doubt in any of them that had the Enterprise crew not come to their rescue, Nyota would have become the complete victim of the most heinous of crimes.  She never wore the uniform skirt again, always opting for the long pants instead, and could often be found in the office of Dr. McCoy -- or his arms, though no one else was able to come close enough to touch even in passing.

She talked to Spock, though, and that was what he needed, just to sit opposite a table in the mess, in a quiet corner, in view of everyone where she felt safe because no one would hurt her while everyone was watching -- because even Spock was suspect to her vulnerable psyche -- but secluded enough where they would not be overheard, where he could tell her about this strange dichotomy of give and take between himself and Jim, and not feel so lost in it, so alone.

"Friends with benefits, Spock," she said. "That's what this is. There's nothing wrong with it, as long as you both know that's what it is, that you're both getting what you want from it."

"I...I am not." He ached for more, ached for repeats of that single heady kiss Jim had given him that first time. He longed to feel more than the distant skate of Jim's mind against his own, sealed behind the immutable barrier his captain -- his lover? -- had erected between them.  

"You should tell him."

"I cannot."

She understood, though she was not pleased. He could not let what little connection he had with this man go, could not give in to the desire to press further when he knew Jim wanted to keep things as they were. He would not risk losing what was there, having dropped it in the attempt to reach out and grasp for more.  He loved his captain, he knew, loved him as he had thought he loved Nyota, loved him as powerfully as he had loved his mother, though this love was unique in all the universe. He would take anything he could get, eat the scraps off the table of Jim's feast, if only to have a place at his side.

It was not enough.

 

 

Emotions were like the plasma that ran through the warp core, that fueled the ship and her systems, racing from location to location, needing careful control and regulation to prevent explosions and meltdowns and leaks.

He needed a pressure-valve, a way to release the plasma safely into the cool emptiness of space, and he found it where he always had; in the focused burn of a laser scalpel applied to just the right place, for just the right amount of time. Not too high, or someone would see; not too low, or it would effect his operational efficiency. Not too brief, or too much of the volatile substance would be trapped within him; not too long, or he would lose too much of that which needed to be kept. It was a delicate balance, and one that he struggled furiously to maintain.

Dermal regenerators were kept in the standard first-aid kit clamped to a bulkhead in every cabin, but their use was monitored on a starship; obtaining a personal regenerator was simple, if not easy, as theoretically he had no need of one. The scalpel he'd already acquired as a young man on Vulcan, learning the storm of emotions for the first time, with no strong guidance on how a Vulcan was expected to emote, and no opening to do so as a Human would.

His mother had found him bleeding into the sink, their regenerator dark on the counter, drained of power. Spock had wrapped a towel around the cuts, trying unsuccessfully to staunch the blood. She'd screamed for Sarek, and Spock had never seen such a look on his father's face; not before, not since. That was the last time he had wounded himself in such a way, and those were the most ugly of the scars left behind. It had taken too long to get him into the hospital in ShiKar for regeneration to prevent scarring. He'd started hiding his arms after that, just to avoid seeing Mother cry.

He wondered if Jim...No. No, this would not break Jim. The captain would take him to McCoy and have him declared medically compromised, but he would not weep over Spock. Spock was not Christopher Pike, the only individual for whom Spock had ever seen Jim shed tears. He was not even McCoy, the ever-present Bones over whom Jim hovered whenever things went wrong, whose side Jim would not leave on the rare occasion the doctor himself was the one hurt, instead of the one treating the hurts of others. Spock was the friend to whom Jim went when he needed a sexual release; he was not so important for tears.

The thought was a surge of plasma overloading a vital system, and instead of clicking the scalpel off, he added another row of pressure valves to the existing set, trying to banish the image of his mother's tears and Jim's disappointed face.

 

 


Chapter Text

"How do you keep him from figuring all this out, anyway?" Bones asked as they ate lunch. "Touch-telepath and all, and I highly doubt the two of you have figured out a way to be fuck buddies without physical contact."

"Bones!" Jim whispered fiercely, flushing. The doctor smirked. Jim squirmed in his chair, spinning his fork absently through the thin pasta on his plate. "Command training, to answer your question."

"How's that?" Bones said, eyebrows drawing down in the complete opposite look of inquiry as the one Spock used. Something squeezed in Jim's chest at the thought of the Vulcan's favorite facial expression.

"So everybody got the basic 'Resistance to Psychic Interrogation' seminar series, but Command Track has an entire course module over two semesters; the first is training, the second is practice with Vulcan and Betazoid 'interrogators.' Not particularly fun, but necessary, and teaches you pretty solidly how to create a shield around things you don't want psi-sensitive or better individuals to have access to."

McCoy's lettuce was falling off his fork, halfway to his open mouth.

"How did I not know about this?" He fumed. "I'm a doctor, damnit, I should know about this sort of thing!" Jim shrugged.

"Probably because you entered Starfleet as a full-fledged medical doctor and got to skip a bunch of classes? It's probably something they would've covered, I'm sure." McCoy's face was turning purple.  "So! How's Uhura?" Jim asked quickly, dodging that bullet as efficiently as he could -- by distracting Bones with something even more uncomfortable. The doctor huffed.

"You asking as the Captain, as her friend, or as mine, Jim?" He pushed his fork down into his plate, re-stabbing his bite of salad, and stuck it in his mouth.

"A bit of all of them, I suppose. Go through the list." He shrugged, staring at the pasta he should be eating, but didn't have the stomach for. 

"Well, she's still functioning efficiently enough to remain on duty. Refused extended leave of absence for trauma, though God only knows why. She's keeping up with her mandated psychological therapy and continuing to meet required psych-profile standards. I don't see any potential need to take her off duty due to this incident. She's doing well." The clinical, efficient voice did not mask the concern in the doctor's eyes, or cover the echoes of what he'd seen happen to the lieutenant during their capture.

"As her friend?"  Bones shook his head.

"As her friend, I can't tell you shit. Doctor-patient confidentiality. She's not dying, best I got for you. Go talk to her." Jim snorted.

"Fair enough. And as your friend?" He tilted his head, leaning forward to catch the gaze that clouded over slightly, staring into nothing for a moment.

"As my friend...I have to tell you, Jim, part of me has no idea what's going on here." Jim raised his eyebrows, wishing he could mimic that single-brow stare of Spock's. His heart twinged again.

"Oh?"

"We've kinda...got a thing." Jim blinked. A few times. Quickly.

"A thing."

"Yeah." The doctor's face was turning purple again, a ruddy, embarrassed hue, not a puce, angry one.

"Like...a thing? Like Spock's and my thing?" Jim was somehow both shocked and entirely unsurprised.

"Yeah."

"Oh." Jim was silent for a moment, contemplating actually eating some of the pasta on his plate. "So...how's that working out for you?" Bones sighed deeply, putting his fork down entirely and resting his chin against his folded hands, hiding his mouth behind his fingers, eyes closed, brow furrowed.

"There's a reason they kept dumping her back on my lap, Jim," he said softly. "That's where they first found her when they came to take her away." It took Jim a split second, but he got it, put the pieces together, and his nonexistent appetite became blatant nausea.

"You were already together."

"Had been for a couple weeks." Bones finally opened his eyes, staring at Jim with a pained expression. "She's a beautiful woman, Jim. Inside and out. Freakishly intelligent, puts you and Spock and Chekov and all of the rest running for your reputations. Memorizes things in minutes. Cares so goddamn deep about everyone and everything. How could I not be crazy about her?" Jim's eyes watered. His friend's voice resonated with every visceral emotion he carried for Spock.

