“ – he has to be one of the kindest man I have ever met.”
“ I know! He’s just so gentle and warm and those are two words I never expected to use when describing a Vulcan.”
“Well, to be fair, our only element of comparison is the Commander. And I may respect the hell out of that man, but it’s like comparing an ice cube to a teddy bear.”
“True. He could use to learn some manners from the Ambassador.”
The rec hall is a public area.
Frustrated beyond measures, Spock has to remind himself of that fact quite a few times. No matter how exasperated he is, the crewmembers are perfectly within their rights to waste their time gossiping uselessly on matters that should not concern them.
“ Pretty sure that’s not all he could learn…”
For a moment, the Vulcan is mortified, feeling dangerously exposed. Willing his face not to betray him as he feels the blush fighting to appear, Spock quickly reassures himself. The perpetrators of this frankly ridiculous conversation are fairly isolated, sitting in a corner of the rec hall and speaking somehow discreetly. Spock himself would not have overheard anything, were it not for his more attuned hearing.
Still. He does not really care for the subject of discussion.
Sitting next to him with a book of his own, Chekov throws him a quick, curious glance before going back to his reading.
Spock wishes he could refocus as well. It should not be this hard. Not for him.
But again, he had not truly been acting like himself these past few days.
This is unacceptable.
“— what do you think is going on between the Captain and the Ambassador, anyway?”
“Uh, nothing? They’re obviously just friends.”
“Seriously? We’re friends, and I don’t look at you like I want to ravish you, do I?”
“Girl, you’re imagining things.”
“I’m not! Just the other day, I saw them holding hands. Hands, Cara! Do you have any idea what that touch represents in Vulcan culture –”
Spock slams his book shut; a little too forcefully if the way Ensign Chekov jumps next to him is any indication. The young man turns his head to look at him, wide eyes showing nothing but surprise and innocence.
Sometimes, Spock forgets how young the navigator truly is.
“Commander?” Chekov asks worriedly.
“There are other matters I need to attend to,” Spock says, satisfied with the steady tone of his voice. “Carry on, Ensign.”
His fellow crewmember looks incredulous, but does not try to stop him as Spock gets up from his chair on walks out of the rec hall.
Not for the first time, he wishes they could reach Taliva faster than the ship can reasonably take them.
Also not for the first time, he curses the Admiralty for giving into the demands of the Vulcan Council so easily. The Enterprise is not meant to act as a diplomatic escort, and yet that is exactly what they have been asked to do. Usually, the Captain would have been the first one to protest against such orders, but in this case, he was more than happy to comply with the demands.
How could he not, when his older counterpart is the one they have been charged to escort?
Instantly, a wave of shame washes over him as a deserved punishment for these unfair thoughts.
Ever since the destruction of Vulcan, the Elder Spock – Selik – has been working relentlessly towards peace with the Romulans. Many have protested against this course of action, but there was no logic in blaming an entire planet for the actions of a group of renegades that do not even exist yet, led by a man who will most certainly never follow the same path in this timeline.
Peace is but the first step. Spock knows perfectly well that the Ambassador’s ultimate goal is to save Romulus from its twin’s fate.
Tensions are high on both sides, but after many months of negotiations, Romulans and Vulcans have accepted to send their respective delegations to meet on neutral grounds. The planet Taliva has been chosen for the task. It was imperative to discuss the future of both planets. New Vulcan is in desperate need of resources. Romulus needs to be saved from its inevitable doom. Something has to be done.
That their people are ready to move forward together, so soon after the Vulcan’s massacre, is nothing short of a miracle. A miracle that Elder Selik is solely responsible for. His accomplishments are truly something to be admired.
Spock simply wishes he could admire them from afar.
He has 3.2 hours left before he has to be on the bridge. He had planned on spending those few hours relaxing in the rec hall, but as that is clearly not possible, he shall make use of the time to meditate.
He has been meditating quite often lately.
According to calculations, they should arrive at destination in 1.8 days. After that, it will only be a matter of escorting the Vulcan delegation back to Starbase 9.
Spock walks down the corridors of the Enterprise, frustrated by his own ridiculousness. The Elder should not have that much of an effect on him, and yet he can’t help it. He hasn’t been at ease since Selik came onboard, uncomfortable in his own skin. What’s worse is that Selik hasn’t done anything to warrant this sort of behavior from him.
But Spock can’t help it. He wants him gone.
Finally reaching his quarters, Spock hesitates before entering his code. He throws a glance at the Captain’s door next to his.
For a moment, he is tempted.
Things have not been the same since the Elder’s arrival. Jim had been ecstatic at the announcement that Selik would be the diplomatic guest they would be escorting, with good reason, as Spock knows that he shares a close relationship with his counterpart.
He barely gets to see Jim outside of the bridge anymore, the Captain having decided to spend all his free time with Selik. Spock has to admit that it is somehow… disconcerting.
Jim’s friendship is dearly missed.
But more than that, Spock had believed that he and the Captain were on the edge of something more. He had even managed to convince himself that his regard might be returned. Clearly, he had been sorely mistaken.
Shaking his head, Spock turns away from Jim’s quarters and enters his room without looking back.
Just as he is about to grab his meditation mat, his console starts to beep, announcing an incoming call. Spock sighs frustratingly, pondering the merits of simply ignoring it, even though he already knows he won’t. He takes a deep breath, sits on his chair, and accepts the call.
Christopher Pike’s face appears on his screen.
Spock immediately straightens his spine. “Admiral.”
“At ease, Commander. This is a friendly call.”
Indeed, it seems to be one. Pike is positively beaming, looking at Spock with a grin that shows teeth. “Hello, gorgeous.”
Spock raises both eyebrows incredulously, feeling simultaneously shocked and amused by the man’s nerve. He must be in an incredibly good mood to treat him in such manner. “Christopher?” he asks hesitantly.
“The Excalibur. They’re giving her to me,“ Pike announces without preamble. “She’ll be ready for takeoff in a year. The only thing that could possibly make this day better is if I could have you back as my First. I’d ask, but I don’t want Kirk to murder me in my sleep.”
Spock nearly gapes at the news, and Pike’s smile widens, obviously satisfied with the reaction. “This is wonderful news,” Spock says, meaning every word. And yet, a flicker of doubt exists. “But are you certain this is what you want?
The grin on Pike’s face dims a little and, if only for a second, a veil of sadness settles on his features.
“I’m not made for life on the ground, Spock,” Pike admits regretfully. “These past three years have been…hell. I need to get back out there, if only for a little while. Number one understands that.”
Spock has no doubt that she does. She is remarkable like that, after all. And yet, he does believe that it is fair to ask more of her. Number one has waited long enough, in his opinion.
“I apologize. It was not my intention to dampen your spirits.” A moment of hesitation, then he adds. “I am… happy for you, Christopher.” The words are sincere, if not awkward.