"They ripped her away from me, Jim. She'd cut her head, she had blood in her hair, and all I wanted to do was take care of her but they dragged her out of that damn stone cell and left me chained up behind. Got a good wallop for trying to hold onto her. And when they brought her back..." his whole body cringed, his voice a rough whisper as he tried again. "When they brought her back, they threw her into my arms, hard enough that my elbow smacked into the stone trying to cushion the impact. She was sobbing and shaking and wiping her hands down her skirt -- but she wasn't wiping her hands down her skirt. She was pushing her skirt back down her legs, and she wasn't wearing anything underneath it."

Jim reached over, plate and utensils forgotten, putting a hand on the trembling doctor's shoulder, squeezing gently, feeling his throat tighten, remembering Nyota's empty stare when they'd finally come and rescued the landing party.

"I was too horrified to even be furious, Jim. She just sat there in my arms, shoving at her skirt, over and over and over, until I finally grabbed her face and made her look at me. 'They didn't. They didn't, but they will. I'm so scared they will.' She said that so many times, like she couldn't stop. I think Spock would've killed them all if they hadn't shot him up with whatever that shit was. They just kept taking her, pulling her around by her hair, and made sure we couldn't stop them--didn't even bother to chain Spock up." Tears were winding down the doctor's cheeks as he stared out of the bulkhead window into the darkness of space. Jim squeezed his shoulder again.

"I'm so sorry, Bones. Are you two...are you doing okay?" The doctor looked askance at him with another deep snort.

"You mean are we fucking? She practically attacked me the first opportunity she got. 'Trauma response,' the shrink calls it." He rolled his eyes at Jim's expression. "We're a couple, we went through the same damn trauma together. We both have mandated counseling sessions for the time being, and sometimes we go together. Anyway, yeah, we have sex. But it's not like it was. I think I'm starting to love her, Jim--" his nostrils flared, breath catching, "--but I also think that she won't let this be more than a thing."

Jim looked from the doctor to his half-eaten plate of food, to his own untouched pasta, to his reflection in the transparent aluminum of the bulkhead windows. They were both wrecked, and they both knew it.

"We can't go on like this, Bones."

"What, desperately in love, painfully unrequited, woefully ill-equipped to do anything about it?"

"....Yeah. Something like that."

McCoy hung his head, glancing over his shoulder at the secluded table where Nyota and Spock sat; her chair pressed into the corner, giving her view of the entire mess with no one able to get behind her, his at least an arm's reach away.

"You're not wrong, Jim. You're not wrong."

 

 

"I'm hurting him, Spock."

"The simple fact that he is hurting does not necessarily mean that you are the cause. What we went through was deeply traumatic, and we are all suffering the ill effects. I am certain the doctor is not holding any of this against you."

Her dark eyes watered and she shook her head, the thick bun she'd taken to wrapping her hair into bouncing gently on the back of her skull. "You should see the way he looks at me, when we...when we're together." Spock did not miss the alteration of her vocabulary, the way she used new words where once she would have described her intimacies with the Doctor as 'making love.' "He's in pain."

"He grieves for you. As do I." Nyota's face morphed into panic, her fingers splaying wide, lifting slightly off of her knees as though she were almost going to reach for Spock in desperation.

"No, not you too. Please." She gasped slightly, eyes losing focus, the wetness becoming true tears. "I can't be losing you too." Spock was absolutely bewildered, and raised an eyebrow at her, cocking his head to one side, gazing at her in confusion and concern.

"Calm yourself, Nyota, please. You are not losing anyone, least of all me." He paused, struggling to find the words. Emoting was ever-difficult. "Your pain...distresses me. But I would be more distressed were I to be disallowed the opportunity to attempt to aid you in recovering from it."

She blinked, chest heaving, but her body gradually relaxed as she worked through his small speech. Delicate fingers rose to brush at her cheeks.

"Nyota." The lieutenant looked at him, lips trying to quirk into a smile. The attempt failed, but he was somewhat heartened by it. "I request that you please allow me to touch the tip of my finger to the side of your hand." Her eyes went wide, and she trembled, drawing back slightly in her chair.

"Why?" She asked, too quickly, the panic returning.

"Nyota." He kept his voice soothing, low, calm. "You are surrounded by your friends, this crew. You are safe. I will not, and would never, harm you. Trust me. Please."

She stared at him warily, her traumatized subconscious battling with her intelligence, her faith.

One long, slender arm stretched across the table, fingers curled into a loose, shaking fist. Slowly, careful not to move any part of his body but his hand and the arm attached to it, Spock reached out to meet her. Once their hands were almost touching, he extended his forefinger, lightly pressing the pad against the space just below the knuckle of Nyota's pinkie.

She shook as he gathered every deep, warm emotion he'd absorbed from McCoy during their ordeal and let it flow gently into her mind, allowing the affection-adoration-admiration to touch her first, followed by desire-to-hold desire-to-protect desire-to-always-be-beside. The desire he chased with bright sparks of arousal-passion-need, and as her eyes closed, absorbing the waves, he wove the despair-helplessness-heartache-worry-empathy-sympathy-distress the doctor had experienced while watching her suffer. He let her feel the need-for-vengeance righteous-fury, and then covering it all, he flooded her mind with the depthless intensity of McCoy's affection-love, love-love-love.

Spock withdrew, watching as Nyota rose, tears streaming silently down her face as her hands came up to cover her mouth and nose.

"I--I have to--" She choked.

"I know," he replied.

She fled the mess.

 

 

"What just happened?!" Bones asked wildly, half-risen out of his seat, looking from Spock to the door closing behind Nyota to Jim in utter confusion. Jim held up his hands, just as clueless. "I'm going to follow her, make sure she's okay. Bring the Hobgoblin or something? If she runs off again--"

"I got it, Bones. Go." The doctor made his way rapidly after the lieutenant, and Jim went to where Spock still sat at the table in the corner.

"Walk with me," he said sternly. The Vulcan rose.

"Yes, Captain."

"What the Hell just happened, Spock?" Jim demanded as they left the mess, following the trail of wide-eyed, curious onlookers staring after his sobbing Communications Officer and frantic CMO.

"Nyota has been under the mistaken impression that Doctor McCoy is distancing himself from her due to the events of our captivity. I took advantage of my own personal vulnerability during that time and disabused her of that notion."

Kirk stopped mid-step and stared.

"....You what!?"

Chapter Text

"I took advantage of my own personal vulnerability during that time and disabused her of that notion," Spock repeated, catching Jim's elbow as he wavered, one foot still hanging in the air.

"Oh, I heard you. I'm just not sure how to react. Please tell me you didn't mind-meld with her and dump all of Bones' personal and private thoughts into her head?" His eyes were wide, a hint of pink staining his cheeks in the wake of blossoming indignation. He shifted so that he was unwittingly squeezing Spock's forearm where earlier the Vulcan had steadied him.

"Not...entirely, Captain," Spock replied, suddenly grateful that human strength was not that of a Vulcan. If it were, his skin would already be bruising. The thermasilk warmers did not cushion the squeeze but did help to mute the faint transference bleeding off Jim’s carefully controlled mind. "I did not meld with her. I merely touched a small patch of skin on her hand and allowed her to feel what the Doctor feels regarding her."

Jim released him to bring his hand up and pinch the bridge of his nose. 

"Omgod, Spock. That definitely falls into the 'personal and private' category. Bones is going to be furious." His fingers shifted to the far sides of his eyes and began massaging his temples. Spock forced himself to look down the corridor instead of at his Captain's primary digits, struggling not to imagine them rubbing similar circles into his own forehead, over his cheekbone, slowly caressing his face.

Tender expressions of affection were not things they did. Spock stiffened.

"I believe, Captain, that such a reaction would depend on whether or not the outcome is in the Doctor's favor," he said tightly. Jim's face rose so his eyes looked at Spock over the space connecting his thumb and forefinger.

Jim huffed a laugh. It was a wry, helpless sound, and lasted only one stuttered breath before the Captain strode down the corridor to the nearest com-panel and activated the computer.

"What is the location of Lieutenant Nyota Uhura?" he asked wearily.

"Lieutenant Nyota Uhura is currently in the Medbay."

"That is either a very positive development," Spock began,

"Or a very, very negative one," Jim finished for him with a heavy sigh.

"Indeed."

 

The Medbay was quiet, filled only with the sounds of a few nurses doing paperwork somewhere off away from the patient area and the occasional whirring of a centrifuge spinning in the lab.

"Well, I don't hear shouting," Jim said tentatively, looking around as though he expected the couple to jump out from behind a privacy curtain and accost him.

"Indeed," Spock said again. "Perhaps we should investigate the Doctor's office, Captain. Discreetly, of course."

"Discreet, yeah. You know that's my middle name, right?" Jim was flustered, stumbling over one of his favorite jokes, and Spock could find no logical reason why. Nor a particularly applicable illogical one.

Spock's concern, however, became irrelevant as Jim poked his head around the last curtain separating the general ward from the short hall containing various specialized rooms and McCoy's office. His Captain relaxed suddenly, a deep breath of relief spilling from his lips. Spock looked away again, redirecting his gaze to the window of the office, and felt a tension he had not previously noticed melt away.

McCoy was standing with his back mostly to the window, his arms wrapped tightly around the shaking form of Nyota Uhura as she wept into the space where his chest met his shoulder. Her hands were fists gripping his shirt at the collarbone and the hip, her knuckles pale. The doctor rocked her slightly, the muscle below his jaw making the simple movement associated with a soft murmur. One of his hands reached up and began stroking through Nyota's hair, slowly brushing out the harsh bun she'd been creating with it since their imprisonment. 

"I'm glad she didn't chop it off," Jim said quietly. "The other day Bones told me she was considering it; she wasn't even comfortable taking it down alone with him. If I were her, I'd probably shave my head if someone had ripped me around by my hair for several days." A strange blend of pained sadness and hopeful joy played across the Captain' face as he watched them, and Spock suspected it was caused by the knowledge of his friends' ordeal, and the current visible evidence of them healing.

"We should go, Captain," Spock said. "This would be an incredibly private moment among Vulcans; I am certain it is for humans as well."

"Yes, of course, you're right." Jim stepped back quickly, jostling the curtain with his elbow so it undulated along the bar, the metal rings holding it up jingling softly. The movement caught McCoy's eye, and he tilted his head just so, leaving Nyota oblivious as he continued to rub her back and stroke her hair. Wet hazel eyes met brown, and the doctor stared hard at Spock for a moment, brow furrowed, conveying an intensity the Vulcan didn't understand. Until--

Thank you, McCoy mouthed, the wetness threatening to spill beyond his eyelids, sincerity outlined in the precise, intentional way he formed the words Spock could not hear. The Vulcan dipped his head in response, letting his own eyes close for a moment, an act he was aware the Doctor knew indicated acknowledgment, acceptance, respect.

When he looked up, he locked gazes with McCoy again briefly, catching the small upward quirk of the man's mouth before he buried his face in Nyota's hair, returning to his gentle whispers in her ear.

He suddenly felt cold, nauseated, hollow.

Spock turned to see Jim staring at him, mouth slightly open, head tilted to one side, one brow furrowed down in an inexplicable of the Vulcan's standard eyebrow-raised motion. 

"Sooo...what was that?" The Captain asked, expression not changing.

"The doctor is not angry with me," Spock replied easily.

"Uh-huh. Sure about that?" The dubious tone in Jim's voice was not playful -- his Captain was quite literally concerned and confused.

"Yes, Captain. I am certain."

If possible, the eyebrow drew further down, but Jim turned away, gesturing for Spock to follow him out of the Medbay.

 


 

 

Jim had to return to the Bridge after the mid-shift relief (in fact, he was several minutes late,) but Spock was scheduled to complete his shift in Science Lab Alpha, a fact for which he was immensely grateful. There was no pressing assigment, and thus his fellow scientists were utilizing the time to work on overdue paperwork or their own personal projects.

Ensign Cho was attempting to break down the biochemical structure of the acid-venom a previously-unknown species of amphibian on Delta Sigma IV excreted when startled. Ensign Ma’agatha was writing an article for review regarding her theories on the evolution of collapsed stars. Lieutenant Degitaonig’ta was classifying the backlog of collected rocks and minerals from varying planets according to the Interplanetary Scale of Hardness and recording their key features. None of them needed his assistance.

His mind attempted to wander to their second encounter, when Jim had been waiting in Spock’s quarters, vibrating with need and sparks of pure fury jumping out from under the curtain over his shielded mind, so he commed Mr. Scott, requesting the engineer assist him with further research into their environmental control modifications. As distractions went, it wasn't much.

 

 

The diplomatic endeavor had not gone well, the talks filled with crude, pointed insults aimed at each member of the party in turn, and when that failed, the aliens began to push the limits of physical boundaries as well. They called for a recess and used the milling about to press too close to the away team, using hands and bodies to touch, still dropping passive-aggressive comments into every conversation. Nyota was near panic, her eyes wide and body shaking. Spock crossed to her, keeping a hand cupped under her elbow, exposing himself to her emotions as well as the alien battering of his shields. They were not so disciplined as his Captain, and their thoughts rang of deception, mischievousness, not true hate, but not welcome either. When one of the aliens made to grab Nyota's tightly-wound hair, only to have his hand seized mid-motion by that of Spock, did things go from ridiculous to dangerous. The alien twisted his body, suddenly aiming an incredibly powerful and agile kick up toward Spock's face. The Vulcan managed to draw back enough that his jaw was scraped, not broken, and moments later he found the three of them safely on the Enterprise.

It had made no sense, the planet inviting them for talks simply to insult them mercilessly -- accost Uhura, attack Spock -- while seeming not to care at all about the process of joining the Federation. Six hours later it was explained that they had been "examined for the ability to remain calm and avoid displaying excessive pride," and the aliens were excited to resume talks. The day had ended well, but--

 

The fury was strong, too strong to contain it and everything else the Captain held close, and so he sacrificed some of the canopy to allow more sparks to escape. Nothing else filtered through, but nothing else was needed; Jim’s hands seized Spock by the shoulders, his forehead dropped to press against the Vulcan’s breastbone, and Spock was surprised to feel his Captain shake.

Long cool fingers, chilled hands insulated by tight black fabric, came up to stroke over Jim’s shoulders, pushing him away just enough so that the shocking blue eyes met his brown ones.

“Is this…do you need this, Jim,” Spock asked tentatively, afraid to offer, desperate to be with his friend again, terrified because the Captain did not return his feelings, desiring to return the kindness offered on their first encounter.

“God yes, Spock. I want…I need a hard, ragged, angry fuck. Or a fist fight and enough injuries to knock me unconscious. I came here. I wanna fuck you, Spock.” Jim's fingers skated just briefly over the patch of regenerated skin on Spock's jaw, his gaze revealing nothing. Jim groaned, pulling the Vulcan close again, breathing heavily into the blue-shirted shoulder, grinding his erection against a long, slender leg. “Ah, God, I need you.”

There was no gentleness this time, no kiss, barely any lubricant or preparation. Jim was determined, aggressive, ruthless in his passion, driving a brutal pace that made Spock keen with over-sensitivity, unbearable friction, too-much--too-much--too-much.

“Tell me if it hurts,” Jim gasped. “Tell me if I hurt you.” His face was red, sweat beading on his back, his chest, down his legs.

Spock ignored the slivers of true pain in his wrists, the warm sensation of his blood soaking into the bandage hidden under the thermasilk wrapping where Jim’s hands pinned Spock’s arms above his head.

“Never once, Captain. Never once.”