Pike raises an amused eyebrow. “Happy? I’m honored, Commander.” And despite the teasing tone of his voice, Spock can tell that he truly is. And he is pleased to note that his eyes shine with excitement once more.
Spock cannot help the smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “You should be,” he teases drily.
Pike grins back at him, a familiar spark in his eyes that Spock has dearly missed. The last time the Admiral had looked so lively, he was still Captain of the Enterprise, ready to accompany her for her first voyage.
Spock swallows back the guilt that invades him. Despite the circumstances, he would not trade his place at Captain Kirk’s side for anything, or anyone. But Pike has done so much for him, shouldn’t his loyalty be towards him first? Does he not deserve more from him?
Seeming to sense his mood, Pike frowns. Spock hates to see the ecstatic smile disappear from his face. “Alright, spill. What’s going on?”
“I am not sure what you mean,” Spock says innocently.
Judging by the way the Admiral rolls his eyes in exasperation, his response is not believed. “I can tell something’s wrong, Spock. You’re not fooling me. Are you alright?”
“Why would I not be?” If Spock pretends long enough, then maybe the Admiral will drop the subject, even though he knows better.
It is unnerving, how the man seems to be able to scan him even when he is light years away. “Why would you not be, indeed? Maybe because you look like someone kicked your puppy hard enough to send it off planet?” Pike furrows his brows and somehow manages to observe him even more intently than before. Spock knows that his face is indecipherable at the moment and he realizes far too late that this is exactly what gives him away.
“Is it Kirk?”
His knowing tone sets off alarms bells in Spock’s head and one of his eyes twitches involuntarily. That does it. Christopher’s eyes widen in surprise.
“Your worry is appreciated, but unnecessary,” Spock says quickly, hoping to avoid a confrontation. “I am perfectly functional.”
He can tell that Pike does not believe him and he wishes he could offer him better reassurances. But he does not know how to. All these years spent with humans and he is still as hopeless when it comes to communication as he ever was.
Pike breaks the silence by sighing loudly, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Damnit. I wasn’t going to do this. I swore to myself I wouldn’t. But you sure as hell aren’t making things easy.”
Spock suddenly feels uneasy. “Admiral?”
“Spock, I have a proposition for you.”
“You demanded to see me, Doctor?”
Leonard looks up from his forms, sending him what Spock can only describe as a withering look. He tries to remember if he has done anything to irritate the Doctor lately, but nothing comes to mind.
“I did. You off duty?”
Spock frowns. “I am.”
“Perfect. Follow me.” McCoy orders, gesturing to his office.
The Doctor enters the room with no further words and Spock finds himself following, slightly dumbfounded by this behavior. He does not believe he will ever understand the mechanism of this strange individual’s brain.
The door automatically slides shut behind them. Spock cautiously sits on one of the chairs, watching silently as McCoy searches something in his cabinet, grumbling unintelligible words under his breath. At some point, the Doctor lets out a proud “Ha!” and finally turns to face him, holding two glasses in one hand and a bottle in another.
Spock’s interest turns into sheer incredulity. Surely, Leonard does not mean for them to partake in some sort of bonding experience. He has the greatest esteem for the man, respects him like he does few others, but this is simply not the sort of activity they do together. In fact, it is Spock’s understanding that McCoy only ever drinks with the Captain.
But then again, their superior officer has been quite busy these past few days.
Spock swallows his resentment with some difficulty. He has no business making any judgments on Jim’s behavior.
McCoy practically slams the glasses on his desk. Even the way he pours them both drinks is more brutal than it should be.
“Your lack of manner and grace shall never fail to impress me, Doctor,” Spock cannot help but point out.
“Bite me,” Leonard says, letting himself fall back on his own chair. “We’re having a drink.”
“I can see that. May I know why?”
The Doctor glares at him. “Because I’m your friend.” He immediately lifts his hand to stop Spock from correcting him. “Shut up. I am.” Leonard insists, sounding more threatening than cordial, daring Spock to contradict him.
Spock closes his mouth, feeling simultaneously pleased and irritated. He hesitantly reaches for his glass. That must have been the right thing to do because McCoy nods at him approvingly and takes a sip of his own drink.
Alcohol does not affect Vulcans the way it does Humans, but the Doctor already knows that, of course. The taste is not pleasant, too bitter for his taste. Yet, he drinks.
They spend the next few minutes in a relatively comfortable silence, each taking their time to finish their beverage.
For the first time in 5.6 days, Spock feels calm.
Predictably, it all comes crashing down the second Leonard opens his mouth.
“He’s not you, you know.”
Spock stiffens. He could ignore the pointed remark, but he finds that he does not have the strength to do so. “Some people appear to want to believe otherwise.” Desperately so, he thinks bitterly.
“By ‘some people’, I assume you mean Jim?” McCoy sighs, shaking his head exasperatedly. “Don’t judge him too harshly. The other you looks at him like he hung the moon in the sky and makes the sun rise in the morning. And that kind of devotion… well, it can be overwhelming. Jim’s never had that before. He doesn’t mean to treat you the way he does.”
“The Captain is free to act however he pleases,” Spock retorts coldly.
“Don’t do that, Spock. He’s been brushing you off ever since the Ambassador came on the Enterprise. That’s not fair to you.”
Again, he could deny it, pretend that he has no idea what the Doctor is talking about. But surprisingly, he has no desire to hide the truth from Leonard. Spock trusts him. The words spoken between them will never breach the security of the office. And with McCoy offering a listening ear…well, he is surprised to realize that he does not wish to turn that offer down.
Truthfully, he does not know what he is supposed to do. How he is supposed to react.
Spock had believed that he had finally found his place in the universe, finding a home within the walls of the Enterprise without meaning to. Up until a few days ago, he had felt content. Only now, the fragile balance he had managed to establish for himself is all but ruined, blown away by the Ambassador’s arrival.
His older counterpart walks down the corridors of the starship like he belongs there. Has managed to make himself universally liked among the crew. Shadows Jim as if the mere idea of distance between them is inconceivable to him. And the Captain obviously welcomes the attention avidly. Perhaps that is the hardest thing to witness for Spock.
It has barely been 6 days – 5.6, his mind supplies – but he cannot bear to be in the Elder’s presence any longer. Only it seems that no matter how many Beta shifts he offers to take, or how long he spends working in the science department, he never manages to free himself completely of the Vulcan. Selik is everywhere, constantly by Jim’s side, and it is exhausting to watch.
At first, he had tried to behave as normally as possible, not willing to let his relationship with the Captain suffer because of his own issues. But after a second, then a third, then again a fourth offer of chess politely rejected by Jim, Spock understood that there was no point in trying anymore.
So Spock has made himself scarce, staying well out of the pair’s way.
Nyota already made a comment about his strange behavior, but he had though that she was the only one who had remarked it. Apparently not.
“I do not understand why his presence on board affects me so much,” Spock admits quietly. “Or perhaps I do.”