 

 

“—Mr. Spock?” The Vulcan startled (which for him meant a slight straightening of his spine and a fractionally increased rate of blinking.) It appeared Mr. Scott had arrived while Spock’s mind had succeeded in its wandering, against his will and better judgment. The sick feeling surrounding his heart only grew as he struggled to turn his attention to Scotty’s equations and the small metal box they were constructing in which to house and test their eventual prototype.

His mind fixated on Nyota, on the sheer intensity of the adoration McCoy felt toward her, the complete and utter despair she felt from the belief she had lost his love. Their embrace in the Medbay made him pleased for them, even as it shredded the part of him that longed to be more with his Captain. In the two months since Spock and the away team’s captivity, he and Jim had…fucked…six times. Perhaps five, if one counted their first as ‘lovemaking’ or even ‘sexual intercourse’ as Spock wished to do. Though he craved every touch from Jim, each encounter left Spock feeling a little hollower, a little emptier. They came together in anger, in pain, in sadness – not once in joy. Joy was too...intimate, and the knowledge burned under his skin.
He could not live without the promise of his Captain's hands on his skin.

Neither could he endure it even one more time.

Spock ended his meeting with Scotty abruptly, only just remembering to apologize before he left the lab, heading for his quarters and the privacy of his bathroom.

This "friends with benefits" arrangement was -- quite literally, if this unfamiliar, invisible wound near his heart was any indication -- killing him.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Something was wrong on the bridge, and Jim was done waiting for two of his favorite officers to fix it themselves.

Normally, he would've stepped in sooner than two months later, but having them both crashed out in the Medbay for the first week after their captivity, and then on medical leave for the next week -- well, maybe six weeks was still too long to keep his nose in his own business. Not that this was something he was particularly good at; usually Uhura and Bones ran the people-and-emotions show. And the ship's counselor that they'd picked up after the Krall disaster (why it had taken nearly half of a five-year mission to convince Starfleet that a long-term counselor was necessary on a starship this size and the CMO was not equipped to handle all of it, he had no clue,) had been seeing both of them, but it didn't seem to be helping much.

Because Chekov and Sulu manned their stations like robots assigned a task, not like people sitting side-by-side who knew each other well -- let alone were friends who'd gone through trauma together. More than once.

What had gone so wrong between them? At this point, he felt obligated to figure it out.

 

"Sulu!" He called, catching the pilot after the shift ended. The other man turned, eyebrows raising in enquiry. "Spar with me? I could use some hand-to-hand practice with someone other than Cupcake -- he's stronger than me, but not as fast. I feel like I could use some rounding-out." Jim saw the flinch behind Sulu's eyes when he first said, 'spar with me,' a quick tensing of muscles that seemed uncomfortably like fear. The pilot had been teaching him fencing before 'the incident,' a stepping stone to teaching Jim how to use the folding katana Sulu carried on every mission. No one had seen the weapon since, and Jim didn't think it was a good time to open that can of worms -- he wanted to start smaller, see if he could get his friend talking at all. 

The tension faded a bit, wariness still lurking behind the brown eyes, but the pilot quirked up one side of his mouth in a smile.

"Yeah, sure Captain. Give me a few minutes to go change, hey?" Jim smiled back, internally cheering as he slapped Sulu on the shoulder companionably. 

"Same here. Meet you in the gym!" He jogged off to his quarters, quickly slipping into a snug sleeveless shirt and wrestling shorts. He wasn't kidding about needing practice with a faster opponent. Hendorff, for all that the two of them got along now, so many years after that first bar fight in Riverside, was still a beast of a man, and moved like it.

Wrestling with Spock was his favorite exercise, but...that hadn't happened in a while. Spock was fast, agile, so much stronger than Jim -- but the touching, the grappling, pinning each other down -- sometimes with faces almost touching -- it was too much. Too intimate. Too temptingly easy to lean down and kiss, to let his hands wander over that graceful form instead of defending and attacking in calculated moments of contact. Too hard to keep the shield he always raised around Spock solid, and not expose himself. Spock had told him what he wanted; had been 'gratified' when Jim offered him the chance to do this with no strings attached. It ripped him apart, but if this...this thing was what Spock needed, then Jim would give it to him.

He shook himself out of his thoughts, realizing he'd taken too long, that Sulu was probably waiting for him. He jogged to the gym, tapping his foot impatiently when he had to jump in the turbolift to move between decks, and found the pilot already there warming up.

"Get lost, Captain?" Sulu asked with a smirk. It was nice to see the man smile.

"A bit," he chuckled in reply. He joined the pilot in a series of stretches, working his muscles until he felt limber, not wanting to feel stiff and aching the next day. Taking up a place on the mat, he crossed his arms over his chest and stuck his chin out, tossing an arrogant -- but teasing -- "You ready?" at his friend.

Sulu came straight at him, and the fight was on.

 

Several rounds later, all but one of them a win for Sulu, they sat on a bench by the mat, towels tossed over their shoulders, recovering.

"So. We should do this more often," Jim said panting, sweat pouring down his body. Sulu tried to laugh.

"Your technique could use some work," he admitted. "I wouldn't mind meeting up with you every week or something."

"Yeah? I'm glad. Seems like you've been happier the last couple hours than I've seen you in like a month." Jim looked casually over at Sulu, trying to keep his tone light. The pilot tensed up anyway, looking in the opposite direction, legs shifting as though preparing to stand. "I mean, you love your job and you have so many hobbies, but it seems like lately, the absolute last places you want to be are the bridge or the rec rooms."

"Captain--"

"Jim. It's Jim right now, Hikaru. This isn't a Captain thing. It's not a ship thing." He took a deep breath, glad he was starting to get his wind back. "It's the guy who jumped off that drill to save your falling ass, the guy who trusted you to vaporize half the senior crew in hostile territory if it became necessary, asking you to do your hard-ass fearless thing and trust me in return. Talk to me. I'm not super great at the mushy emotional stuff, but I didn't just let you fall back when I didn't even know you yet, man; I'm not going to leave you alone and let you fall apart now."

Sulu settled back onto the bench, taking the towel from around his neck and wiping it over his head, down the side of his face and neck.

"It's Pavel," he said finally. "I mean, I feel bad that I couldn't help him down there -- but I was pretty solidly chained up. Spock couldn't have gotten out of those manacles, even if he'd been entirely Vulcan-fit and normal. They were pretty big, so I kept trying to get my hands through them with that thumb thing you showed me, but it didn't work -- and I gave up when they stuck my sword in me.

"But Pavel...they didn't chain him up, either. He couldn't have done anything, not broken the manacles, not gotten us out of there, but he's convinced he 'could've done more' or 'should've been smart enough' to do something. They hurt him pretty good...I remember cuts, bruises, that broken arm -- I know McCoy kept him in Medbay almost as long as he kept me -- I don't remember if we could hear them, him and Uhura while they were...doing what they were doing to the two of them, but I know it was all bad.

"He couldn't have done anything other than what he did, I'm sure of it -- but he's punishing himself by avoiding all of us, like he's afraid to get us hurt, and all he's accomplishing is hurting us too. I feel like I've lost my kid brother. My best friend on this ship, and he's just...gone. I don't know what to do."

There was silence for a few moments, both staring at the floor, sweat cooling on their skin, quick breaths slowing down into the deep heavy sighs of tired bodies and weary men.

"...want me to lock you both in a closet?" Jim asked, only half kidding. Sulu's shoulders hitched in half a laugh, his head turning to look askance at Jim.

"Part of me does, actually," he said. "The rest of me really thinks he'd have a panic attack."

"Chekov? Panic? Dude, he went through the whole destruction-of-Vulcan thing practically chipper with all the science involved, compared to the rest of us. Cracked a joke or two about not breaking my ship during the whole Khan thing, not to mention having it together enough to hold and drag Scotty and I back onto the scaffold while the ship was fucking falling out of the sky. Don't get me started on Krall. Hikaru, he's not the seventeen-year-old boy that signed on, but even then, he had more in him than the adorable-puppy, heart-of-gold kid we all treated him like."

The pilot was shaking his head slowly, eyes closed, shoulders slumped.

"Jim, you don't get it. Those things, they were disasters, they were missions -- it was in the moment. There was something to focus him on. Vulcan had the science stuff, and an end goal that was supposed to be impossible. Khan had him scrambling to prove himself, to keep up with the task you required of him and not fail you or the ship. Krall was all about survival. But after...you never saw him after. He stayed with us on the Starbase for a bit, recently. With Ben and me. He couldn't handle being alone after that. He won't tell me for sure, but I think he killed someone -- or shot them, at least, and I'm pretty sure it was his first time having to do something so violent. He gets through the crises all right, but after..."

"He's always done this?" Jim was slightly appalled, wondering how he and Bones didn't know about the navigator's struggles. It was common, people prioritizing and compartmentalizing their responses and reactions during intense situations, leaving the fallout until after everything was safe and settled again -- that was why every mission had a debriefing afterward and a mandatory Medbay check-in within twelve hours of the mission ending or beam-up, whichever was sooner (which usually meant multiple check-ins a mission.)  This, however, sounded far too extreme to be healthy.

"Yeah. At least, he has since I found him sitting in the transporter room in the middle of the night sometime after we blew up the Narada, crying really quietly and muttering 'I lost her,' over and over." Sulu rose with a heavy sigh, pulling his towel off his shoulder and fiddling with it instead of looking at Jim. "I appreciate this, Captain, but it takes Pavel a long time to get over things, and guilt is probably the hardest for him. He's almost never on away missions, and he's never been tortured before, let alone watched the things that he did happen to people that he's close to. Is it shit? Yeah. Is there anything really I can do until he decides he's ready to let someone help him? No, and I just have to deal with that."

He stalked off to the showers, irritation and defeat warring for dominance in his steps. Jim watched, pondering, and then got up himself, resolved to shower and change in his quarters and then hunt down Bones for what promised to be a particularly unhappy conversation.

 


 

 

"What does love feel like?"

McCoy choked on his coffee, dropping the PADD in his other hand and spilling half the mug on his uniform as he tried -- and failed -- to catch the device.

"The hell, Spock?" the doctor grumbled, picking up the now-damp PADD and plucking at his wet uniform, coffee mug abandoned on a desk. A nurse came running at McCoy's shout and chuckled, hiding her smile behind her hand as she handed a towel to the CMO. "You can't just sneak up behind people like that! Now, what were you asking about?" He leaned down to wipe up the floor, blue shirt given up as hopeless.

"What does love feel like?"

The doctor froze, bent half-over, and looked up to meet the wide-eyed stare of the nurse, who had gone slightly pale. This was beyond atypical. Silently, McCoy handed the nurse -- Adrianna, that was her name, she had signed on a few months ago -- the towel as he stood and turned to face Spock.

"In my office."

 

"Spock, are you...is something wrong?" McCoy's hand hovered over his tricorder, poised to grab it and scan his friend furiously. Spock did not ask about feelings, and something deep in the doctor's old southern bones whispered warning.

"I do not require medical attention at this time. This is a... personal matter," the Vulcan replied. McCoy truly didn't know if he should be horrified or flattered.

"Why do you want to know, Spock?" McCoy asked softly, moving to settle into the chair before his desk, waving Spock into the low couch that doubled as the doctor's emergency bed. The office, designed to hold at least five people comfortably, felt suddenly confining, the air thick with something dense and difficult to breathe.

"I believe I am...in love...with someone," the Vulcan replied as he stiffly sat down, placing his hands in his lap, tugging the thin black warmers slightly further up the backs of his hands before pressing his long fingers together, wrists resting on his knees. His gazed fixed decidedly on the books shelved neatly behind McCoy's head.

The doctor's stomach flipped over and twisted simultaneously, desperately hoping the damn hobgoblin was finally seeing something more in Jim than a friend with an available cock, but dreading the inevitable fallout when the object of Spock's affections turned out to be someone else, anyone else; a beautiful woman, another Vulcan, Nyota all over again.

He shut those thoughts down, curbing his own jealousy -- there had been little enough romantic love to be lost in that relationship, on both sides -- and reminding himself that the best thing he could do for Jim was to figure out as much as he could about Spock's new flame. Standing, McCoy crossed to the com-panel by the door and raising the ambient temperature by ten degrees.  Pulling his over shirt off, he settled back into his chair and faced Spock.

"Since this is a personal matter, let's drop the rank for a bit. See, I even warmed the room up, and got rid of the uniform. Granted, it was still wet, thanks, but I'm trying to make you somewhat more comfortable in here, Spock, and it would help if you'd at least look at me."

The Vulcan blinked twice, slowly turning, pulling his eyes from the bookshelf and training it on the babbling doctor.

"You have removed your tunic," he said. McCoy sighed.

"Yeah, I just told you that; it got wet. Warmed things up in here for you too, and at 28 degrees, I'm going to start sweating damn fast. Figured this was easier for everybody -- I have a feeling we might be in here a while."

"That was...considerate...of you, Doctor." Spock's hands relaxed, fingertips un-sealing from each other as he curled and uncurled them a few times, muscles tense from constant chill easing into a more comfortable pose, palms resting loosely on the Vulcan's knees.

"It's Leonard. Don't call me "Doctor" like we don't know each other while you're asking me about love." Spock nodded, looking intently at McCoy, who sighed. "'How does love feel?' I don't know, Spock, that's not a simple question to answer. Love is when you have someone who's always there for you, who makes you happy. It's wanting to protect them, be with them just because you can, it's --"

Spock held up a hand, silencing the doctor. He shook his head slowly, dark eyes pulled slightly down, brow drawn in a single shallow furrow.

"I believe I am familiar with the facts of what love is, Doctor -- Leonard. What I do not know, what I wish for you to explain to me, is how love feels.

McCoy looked at him for several moments, mulling that over and finally reached the conclusion that he wasn't going to figure this one out without further input.

"Spock, I don't have a clue what the devil you're trying to say. If you think you're in love, don't you feel that? Don't you know what it is? You gave Nyota my emotions, don't you remember how they felt? You're asking me how a feeling feels. It doesn't make a lick of sense."

Spock nodded slowly, his gaze fixing itself not on the floor by his feet, but at some point far beyond it, some imaginary space within his own mind.

"When we were captured, I absorbed your emotions, yes. I know how many of them feel; anger is tension under the skin, fury a tightening of the muscles between the shoulders and down the neck. Fear is cold in the stomach, terror numbness of the extremities. Desire, want, longing, these are pulls on the body that drag in many directions. Arousal, lust; burning pressure in the loins. Affection is soft and warm; sadness is an inability to swallow and a stinging behind the eyes. Pain is sharp and throbbing; heartbreak is the pressure of ribs being forced apart from inside." The words themselves were vivid, almost poetic, but the voice delivering them was precise, clinical, like someone reciting symptoms or describing sensations to the doctor for medical reasons. Perhaps Spock was.

"Love, however...I experienced it. I know it was there, I knew it as it went through me, as I passed it to Uhura. I touched it, I have held it in my mind before. But I do not know how it feels. It is as though I am nerveless, and I hold it but am incapable of receiving sensation from it -- or perhaps it is merely so ephemeral it is beyond my grasp entirely. A thing described as so great, so moving and intense among humans, so devastating and wild among Vulcans -- and I cannot feel it. I am uncertain if I would even recognize it if I did."

There was nothing clinical about that. McCoy tucked away the perplexity of hearing such passionate, emotive words issue from the mouth of such a stoic, empty face, realizing that perhaps, for once, that expression was not a facade of emotionlessness, but the true visage of one hollowed out and weary. The doctor raised a hand to his jaw thoughtfully, discovering that his mouth hung slightly open, sweat beginning to bead along his upper lip. He shut it quickly, massaging his fingers firmly along his face, making his way up to pinch the bridge of his nose, eyes closed tightly.