Of course he does.
His counterpart represents a goal that Spock will never be able to reach.
McCoy perceptive gaze settles on him.
“Cut yourself some slack, will you?” He says, not unkindly. “The guy’s got at least a century on you. Who knows what he used to be like decades ago?” A playful smirk appears on his face. “But don’t worry, he’is just as much of a pain in the ass as you are.”
“That is comforting, indeed,” Spock retorts sarcastically.
McCoy tilts his head to the side, watching him critically. Spock waits a minute, then another, fighting against the urge to glare as the man keeps on observing him like a scientific experiment.
“What’s your favorite color?” Leonard suddenly asks.
The Vulcan lifts an eyebrow, incredulous et the completely illogical inquiry. Truly, at this point, he should not even be surprised anymore.
“I beg your pardon?”
To his exasperation, the Doctor simply mimics him, lifting an eyebrow mockingly. “I am asking you a simple question, which requires a simple answer. And please, dear God, spare me the speech on logic. Right here, right now, if you had to pick a color, which one would it be?”
Spock closes his mouth. He will not admit that the “speech on logic” was exactly what he was about to deliver.
“Doctor McCoy,” he starts slowly, enunciating each work carefully. “You are frustratingly illogical.”
“I try,” the Doctor smirks satisfyingly. “So?”
Rolling his eyes has never seemed more tempting, but fortunately, Spock still has enough control to avoid it. He refuses to give Leonard the satisfaction.
Instead, he takes the time to think about the question. The answer is surprisingly easy.
The Doctor’s strange inquiry only makes sense the next morning in the mess hall.
It has become a habit, since their departure from Earth, for Spock to break his fast in the company of Nyota and McCoy. He used to take his breakfasts with Jim but, like what seems to be everything else, the Elder’s arrival has changed their routine. So it is a real surprise when they are joined by the pair that morning.
Spock feels him before he sees him and Nyota’s joyful greeting is the only warning he gets before a familiar hand comes to clap his shoulder in a friendly gesture. And if the Vulcan has come to appreciate the contact during his time on the Enterprise, at this moment the weight of that hand just feels oppressing. It means that he is left with absolutely no chance to escape.
“Hey, guys,” Jim greets them cheerfully. “Mind if we join you?”
It is ridiculous, really, but Spock feels as if he hasn’t seen Jim in years, instead of mere days. It is not enough, to catch glimpses of him around some corners. Jim’s presence is bright and powerful, his charisma such that he can’t help but draw people in. Spock only realized how much he’s come to depend on that presence when it was unfairly ripped from him.
Even now that it’s back in his orbit, he can’t stand the way the Ambassador’s side brushes against Jim’s.
“Not at all,” McCoy drawls. “It’s nice to know that our Captain hasn’t forgotten us.”
Jim laughs, his hand still on Spock’s shoulder. “Shut up, Bones.”
Spock ends up being trapped between the linguist and the Elder, the latter giving him a kind look.
“Spock,” he greets him warmly.
“Ambassador,” Spock responds as cordially as possible.
“We have not seen much of each other since I came aboard. It would please me to engage with you at your convenience. I wish to hear of your travels. It has been far too long since we last spoke, youngling.”
Not long enough, Spock thinks irrationally.
“Yeah, Spock,” Jim says, “Where have you been hiding, uh? I feel like I’ve barely seen you since we took off from Starbase 9.”
Nyota, bless her, unknowingly comes to his rescue.
“It seems to me that you’re the one who’s been kind of busy lately, Kirk,” she remarks drily, her tone light and humorous. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you welcome a diplomatic guest with so much enthusiasm. Stop it, it’s freaking me out.”
Again, Jim laughs and Spock has to fist his hands under the table when the Elder turns towards the blonde, obviously smitten by the sound.
From that point forward, Spock deliberately ignores the occasional knowing glances Leonard throws his way. Jim and Selik are discussing animatedly next to him, the Captain’s gaze positively sparkling as he listens to the Ambassador, sitting so close to him that Spock wonders if the two even remember that they share their table with other people.
Trying not to look at them too much, he makes an effort to answer politely to Nyota even as he calculates how soon he can take his leave without appearing impolite.
Of course, the Doctor ultimately ends up disrupting his plans.
“Say, Ambassador,” McCoy suddenly says loudly. “Can I ask you a question?”
At last, his older counterpart tears his attention away from Jim to look at his interlocutor. He blinks, as if surprised by the other’s presence. “Of course, Doctor.”
Spock wants to sigh. The opportunity to leave discreetly is gone now. Forcing himself to finish his plate despite his lack of appetite, he is taken completely by surprise when Leonard makes his inquiry.
“Do you have a favorite color?”
The reaction is instant. Spock chokes on his food, coughing so harshly that it immediately alarms the rest of their table.
“Spock!” he hears Jim exclaims.
A hand comes to pat his back. Nyota. “Are you alright?”
He manages to nod despite the burning of his throat, hastily accepting the glass of water Nyota offers him. The coolness of the liquid is wonderfully soothing, flowing down his throat like a balm. The pats on his back eventually turn into calm rubbings and Spock gently grips the linguist’s knee gratefully.
When he lifts his head to find Jim’s focus on him, he cannot deny that the worry in the Captain’s eyes warms him to his core.
“I am alright, Captain,” Spock reassures him, voice weak but steady.
“Oh, he’s fine!” Leonard dismisses with a flick of his hand, ignoring the twin glares he receives in return and turning back to a dumbfounded Selik. “So, Ambassador. You were saying?”
“I—” Selik starts, tearing his gaze away from Spock. He is obviously flabbergasted by the Doctor’s insistence. “Well, as you know, it is not logical to have a preference, as all colors of the spectrum have their own usefulness. But,” he interrupts what is sure to be a long rant on logic from the Doctor, “if I had to choose one, then I suppose it would not be untrue to say that I have a particular fondness for hazel brown.”
“Brown,” Leonard repeats pointedly. Then, looking directly at Spock with a smile that would be perfectly normal harbored by anyone else and yet seems a tad too psychotic on the man’s face. “He likes brown.”
Despite his embarrassment, Spock cannot help himself. He smiles back. It is small, barely tugging at the corner of his lips, but the Doctor has always been observant and, judging by the satisfied expression he now harbors, he has caught the sight of it.
Jim looks between the two of them strangely. “Am I missing something?”
“Nothing, kiddo,” Leonard dismisses the question with a wave of his hand. “The Ambassador likes brown. Pretty browny-brown.”
Jim frowns, looking surprisingly angry at the rather foolish answer. “What the hell, Bones?”
But Spock understands. And suddenly, he is filled with such an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness towards Leonard McCoy.
The man is a menace; his very existence seems to be the epitome of illogic. And yet the grumpy Doctor is also one of the most loyal individual Spock ever had the privilege to meet. He does not know what he has done in the past to be deserving of such protectiveness, to be offered Leonard’s own specific brand of friendship, but in that moment, he does not really care. He is simply thankful.