The silence stretched on for several minutes, Spock gazing steadily at the floor, McCoy gazing anywhere but at Spock. Finally, he spoke.

"Spock..." He paused, breath held, then stopped completely with a soft clack of teeth. He frowned, looked away, tried again. "You're not, entirely, wrong. That is, I'm quite certain you're capable of experiencing and feeling love -- but I don't think you're wrong about love not feeling like other emotions do." The Vulcan met his eyes, finally, those small creases that Jim waxed poetic about appearing above his nose. 

"I love Nyota. I do. But I didn't really figure that out until she grabbed me and sobbed at me, telling me that I loved her because she'd felt it from you. 'He gave it to me,' she tells me. 'all of it. You were angry, you were sad, you just wanted to fix it all for me so I could be happy again, you were hurting for me, and wrapped up in all of it was just this love and it was all so much,' and then she bursts into more tears and doesn't stop for half an unholy hour. Right before she went running out of the mess I'd been telling Jim that I thought I loved her, not that I was certain or overcome by some great passion. And when she told me I love her, she didn't describe a great shining ball or warm blanket of emotions -- she gave me a list of other things that all tied up together and made one bigger thing." He paused for a breath, ran a finger under the collar of his now-constricting undershirt, this time the one who couldn't connect to Spock's penetrating stare.

"It's not just the way I love her that doesn't feel like a feeling," he continued, spreading his hands wide. "Not now that I really think about it. I love...well, you know I love Jim. He's become like a brother to me, a friend better than any I've ever had. Closer even. It's not romance, but it's love. And... I love you, too." He kept his focus firmly on the floor as those dark eyes widened, nostrils slightly flaring. "Not that I want to go pick out curtains or have candlelight dinners with you, and we get on like a house on fire in a hurricane, but there's love there. If Jim's family, Spock...I guess you're my best friend. What I... experience... for you, Jim, Nyota, my daughter, my father when he was alive, my mother home in Georgia -- it's all love, in various forms, but none of his has a specific feeling the way other emotions do.

"So, I don't think you're wrong. I think maybe you have a better understanding of love than most humans -- or maybe we just don't know how to describe it than to describe the things that go along with it. Maybe love isn't one thing. Maybe it's a five-hundred-piece puzzle of feelings and emotions that create something more. Of course if it were any emotion that was going to be completely different to experience than all the others, it would be that one. So if you're feeling things for someone: joy, that's a bubbly one inside; tenderness, that one's kind of fluttery, near your heart or in your stomach; compassion, that's when you're feeling hurt or sad for them; or any of the others you mentioned, desire, arousal, longing, lust, happiness, contentment, trust, safety -- if you feel these things, all together,about someone, you're probably experiencing love, just the way it's supposed to be."

McCoy heaved a sigh, settling his elbows on his knees and cradling his head in his hands, feeling the sweat dampening his hair and sliding down his back. He'd been away from Georgia far too long if 28C was making him sweat like this. Though maybe it was just the conversation. He would lower the temperature, but he knew that even now, Spock was chilled.

"You speak as though you are only learning this for yourself at this moment," Spock replied.

"I think I am," McCoy huffed, shaking his head.

"I... believe," Spock paused, breathed deliberately, started again. "I believe I understand, Leonard. Thank you." The doctor pulled his head up, glowering half-heartedly at the Vulcan.

"You're welcome, because here's the bad news," he said wearily, the heat he wanted in his tone nowhere to be found. "Whoever this person is must be something special to have caught your eye, and they're damn lucky to have done so. If they turn you down, they're a damn fool. But you can't string Jim along like this. This fuck-toy business you have going on with him has to end before you can even try and go after whoever it is you're in love with. If it doesn't, anything you try to do will be incredibly hurtful and unfair to both of them. You can't use Jim as a stopgap measure until you net the person you want, keeping him in case that person doesn't want you back -- and that person likely won't accept you if you try."

Spock nodded succinctly and rose, heading for the office door. He paused as it opened, the panel waiting for him to continue, and turned his head just slightly over his shoulder toward McCoy.

"If I had a 'best friend,' Doctor," he said softly, gently, "it would also be you." He leaned forward, heel lifting to take another step.

"But, Nyota--," he heard from behind him, a question hanging in the aborted sentence. Spock completed his step, his words hanging in the air of the office as the door closed behind him.

"--is family."

McCoy stared for a moment, mouth hanging open yet again. Letting it stay that way this time, he reached for his whiskey glass, ready to knock back whatever remained in it.

Only to realize he hadn't even pulled out the glass for this, let alone poured anything. His jaw dropped even further body slumping in simple disbelief.

Where in actual hell did all this come from, he thought. Now I'm going out of my corn-fed mind!

Completely and thoroughly done, he left the office, he stalked to his quarters to shower and change, forgetting entirely to return the environmental controls in the room to normal, and leaving Adrianna staring after him in bewilderment.

 


 

 

His feet pounded on the deck, each impact counterpoint to the racing of his heart, the misaligned rhythms distracting him from the thoughts racing through his mind.

That was the problem of being a genius, he supposed. His mind had the room to mull over multiple things, some productive and most generally unpleasant. The sound the katana made when it slid into Hikaru's body, the choked, half-groaned cry his friend made, the sharp "Don't!" from McCoy when he reached for the hilt that kept him from approaching the pilot again for the rest of their captivity -- the sounds were nearly lost in the beating of his run, but the images still raced before him, and he longed to shut his eyes against them.

...which apparently, he had, judging by the solid, cold body that knocked him roughly back as he collided with it. Strong, fabric-covered hands with long, cool fingers seized him by the shoulders, steadying him, keeping his shaking body upright as his lungs heaved. 

"Mr. Spock," he gasped. "I - I am sorry, I did not see you." His accent, which had eased considerably over the years of his service, was nearly lost under his panting, words coming out on wheezed breaths.

"Obviously," the Vulcan replied. "It appears you have been over-exerting yourself, Ensign Chekov. You should report to the Medbay to ensure that you have not sustained injuries."

Chekov shook his head, waving a hand at the Commander, who slowly released his grip, allowing the young man to bend forward, resting both palms on his knees as he tried to catch his breath.

"I run often," he said between gasps. "It is not a good run if you do not work hard, yes?" He raised his head slightly to look up at Spock.

"There is a logic to your statement, yet I am certain you are 'pushing yourself too hard.'" The Vulcan studied the bright red face and dilated eyes of the Russian and made a decision. "If you will not go of your own will, Ensign Chekov, I will make that an order. Report immediately to the Medbay. Please," he added, attempting to make the command sound less reprimanding and more obviously based in Spock's genuine concern.

"Ye-yes, sir," Chekov agreed, hauling himself upright and making his way to the turbolift, still breathing heavily.  Spock watched him, waiting until the doors were closed behind the young man before crossing the hall to the nearest com-panel and paging the Medbay.

"McCoy here," came the too-careful response.

"Ensign Chekov will be reporting momentarily for your examination. He has been overexerting himself by running on the lower decks."

"What, no exact numbers, Commander?" The doctor was teasing, his typical acerbic tone muted, almost gentle after their earlier conversation.

"Negative." Spock heard a low voice speaking in the background -- possibly that of the captain, but he could not be sure. The constant hollow pain by his heart rippled; the continual companionship of the captain and the doctor hurt the Vulcan in ways he could not understand. Illogically, he wished some of that time was spent with the captain by his side instead.

"Well I'll be damned," McCoy replied to the unknown person. His voice grew louder -- he had probably turned back to the com-panel in the Medbay. "I'll be waiting for him, Spock. Thanks."

Spock did not reply, merely clicking off the com-panel and walking away. He hadn't intentionally directed himself to the lower decks. Just as he had found himself in the Medbay instead of his private bathroom, he'd only discovered he was circling that particular deck when Ensign Chekov had slammed into him. It appeared they were both lost in their own thoughts -- a state of being not particularly common to a Vulcan.

Hearing "fuck toy" come from McCoy's lips had frozen something inside Spock, and he was having trouble labeling the emotion attached to that sensation. It was not pain, unless emotional pain had variations he had yet to learn. It was not heartbreak, nor was it terror, though somehow it was related to both.

Was that really the relationship he had with Jim? Did his captain see him as nothing more than an object for sexual pleasure, a source of release and entertainment? He had dared to hope there was something more. He could almost see where McCoy's words indicated a concern for Jim and his emotions, as though Spock's pursuit of another was cruel to the captain -- but then, the doctor had also been so clear that Spock's interest must lie elsewhere, indicating a certainty that a relationship between Spock and Jim would not be possible.

There was a shattering crackle of something inside Spock, something vital falling apart and ceasing to exist within him. This one he recognized, this one he dreaded -- hopelessness, despair. This was ending. He had pushed it aside before, found ways to stave it off, even if he truly had not wanted to -- but this time, everything within him cried out that ending was suddenly imminent, and inevitable.

 

 

The doors slid shut behind Pavel, and McCoy was already there, tricorder out and scanning.

"Kid, you gotta slow the hell down." He frowned at the readings, tilting his head toward a room instead of a biobed. "I need you in here."

"What is it, Doctor? I did not run so hard, I do not feel hurt!" Chekov had a bad feeling about this, his heart began to race all over again, though he had walked rather slowly to the Medbay.

McCoy ushered him first through the door. "Have a seat," he said. "Just be a moment." The doctor left again, and Pavel sat on the biobed, watching the sensors begin reading off vitals, not seeing anything particularly unusual -- not that he had an extensive knowledge of Medbay equipment. The door opened, and the Russian turned to ask McCoy what was going on, what his tricorder had picked up -- and froze.

"Hey Pasha," Sulu said.  A series of beeps sounded in the room and the red light over access panel in the room lit up, indicating they were locked in. "So, we need to talk. Captain and Doctor's orders."

Chekov froze, so tense his body vibrated slightly with the strain, eyes wide and everything feeling cold.

"Aww hell," Sulu said. "Pasha--"

The monitors wailed.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Pavel, Pavel it's okay; I just want to talk to you." The navigator cringed, and Sulu backed up, putting his back against the wall of the examination room. 

The young Russian's eyes were wide and his body shook, the monitors rolling through alerts as his heart rate accelerated, climbing so quickly Sulu was afraid that McCoy would have to come in and sedate the panicking youth -- which would only make the entire situation worse.

The pilot stayed where he was on the other side of the room, hands held open in a universal sign of non-aggression. Slowly Chekov calmed, the flashing red of his heartbeat coming down to an overstressed yellow and then finally an anxious green pulse. The older man grabbed a glass of water from the hovertray next to him in the corner and held it out, keeping himself in place as he extended his arm toward his friend.

"Thirsty?" he asked gently. Pavel nodded, and Hikaru stepped slowly forward, glass outstretched in his hand. The young man took it nervously, sipping at it as he stared at Sulu, who made no move to come closer than necessary or touch the navigator. 

"What's wrong, Pavel?" Sulu asked after a few minutes. "Why are you afraid of me?"

"Am not," the young man replied quickly, setting the glass abruptly on the side of the biobed, nearly upending its remaining contents onto the floor in his haste to cross his arms over his chest and look away.

"Pavel, you're going to have McCoy in here with a tricorder and a cardio-scanner later after the panic attack you had just from being put in a room alone with me, and your accent hasn't been this strong since I met you. If you're not afraid of me, what's wrong?" He hung his head, sighing heavily. "What did I do? I feel like I've lost my best friend."

Chekov's hand twitched, as though wishing to reach out for Sulu, but he reigned in the impulse, fidgeting.

"How is injury?" He asked instead, his voice as awkward as his aborted movement. Sulu frowned, surprised.

"It's fine. It's been fully healed for a while now. You didn't know?"

"Doctor McCoy said, but I was not sure. It does not hurt?"

"Twinges a bit, sometimes, but no, it doesn't. Is that what you were worried about? Me being hurt? Pavel, none of that was your fault." Sulu took a step toward his friend, but the young navigator flinched backward again. Sulu stopped abruptly, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand.

"Was."

"No, it wasn't. There wasn't anything else you could've done."

Pavel pulled his legs up and put his head in his knees. "Was. You got hurt because you protected me; because we are friends. If we were not friends, you would not be hurt."

Sulu groaned, shaking his head. "Pavel, yes, you're like family, but I would've tried to protect anyone on the away mission, no matter who they were. You can't keep feeling guilty like this and avoiding everyone; all you're doing is hurting yourself -- and all of us."

Chekov picked up his head, shaking it. "Don't want to hurt anyone. Just have to handle myself." He nodded, eyes watering. "Can't be relying on anyone to take care of me out there anymore."

Aggravated, Sulu lurched forward and seized Chekov by the shoulders, ignoring the sudden spike of his heart on the monitors.

"Pavel, shut up. We all look out for each other out there, and you know it. It's not any more your fault that I got hurt than it is McCoy's fault Uhura got hurt or anyone's fault that Spock got hurt; no one's other than the aliens who grabbed us all to begin with, do you understand?" The navigator's eyes were wide and wet. Sulu eased his hold, pulling his young friend into a hug, settling down onto the biobed and holding Pavel's head against his shoulder as he'd done several times in his and Ben's quarters on Yorktown after the Krall disaster.

Chekov settled into the hug, sniffling softly the same way he had each time he'd awoken from another dream of the falling Enterprise.

"Am sorry," he muttered.

"Pavel, listen. No one's angry at you, no one blames you. Least of all me. But lately, hiding from all of us, avoiding us, driving everyone away -- that's hurting us. We miss you. I miss you. This isn't making you more independent, it's just making us all more lonely after something that already made us feel lonely enough. Do you understand?" He pulled back, tilting to try and catch his friend's eye. Chekov nodded, sitting up. 

"You don't practice with your katana anymore," he said softly. Sulu shrugged, looking away. 

"It's hard to look at something the same way once you've been impaled with it," he said. "Besides; the last time you were in my rooms, you saw me pick it up and nearly vomited." Pavel looked slightly ashamed.

"Am sorry. You should not give it up; is a part of you." Sulu nodded solemnly.

"All right, how about this; you start spending time with me again. Eat in the mess, play poker in the rec room sometimes. And I'll start fencing again. We'll work on our issues together, sound good?"

Chekov looked at him for a minute warily, and then nodded. 

"Is deal."

 

"Jim, that was the worst idea you've ever had," McCoy said, watching the two helmsmen sit on the biobed, their body language awkward, but relaxed as they reconnected.

"Hey, it worked, didn't it?" Kirk was admittedly pleased with himself; getting Sulu to agree to the whole plan had been difficult, but Spock's timely encounter with the overstressed Chekov had helped considerably, and it appeared that the two friends were making rapid progress.

"Yeah, and I'm going to be doing cardio-evals on the kid weekly for a month. Did you see how high his pulse went? He nearly had a heart attack!" The doctor released the quarantine lock on the examination room door, glad that the foolhardy plan had gone as well as it had, even as he continued to bicker with the captain. He only wished that the status quo between said captain and his First Officer could be resolved so easily.

 


 

 

The First Officer in question had finally coerced his wayward feet onto their intended path and found himself in his quarters, laser scalpel clutched between his trembling fingers.

McCoy's words from earlier hung in his ears, 'fuck toy' a painful echo causing sharp flinches from the dark space that had once held his heart. If McCoy, Bones, the captain's best friend, brother in all but name and blood --if he didn't think Spock and Jim had a chance, then they simply did not.  Had the captain any interest in Spock as a romantic partner, the doctor would have been the first to know.