“It is a perfectly acceptable color,” he manages to say, and if the others can hear the slight tremors in his voice, well, they probably will not think much of it after his earlier seizure.
“Well, it’s not blue,” Leonard jokes easily.
It takes him every bit of his control to suppress a delighted laugh. No matter, he is certain his eyes are bright enough for Leonard to understand.
“No,” he agrees contentedly. “It is not.” They both nod to each other wordlessly before going back to their food.
Next to him, Nyota laughs incredulously. “I can’t believe it. Are you two having inside jokes, now?”
“For the love of— Never!”
“Do not be absurd, Nyota.”
The talented linguist just keeps on laughing, obviously delighted by her newfound knowledge. His counterpart seems to share her amusement, though his confusion is palpable, and he looks between Spock and the Doctor with what the young Vulcan can only describe as affection. For once, Spock does not find the weight of that perceptive gaze on him uncomfortable.
Oddly enough, only Jim keeps quiet.
The rest of the meal passes in a relatively pleasant atmosphere, with Spock feeling much lighter than before. In fact, he finds himself willingly engaging the Ambassador in a conversation, questioning him about his research and being genuinely interested in the answers he is given.
He pretends not to notice the way Jim’s eyes keep flickering back to him, dark and questioning and full of something he does not dare to name.
His communicator beeps on the table. Spock reaches for it absentmindedly, not taking his eyes off the experiment.
“Commander Spock, here.”
“Commander. Mind explaining to me why you’re not at your post?”
Spock blinks, not sure if he’s heard correctly.
“Captain?” he asks, surprised.
“Your post, Commander,” Jim repeats sternly. “Alpha shift started 10 minutes ago.”
That voice could not possibly belong to the Captain. It’s too cold, too severe; it does not suit Jim’s character in the least.
Moreover, Spock’s never heard Jim sound like that; did not even know he could sound like that. That this icy tone could be directed at him worries him more than he would like.
He starts uneasily. “I am not on Alpha shift today.”
“Yes, you are. Get back to your station immediately.”
Then the line goes silent.
Spock is so completely dumbfounded that it takes him a moment to move. Ensign Tamura, who has been standing next to him the whole time and carefully pretends not to have heard anything, wordlessly takes over the experiment.
Not for the first time, Spock is grateful for her perspicacity.
He leaves the laboratory and quickly makes his way to the bridge.
When he reaches his destination, he takes a deep, calming breath before the door of the turbolift opens in front of him. Head held high and shoulder straight, he comes to stand right behind the Captain’s chair.
Jim does not even look up, fixated on the reports on his lap.
Something is amiss.
“You’re late, Commander.”
He could explain, say that he has been misinformed. But Spock is the one who has made those planning charts in the first place, making sure to place himself on Beta shift for the rest of the Ambassador’s stay on the Enterprise. So the only way those charts could have been changed is if the Captain modified them.
Which is what happened. Jim put him back on Alpha shift and, for some reason, decided not to warn him. Explaining himself seems futile, considering all the facts.
So Spock simply takes the reprimand without a word. “I apologize, Captain. It shall not happen again.”
“Make sure it doesn’t.”
Spock nods, going to his station without a word. From the corner of his eye, he catches Nyota biting her lip nervously as she looks between him and Jim.
The rest of the shift is spent in a cold, tensed atmosphere, with the rest of the command crew exchanging worried glances while trying to appear as inconspicuous as possible.
Spock does not understand. It is not like Jim to act this way and it is certainly not like him to inflict his mood on the crew in such manner. The Captain has always strived to make sure that his crew could work in a light, comfortable atmosphere, allowing them to perform their duties to the best of their abilities. Today, Jim’s spirit is such that the coldness spreads around the bridge like a virus, infecting all of them.
When, finally, their shift comes to an end and the Lieutenant Commander Scott comes to relieve the Captain, Spock is sure he does not imagine the combined sights of relief that echo quietly around him the second Jim disappears in the turbolift.
“Spock, what the hell?” Nyota hisses between her teeth. “I don’t know what’s going on with you two lately, but whatever it is, fix it.”
She’s right, of course. Spock does not know what he has done to bring the Captain’s ire upon himself, but it is imperative that he makes things right.
So he leaves the bridge, intent on finding the Captain.
His search leads him to the Observatory, where he hears Jim before he sees him. But Spock quickly stops when he realizes that the blonde is not alone. It takes him barely a second to recognize his interlocutor and he bites back a groan of frustration.
Of course he is here.
Hidden in the shadows, he remains on the sidelines as he watches Jim speak quite energetically with the Ambassador.
Why was he expecting any differently? Those two have been scarcely apart since the Elder’s arrival on the Enterprise. It seems that Spock’s wish to have a private discussion with Jim would have to wait. Yet again.
Taking a better look at the scene before him, Spock frowns. Jim appears to be livid, gesticulating angrily as he speaks to Selik.
“— and I had to hear it from Barnett, of all people!”
“Calm your mind, young one.”
“I can’t believe he kept this from me. I can’t believe that he’s even considering leaving the Enterprise,” Jim growls in disgust. “And Pike! The backstabbing bastard better have a good explanation for this. What the hell was he even thinking? Why would he try to steal my First Officer?”
Startled, Spock’s mouth opens in surprise.
Is that the reason of the Captain’s ire?
He suppresses a groan of exasperation.
It was never his intention to hide the Admiral’s proposition from Jim, but he sees now that he has made a significant error in judgment. Spock never saw the necessity of informing his superior officer of the offer, simply because it has never crossed his mind to actually accept it.
But he can see how his behavior could be interpreted as treacherous from Jim’s side. It makes him want to sigh; the blonde is acting under completely false assumptions.
He has to make things right.
“Have you spoken to Spock about this matter?” asks Selik.
“No. I couldn’t even look at him today,” Jim muttered angrily. “I’m too pissed right now, and I don’t want to say anything I might regret later.”
“I am certain that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this,” Selik insists, and Spock does not know how to feel about the Elder’s apparent belief in his intentions. “The youngling would not betray your trust that way.”
Spock should be grateful for those words spoken in his defense. Instead, they just manage to frustrate him. He knows that his relationship with Jim is far from perfect, but he had believed that his loyalty had been proven enough over the 2.6 years of serving together. That the Captain does not consider him worthy of the benefit of the doubt is painfully disappointing.
“Don’t talk to me about trust. Pike offered him the position weeks ago and he didn’t even see it fit to inform me! I should have been the first one to know, if only because I’m his Captain and I need to be prepared if my FO is going to abandon me right in the middle of our five-year mission!”
Weeks? Spock thinks incredulously.
“It cannot have been his intent,” Selik tries to rationalize. “Perhaps young Spock simply needs time to come to a decision. Christopher Pike is someone he greatly admires, after all.”
Jim shakes his head. “He’s taking too much time, and that’s because he’s already decided to accept it. He wants to go and is too much of a coward to be honest with me about it.”
“You are letting your emotions cloud your judgment,” Selik admonishes him gently.
Spock sees Jim run a frustrated hand through his blond hair before visibly deflating, anger abandoning him with the drop of his shoulders, leaving only weariness behind.
Jim leans against the large glass panel behind him, rubbing his forehead tiredly.
« I’m trying, » he says resignedly. “I’m trying to understand him. I want what you and the other Kirk had. But it’s just… He doesn’t let me in, Selik. No matter what I do, I just can’t seem to reach him the way I want to. Spock’s just… he makes it so difficult. It’s hard to be friends with someone who doesn’t even seem to like you, let alone respect you.”
It stings. The sensation is not unlike the ones he used to experience during his childhood, faced with his father’s judgmental eyes after yet another loss of control.
Spock has not experienced his emotions so intensely since he was but a child. His control has been perfected, since then. And yet here he is, struggling to swallow the hurt those words have caused.
When had he allowed himself to become so weak?
Selik frowns. “You know that is not true.”
“Do I?” Jim retorts, shaking his head sadly. “No, Selik. If he truly respected me, then he would have come to me instantly with the news. The minute Pike contacted him. Instead, I was deliberately kept in the dark. What does that tell you about his loyalty to me?”
Alright, that is enough.
Spock wishes they could have this discussion in private, but he cannot let Jim believe such falsities any longer. Just when he is about to let his presence known, something in the Captain’s voice makes him stop.
“Sometimes, I just wish –” Jim starts, unsure. Spock also detects a hint of guilt in his tone. “—I wish he could be more like you.”
The quiet admission feels like a slap.
“Jim, that is unfair,” he hears Selik reprimanding the Captain gently.
Spock stumbles back, leaning on the wall behind him for support.
He does not understand why it feels like each of his internal organs is being squeezed mercilessly inside. After all, Jim’s revelation is nothing that Spock did not already suspect. He has known for some time now that the Captain finds him lacking compared to his older counterpart.
Therefore, the raw hurt he is experiencing does not make sense.
When Selik gently cups Jim’s cheek, it becomes too much for Spock to bear. He leaves the Observatory silently, the last vision of Jim leaning into the Ambassador’s touch burned into his mind.
The days pass with a slowness that frustrates Spock to no end, but eventually, they do reach Starbase 9. The mission is considered a success and the Ambassador’s party will be beaming down in a few hours, ready to go home.
Hopefully, their departure will bring him his peace of mind back. Spock truly hopes that they will be able to put this unbearable situation behind them once Elder Selik leaves.
He has yet to speak with the Captain, even though he’s back on Alpha shifts and had plenty opportunities to do so. The atmosphere isn’t quite as tensed as it was during that first shift, but it’s still far too formal for it to be normal. Spock knows he should speak with Jim as soon as possible in order to dissipate any misunderstandings. But every time he so much as looks at him, he finds himself back in the Observatory again, the words “I wish he could be more like you” echoing around him, cutthroat and merciless.
That night, he leaves the laboratories earlier than he usually does. He has not been sleeping very well these past few days and the fatigue is starting to catch up to him. His body needs rest. But when Spock turns at the corner of a corridor, the last one separating him from his rooms, he abruptly comes to a stop.
Jim and Selik are walking towards the former’s quarters.
Spock quickly hides behind a corner, not willing to be seen, and observes the pair in silence.
They are standing close, too close. Selik has his hand on the small of the Captain’s back and Jim is leaning against him as he enters the code to his quarters. The Vulcan Elder bows his head to whisper something in Jim’s ear, eliciting a playful laugh from the blonde.
The sound hurts something in Spock’s chest.
Selik slightly pulls back, obviously satisfied with the reaction, and looks at Jim with what can only be described as adoration. Jim turns his head to whisper something back, lips brushing against the Ambassador’s skin.
The intimacy of the sight makes Spock nauseous.
The blonde grabs Selik’s robes to tug him inside his quarters, the door slides shut behind them, and then nothing.
Spock is suddenly alone in the empty and too silent corridor, with nothing but his own imagination and doubts to fill the blanks left by the pair. Ironically, it was somehow reassuring to have them in his field of vision; not knowing is even worse.
Going back to his quarters seems unfathomable, now. Sleep will not come to him and mediation will be impossible in these circumstances. So Spock turns around, walking toward the turbolift. There are some experiments that necessitate his supervision. He shall take care of them now instead of doing it tomorrow like he had first planned to.
This is Selik’s last night on the Enterprise. His last night with Jim.
Spock does not want to think about all the ways those two could be saying goodbye.
Spock lifts his head from his PADD.
The blonde grimaces. “It’s Jim, Spock. We already talked about this.”
Yes, they have. Spock simply does not believe that it is proper for him to use the Captain’s name anymore. Not after what happened in the Observatory.
He says nothing as Jim fully enters his quarters, looking around him in a too casual manner for it to be natural. After all these years serving together, Spock has come to recognize the signs of nervousness.
“You didn’t come to see the Ambassador off.”
Spock knows the comment was not meant as a reprimand, only a simple attempt to start the conversation, but after what he has heard and seen, he cannot help but take offense. “Yourself and Doctor McCoy were present. Starfleet’s protocol states that a minimum of two superior officers are to greet and—”
“Wait, slow down, that wasn’t meant as a reproach,” Jim interrupts, lifting both of his hands in a calming gesture. “And it may not be protocol, but it’s still the custom. I know you know that. Honestly, we’re lucky it was just Selik; any other guest would have found your attitude terribly rude.” He frowns, eyes boring into Spock’s. “Or maybe that’s the reason you weren’t there to begin with?”
Spock does not respond. Embarrassment fills his chest at the thought that his behavior could be deciphered so easily. So he stays silent, hoping that Jim will be gracious enough to change the subject.
Besides, there is another matter he must discuss with the Captain.
Fortunately, Jim decides to not push the matter further. Sighing heavily, he leans against the desk and speaks once more.
“Spock, I need to talk to you about something.”
Spock nods. “I, too, need to inform you on some recent events as well.”
Something akin to panic crosses Jim’s eyes, but it is gone so quickly that Spock is certain he has only imagined it.
“Right. Ok.” Jim takes a steadying breath. “Look, let’s just start with the reason I’ve been acting a little cold these past few days. And I’m sorry for that, by the way. It wasn’t very professional of me. But Spock, I—… I’ve been informed that you were considering transferring off the Enterprise. And I need to know. Is there any truth to this rumor?”
This is his chance, Spock knows. He has to choose his words carefully, as he doubts he will get a second one.
“Not exactly,” he answers uneasily. “6.2 days ago, Admiral Pike offered me a position aboard the Excalibur and I … I have yet to decline the offer.”