The knowledge hurt as no pain ever had. Losing his mother had been a blow, a terrible wound that haunted him still. The scar within caught, pulling him up short when he remembered her, tight and aching like a severed limb -- but where his mohter had loved him unconditionally, and he her, she had not known him as Jim did. To Jim, Spock had opened himself, been himself, exposed and revealed himself in ways he never had with Amanda. The physical intimacy, the tender, passionate way Jim could make love to him even when he was furious and rough; these were things beyond a relationship of mother and son. The way the Captain's mind called to him was encompassing, thrilling, pulled him in and bathed him in acceptance and peace.

No, knowing that Jim would have no interest in sharing such a life with Spock, a life of unity and joy...nothing could cut so deeply. His resolve to stand by Jim's side and accept whatever affection he could had crumbled away with McCoy's words, the shards of his hope grinding into powder with each internal repetition. He couldn't bleed the pain away anymore, he realized, and though remaining caught in Jim's orbit was a prospect which terrified him, the idea of leaving the Enterprise brought a sense of horror with it he could not abide.

He needed to end this -- and he knew only the one way out.

 

The third time, Spock had been waiting in Jim's quarters, phantom fingers clawing at the inside of his stomach, his lungs straining as though filled with something other than air. It was eating away at his mind, the whispers and mutters of those on the ship, every thought and emotion within the range of his telepathic grasp. He could not let them go.

When the Captain entered he threw himself forward, one long arm curling around his lover's waist and the other seizing the blond by the neck, pulling their bodies in close burying his face into the place where Jim's neck met his shoulder.  He was shaking, and his Captain's warm embrace came around him, wide palms soothing up and down his back, smoothing the trembles out of the Vulcan's skin. Eventually Jim pulled back, tilting his head to look at Spock, who still rested against his shoulder. Spock stared, gaze roving from those startling, brilliant blue eyes to the broad lips wet by a hesitant pink tongue. He wanted to kiss, longed for the heat of it -- but fit his mouth to the side of Jim's neck, hands moving to pull at the golden shirt.

They didn't speak; nothing needed be said. Captain became submissive lover as Spock tore away Jim's clothes, sucking kisses into every exposed inch of skin. He filled himself with the taste and smell of Jim, letting the quiet hum of his banked mind soothe the raw edges where every other being on the ship grated against Spock's thoughts, using the silent space to focus only on what he was feeling and experiencing as he sucked the Captain's penis into his mouth, swirled his tongue along it to savor every square millimeter of salty human skin. His fingers reached up to slide along those tempting, tormenting lips, pressing a Vulcan kiss to them even as the warmth of them opened to wrap around the long digits. Spock gasped, the cool intake of air whispering along Jim's saliva-damp organ, making him shudder. The quivering of his thighs was an irresistible delight, and Spock stole back his hand, fingertips unerringly searching out the wrinkled bud of his lover's anal opening.

The Captain's heavy sighs became long moans, muscles tense and struggling to relax against the too-tight, too-dry pressure. Spock sucked him fiercely, twisting his hand to add more stimulation to the process of easing his way. When the limpness returned to Jim's spine and the helpless quaking started again, the Vulcan withdrew. Using his wet hand to spread the lubricating pre-ejaculate of his species down his own penis, he settled himself between those shivering thighs and dropped onto Jim's chest, sliding inside. 

It was blinding, encompassing, and so very tight that it washed away everything but the two of them and their movement against each other, and when Jim came, Spock continued on with powerful surges, ignoring the whines of oversensitivity in his quest for violent, peaceful release.

When he'd cleaned himself and left without further preamble, his Captain's confused, studious gaze left a burning ache between his shoulders that radiated through him in waves. He reached his quarters, turned the shower sonics as high as they would go, and cursed his heritage as he bled himself down the drain of the stall. 

 

Again Spock found himself in the shower, this time with a torrent of icy water racing down his skin. On the floor just outside the stall sat the dermal regenerator and a clean pair of thermasilk warmers. In his hands, sheltered from the cold liquid's wrath by the waterproof casing, was the laser scalpel. Spock absently flicking through the settings. He wasn't looking for lethal wounds; no, he was simply unconcerned if he acquired them. The razor-thin slices he'd been burning into his arms were no longer satisfying; he wanted broad swaths of fiery pain to wrap his fingers around and send shooting through his nervous system.

He recognized this particular state of being; this blanket of apathetic detachment. He'd experienced it as a child, watching his lifeblood soak through a towel to spiral down a drain; a second time as the computer warned him the Jellyfish was on a collision course; again while kneeling in a volcano waiting to die; most recently while telling McCoy to leave him behind and find safety.

The minds overwhelmed him: a woman three decks below was crying; a man in Engineering had just burned himself; a couple on the other side of the ship were having slow, languid sex.  

The thought of bonding with Jim, of using the brilliant, sparkling mind under the ordered, still canopy to block out the others and rebuild himself from its shelter was an aching fantasy. The longing for it brought Vulcan-hot tears welling up to fall down his cheeks. 

The cause is not sufficient. He picked a setting on the scalpel, one with a wide beam of narrow focus like the sharp edge of an artist's fan-shaped brush. The laser flared into life, striking the creases of skin exactly where the bones of his hand became the bones of his wrist. He left it there, vision blurring, letting the freezing chill of the water numb him enough to endure dragging the scalpel in micrometers down to the dip of his elbow.

He remembered his mother's face, white as human skin was not supposed to be, her scream pitched like needles in his sensitive ears. Her small fingers curling around his wrists, holding them together with the towel in between, pressing with shaking hands. Her tears fell across the cloth and their tangled arms. His father came around the corner suddenly, entering the bathroom as though he'd used the walls outside to create momentum that swung him through the door. His eyes widened, ears pulled upward by the height of his lifted brows, mouth a thin line. In a movement Spock couldn't discern clearly past the dark spots in his vision, Sarek removed Amanda's hands and spun Spock, arms reaching around him to seize his forearms in the tightest grip he'd ever felt. Strong fingers on the backs of his hands kept broad palms secured to his wounds; a stronger torso fitting along his spine as he was lifted and carried away.

Those hands didn't move once, only releasing him when white gloves had to peel them away to settle Spock's arms under a large regeneration beam. He could never remember how they got him in a hovercar without Sarek letting go, the entire ride to the hospital a dark, spiraling blur of his mother's weeping and the uneven movement of air through Sarek's lungs against his back. He knew only that his father had kept them bound to that position without adjustment, evidenced by the single, perfect bruise over each set of scars which lasted weeks longer than the injuries themselves.

A shrill water usage alert sounded; he ignored it, taking the surgical instrument in his shaking left hand and repeating the process on his right arm. The room was darkening, dim light of the shower stall nearly faded away, the cold of the shower rinsing the warmth of his blood away. He'd long stopped shivering, and some part of him understood that the stillness of his body was a bad thing, but he could not bring himself to care. The pain of his injuries was distant, something he could feel from his head to his toes, though somehow he felt it over there and separate from himself. It was soothing, grounded him in the weightlessness, the gradual silencing of all the other minds.

Spock reached for the regenerator, his father's stalwart grip countless lightyears away. It felt heavy in his hand, slippery, troublesome to hold.

"Excessive water usage detected; extreme overuse of the replication system can cause conduit overloads and power fluctuations. Please desist use or report malfunction to Engineering."

He thought his communicator chirped amid the alert; thought a familiar voice called his name, but the cascading sounds of water had grown too loud in his frozen ears. Spock lifted his hand, but had forgotten what he'd been planning to do with it. He let it fall, faintly registering the sound of something clattering to the floor.

The cold was endless, the quiet a cavern swallowing him whole.