Jim gives a terse nod at the answer, jaw clenched and fingers twisting as if itching to form fists. His anger is evident. And yet, when he speaks, his voice shows none of that frustration.
Instead, he sounds dismayed.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Captain.” At Jim’s flinch, Spock softens his posture. “Jim. The reason I did not inform you of the Admiral’s offer is because it never crossed my mind to accept it in the first place.”
Jim blinks. Once. Twice. He is clearly dumfounded by Spock’s answer.
“But—…” the blonde shakes his head, sounding simultaneously hopeful and frustrated. “Why haven’t you given him a clear answer, if that’s the case?”
Spock lowers his head, wondering where he should start.
A little voice in his head that sounds horrifically like McCoy’s gives him a clear answer. “By the beginning, you green blooded idiot.”
He clears his throat. “When I first joined Starfleet, Admiral Pike took a special interest in me. After the completion of my studies, he asked me to become his First Officer, despite the disapproval of the Admiralty. Their opposition was logical, as I had newly graduated and lacked the experience necessary for the post. But the Admiral… took a chance on me, you might say.” Spock hesitates, then adds quietly. “His belief in me was a nice change from my own father’s disapprobation.”
“Yeah,” Jim says softly, looking lost in thoughts. “I know the feeling.”
“I suppose you do,” Spock agrees. “I felt like I owed it to him to at least take some time to consider his offer.”
It is ridiculous, how easy it is for Jim to be able to see through him and fill the blanks. “You didn’t want to hurt him by making it clear that leaving wasn’t even an option for you.”
Spock avoids meeting Jim’s eyes, swallowing with some difficulty. “No, I did not. He is someone I greatly respect and admire,” he admits, unconsciously echoing his counterpart’s words from the other night.
“I didn’t think you two we so close,” Jim says, thoughtful and curious, before rubbing his forehead wearily. “You still should have told me.”
Spock nods, abashed. “I should have. You are my superior officer and it was unbecoming of me to keep that information from you.”
“Not only as your Captain, Spock,” Jim says a little sadly. Rubbing the back of his neck, the blonde seems to falter before adding. “As your friend, I wish you would have told me.”
Surprisingly, Spock feels slightly bitter at that. But he forces the feeling back determinedly. Jim is obviously trying here, making an effort to reach him and taking the risk to have his offer of friendship thrown back in face. Holding a few words spoken in anger against him would be unfair of Spock.
“I apologize, Jim.” It is all he can offer for the moment, but he hopes that the blonde can understand the meaning behind his words.
Judging by his ever growing smile, he has.
“That still doesn’t explain why Pike offered you the position,” Jim points out, his tone taking a sharper edge. Anger, not directed at him, but at their mentor. “I don’t understand. It’s not like he doesn’t know that I—” He cuts himself off, throwing a quick glance at Spock before lowering his head. “We make a good team. We make a great team. So why would he try to break that?”
Spock winces. He cannot let the Captain’s affection for Christopher suffer because of him. “I believe the fault is mine.”
The blonde just snaps his attention back to him, alert and sharp.
“Explain,” Is all he says.
Spock hesitates. He does not want to give Jim the wrong impression. But at the blonde’s intent look, he knows he will not be able to escape the inquiry. So he tries to answer as sincerely as he can, mindful of his words.
“Our last conversation gave the Admiral the impression that I was somehow… unsatisfied, with my current position. He was simply looking out for my best interests, nothing more.”
Jim frowns. “Usatis—… Wait.” His eyes widen and he looks positively appalled. “He thought you were unhappy? Here? On the Enterprise?”
“That seems to have been his impression,” Spock repeats pointedly.
But the reassurance does not calm Jim. With every second, his expression darkens a little bit more and he takes a step closer to Spock, then another, soon reducing all distance between them. Spock’s breath hitched. They are now so close that he can spot the small scar under Jim’s ear perfectly.
It takes everything in him not to retreat.
The blonde refuses to free him from his piercing gaze, keeping his eyes firmly locked on Spock’s as he speaks.
“Pike is a smart man. A little too perceptive for his own good. He never would have gotten this ‘impression’ if you hadn’t given him a reason to.” This time, Spock does take a step back, and while Jim allows him the distance, the intensity of his stare only deepens. “Spock, I need to ask. Were you… Was he right?”
“No,” he instantly denies. “Christopher misinterpreted the situation, that is all.”
Jim blinks, slowly uncrossing his arms. The use of the Admiral’s name has clearly unsettled him. “You call him Christopher,” he points out, a note of something that strangely resembles sadness in his tone.
They continue to stare at each other in silence for a few moments until, at last, Jim tears his eyes away. But Spock’s relief is short lived when the Captain’s expression becomes thoughtful instead. Then, as quickly as it had left, his attention goes back to Spock.
“6.2 days ago,” Jim repeats. “That’s a little after Selik came on board.”
“His presence merely exacerbated a sentiment that already existed,” Spock quickly explains before Jim could delve into this new train of thoughts. “To use one of your human terminologies, I simply got a little ‘homesick’. But I assure you, I have no intention of leaving the Enterprise. Nor do I want to leave the ship.”
His words appear to wash over Jim like a cool balm. The Captain’s shoulder sag forward and a little sigh of relief escapes him. Without prompting, he grabs Spock’s upper arm to give it a gentle squeeze. Spock tolerates the contact, allowing himself a small, reassuring smile for good measure.
Jim lets out a laugh, shaking his head fondly. “Don’t ever do that to me again. I nearly had a heart attack when I found out about the offer.”
Spock frowns. “Did you really believe that I would accept it?”
“I sure as hell hoped you wouldn’t! Everyone knows I’m useless without my first officer.”
“At least you are aware of your shortcomings.”
Jim stills, blue eyes wide open, and just when Spock starts to think that his attempt at a joke may have been completely inappropriate, the blonde bursts out laughing.
The sound of that bright, loud laugh tears a small smile from him.
Instead of letting him go like Spock expected him to, Jim grabs his other arm and looks at him intently, grinning madly with a playful glint in his eyes.
“So, here’s what’s gonna happen. You’re going to get in contact with Pike, as in right now, and politely refuse his generous offer. If he asks, tell him you already have the best boss in the universe and that he’s not the sharing type. Then I never want to hear a single word about you transferring off this ship ever again. Understood?”
An unexpected bubble of warmth swells inside Spock’s chest.
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
Jim’s smile becomes softer. Tender. “Good.”
The light atmosphere around them changes into something more charged. But not uncomfortable. Something more akin to what they had shared before their departure from Starbase 9. Before his older counterpart appeared and unknowingly put an end to Spock’s previous beliefs.
The hold on his arms loosens, but does not disappear. Instead, Jim slowly slides his hands to Spock’s elbows, advancing further into his personal space. Each movement feels like a question that Spock’s silence seems to answer.
Spock cannot help his body’s reactions; his breathing quickens, his heart starts to beat faster and the warmth spreading in his lower belly is as pleasant as it is uncomfortable.
When Jim’s eyes flicker down to his lips, Spock knows. He knows what is about to happen, should he let it. One more step and their tentative friendship will either be shattered or turn into something more.
He desires that something more.
But then the scene he had stumbled upon last night comes back to mind. Jim’s flirtatious laughter. Selik’s hand on his lower back.
“Spock…” Jim breathes out.
Spock closes his eyes.
He cannot take the risk.
Swallowing hard, he takes a step back, forcing Jim to let him go. Instantly, the link between them breaks. He lowers his head, cannot bring himself to see the look on Jim’s face. Would he find the man’s features twisted with disappointment? Embarrassment? Relief?
The air between them has been cleared, at last. They are finally in a good place after a long period of tensions, and Spock refuses to cross the invisible line of their relationship when he is not even certain that Jim truly wants this. He had already made that mistake, once; letting his guard down only to be easily pushed aside when his counterpart reappeared in their lives.
It seems clear to him who the true object of Jim’s desire is.
Spock will not blind himself to the truth again. There is a high probability that the blonde’s behavior results from a deep confusion and the desire to fill the hole left by the Elder’s departure. They were close, after all, extremely close, and his sudden absence must be disorienting to the Captain, explaining his current behavior.
But Spock does not want to be a simple replacement. He wants to be Jim’s first and only choice.
Before he could falter, he quickly makes his excuses and leaves without looking back.
Jim does not try to stop him.
Spock knew he should have insisted they return to the Enterprise earlier. As soon as they realized that the Etanians were undoubtedly not interested in joining the Federation.
But the orders were clear and they had to obey, so further attempts at negotiating were endeavored.
What a mistake.
At first, he is too shocked to truly register the pain. It lasts only a few seconds, however, before his wound makes itself known with a vengeance. His knees give out under him and he fully expects to fall face first on the ground, preparing himself for the impact. Luckily, he is caught just in time by two arms swiftly grabbing him.
One of his savior’s hands accidently goes to his hurt side, bumping against the knife that is still buried there, and the agonizing sensation of the blade moving inside makes him grunt.
Or it could have been a scream. Spock honestly does not know anymore.
“—shit!—…Spock—… hold on—…stay with—…”
Jim, Spock distantly registers. That is Jim’s voice.
Jim who is now gathering him in his arms, clutching him tightly as he screams something into his communicator. There is no hiding the raw panic deforming his words.
Spock wishes he could reassure him, and he opens his mouth to do just that, but despite his best efforts, nothing comes out. The ability to speak seems to have been taken from him.
“—…tty, beams us—… fucking now—…”
It hurts. Surak, it hurts. His lungs desperately inhale some air but even the act of breathing becomes difficult and excruciating, each breath being akin to another stabbing. Spock fights to stay conscious, but at some point, his vision inevitably darkens.
Perhaps he can rest, just for a moment. Just enough to gather his strength.
His eyes flutter shut on their own. Distantly, he think he hears the Captain yelling his name, but his voice carries so much terror and fear that it cannot be anything but a product of his imagination. James Kirk is the bravest man he has ever known; he would never sound anything like that.
Spock tries to resist as his body shuts down.
But then he wakes up. The too bright lights make him scrunch his eyes.
“Well, look who’s finally back with us,” McCoy says.
The Doctor looks tired. Weary.
“Doctor. You are certainly not a sight for sore eyes.”
He knows that his pathetic attempt at lightening the atmosphere fails when, instead of insulting him as creatively as possible, Leonard just takes a deep breath and rubs his face in his hand.
Spock frowns. His condition must have been extremely bad if that is the only reaction he gets.
“Goddamnit,” Leonard grumbles. “I’m keeping you overnight and, starting tomorrow, you’re off duty until I say you’re not. Are we clear?”
“Absolutely not,” Spock protests instantly, pushing on his hands to sit up. “I am perfectly capable of—…”
Leonard cuts him off. “I said,” he lets out forcedly, putting a hand on Spock’s shoulder to keep him from moving, fixing him with an impressive glare and looming menacingly above him. “Are we clear, Commander?”
Spock hears the hidden threat loud and clear. An exasperated sigh escapes him. “Yes, Doctor.”
His answer provides him with a satisfied nod and, after patting his shoulder a few times, McCoy starts his usual routine. Meaning that he fusses over Spock and stabs him with as many hypos as he can find, grumbling under his breath and complaining the whole time.
Spock is starting to understand why the Captain absolutely abhors his monthly visits to sickbay.
A surge of fear immediately fills his chest. Jim.
Leonard jumps as Spock abruptly sits up, too startled to stop him from throwing his legs on the side of the bed. “What do you think you’re doing?!”
Spock does not respond and tries to breathe through the pain. The movement was too sudden for his still hurt side. His body is recovering, needs to be treated with care, but that is not Spock’s priority at the moment.
“The Captain,” Spock croaks, resisting as McCoy tries to get him to lie back down again. “Is he alright? Has he been hurt by the locals?”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” McCoy mutters angrily before turning his head to look at something behind him, still struggling to keep Spock on the bed. “Do something, will you?”
Spock keeps fighting against the Doctor’s hold until another familiar voice echoes around them.
“I’m here, Spock.”
Just like that, Spock stops moving. Jim slowly comes to stand behind Leonard, looking at Spock with an indecipherable expression on his face. The sight strangely makes him nervous. If McCoy appeared to be tired, then the blonde looks absolutely exhausted, as displayed by the dark circles under his eyes and his pale, nearly sickly skin.
Spock doesn’t lie back down, but he does keep still, and that must be enough for McCoy because the man releases his shoulders, shaking his head in frustrated exasperation.
“I hate you both so much,” he complains while rubbing his forehead. Then, fixing Jim with a stern finger, he adds. “The hobgoblin needs his rest. Don’t stay too long, alright?”
Jim does not take his eyes from Spock but still gives a terse nod of agreement in Leonard’s direction, earning himself an impressive snort.
“Right. Why do I even bother?” he mutters to himself.
After administrating one last hypo to Spock, one that instantly makes the ache in his side disappear, Leonard leaves them alone without a word.
He might as well have taken all the air with him. The tension between them is such that it could be cut with a knife; it is not a pleasant sensation in the least. Spock has to stop himself from fidgeting under Jim’s stormy glower, frantically searching for a reason that could explain the Captain’s strange behavior.
Jim’s icy exterior is alarming and, even though he has no idea why, Spock is almost certain that he is about to get punched.
“You bastard,” Jim growls angrily, taking a step forward.
And then Jim is kissing him.
Spock’s eyes widen in shock.
The contact is too brief, making it impossible for him to truly react to the sensation of Jim’s lips on his. As it is, he entertains the possibility that he might be hallucinating when the blonde pulls away, shaking slightly.
“You can’t do this to me,” Jim says against his mouth, trapping Spock’s face between his hands and pressing their foreheads tightly together. “You can’t do this to me.”
“I—… I do not—”
Jim does not let him finish and kisses him again. Hard. Forcing Spock’s lips opened and deepening the kiss heatedly. The touch of their tongues has him letting out an involuntary moan. Suddenly, any control he has on himself is gone.
There is nothing else to do but take it; take the anger and the fear and the pure and utter relief that Jim channels into their kiss.
So Spock wraps his arms around the blonde’s waist, pulling him closer, and kisses him back with a passion that would frighten him if he were not so busy with losing himself in their embrace. The doubts disappear. The insecurities disappear. None of it matters compared to the possessive hold Jim has on him, or the hunger he shows while taking possession of Spock’s mouth, or the way he fits against him like he belongs there.
The line has been crossed now, and Spock cannot imagine a single scenario where he would be able to let go. It is too late for that.
When the need to breathe becomes too much, they break apart reluctantly. But not once does Jim’s mouth leave his skin. Instead, the blonde moves his lips across Spock’s jawline, down his neck, trailing soft kisses like a burning path, until he simply buries his face into Spock’s shoulder, holding him tightly.
“Tell me you’re ok,” he orders shakily.
“I am alright,” Spock promises quietly.
“I thought he had stabbed the heart. There was so much blood and you weren’t breathing—”
“Jim,” Spock interrupts him, gently threading his fingers through the blond hair soothingly. “I am alright,” he repeats reassuringly.
Jim nods against his shoulder and Spock hears him take a deep, calming breath. Eventually, the embrace become less desperate and turns into a comforting hug
“Spock,” Jim sighs his name like a prayer. “I don’t want to pretend anymore.”
Breathing heavily against him, Spock grips the golden fabric of Jim’s shirt and closes his eyes, heart hammering painfully in his side.
The line has been crossed.
He does not want to pretend either.
“Alright, so it’s official,” Jim exclaims as he walks into Spock’s quarters, unannounced, and promptly goes to the bed, falling face first on the covers. “I hate Klingons.”
Spock slowly puts his PADD back on his desk. Perhaps he should be alarmed that these sorts of occurrences have stopped being exasperating some time ago. In fact, it now only elicits a deep sense of curiosity, mixed with warm amusement from his part.
“I take it Mister Scott’s report was not satisfying?”
Jim groans into a pillow. Spock should not find this endearing.
“The hits we’ve taken are too important and even with Scotty’s genius, there’s no way to make the proper repairs on the spot,” Jim sighs, turning around to look at the ceiling. “Good news is that we can still make the journey back to Earth, if we’re careful and don’t push our warp core too much. But we’ll be stuck planetside for at least a month.”
“It is fortunate that we have managed to escape at all,” Spock reminds him, not unkindly.
Jim grows solemn. “Yeah, I know.”
With obvious effort, the blonde makes the somber expression on his face disappears. He evidently does not wish to think about the circumstances that led them to this situation. He looks at Spock, a small, expectant grin on his lips. “So. How would my loyal second occupy his days if he can’t inspire terror and awe in the crewmembers anymore?”
Spock very nearly snorts. Judging by the satisfied glint in Jim’s eyes, his reaction was noticed. “Exaggeration, Captain?”
This time, Jim does snorts. “I think not, Commander. Honestly, I can’t tell who’s more terrifying. You or the army of blue minions you’re training to be just like you. Did you know that Ensign Tamura made poor Chekov cry, the other day?”
Spock suppresses a wince. Of course he knows. He is one of the few who had the misfortune to witness the whole scene, torn between admiration and horror.
Let it be said that he had made a point to treat Pavel Chekov with extra care that day.
“I have heard,” is all he answers instead.
Jim furrows his brows. “She’s your favorite, isn’t she? You should be proud, she definitely takes after you.”
“Captain,” Spock sighs exasperatedly. “The members of my scientific team—…”
“—are not my children.”
“Don’t let them hear you say that, you’ll break their hearts.” Not giving Spock the chance to retort, Jim quickly changes the subject. Or rather, he brings the original conversation back on track. “But seriously, how would you spend that month? Teaching at the Academy?”
“It is a possibility.” But even as he says that, Spock knows that this is not what he will do. “But I believe I would rather use that time to go to New Vulcan. According to my father, the colony has progressed at a satisfying rate since its foundation and there are a few projects I could take on, should the Enterprise be stranded for repairs.”
It might simply be wishful thinking on his part, but he believes that Jim’s smile becomes a little strained after that. “Oh,” he lets out, nearly sounding disappointed to Spock’s ears. “Of course. That makes sense.”
He feels the strange need to explain himself. “I do not regret my choice to stay in Starfleet.” With you, goes unsaid. “But that decision meant that I could not aid my people in their time of need to the best of my abilities. This could be a contribution, however small, on my part.”
Jim nods sympathetically. “You don’t need to explain yourself to me, I understand.”
Spock is convinced that he does. But his eyes are cast down and his smile seems a little bit sad and the easiness he tries to express feels a tad too forced. Before he could stop himself, words Spock has never planned on speaking in the first place come out of his mouth.
“You could accompany me,” he suddenly blurts out.
“What?” Jim’s eyes widen, looking at the Vulcan like he had grown a second head.
Spock freezes, taken aback by his own boldness.
That…was not planned.
What an unforgivable loss of control.
It does not matter. The words have been spoken, floating invisibly between them. There is no turning back now.
He swallows with some difficulty, forcing himself to appear calm and assured. “You often express interest in the colony and I believe it would be a good opportunity to satisfy that curiosity.” Even to his own ears, the words sound cold and, frankly, ridiculous. So Spock pushes back his discomfort, embarrassed but determined to be honest. “It would please me to have you by my side.”
Surak, he has never felt more naked or vulnerable in his life.
“You want me. To go with you. To New Vulcan,” Jim repeats slowly, as if to make sure he’s heard correctly. “Would it be as your Captain, as your friend, or…”
This is torture. He should have never opened his mouth. Spock desperately racks his brain for an acceptable answer to give back.
Unsurprisingly, he finds none.
Spock does not want to send Jim running to the hills, but he does not want to pretend either. Sadly, he has no idea how to balance those two contradictory desires.
“It would be as whatever you feel more comfortable with,” he finally says, swallowing nervously.
There is no response at first. Jim looks absolutely stunned by the proposition, blinking in surprise and keeping awfully quiet.
Spock curses himself once more.
“Do not feel obligated to accept on my behalf,” Spock quickly reassures. It becomes unbearable for him to sit still and he suddenly gets up, trying to hide his growing panic by making himself seem busy. “I understand that by human standards, we have not been together for long, and I do not want to pressure you into—”
Is it the softness of Jim’s tone or the hand on his shoulder that makes him turn around? Spock does not know. But he finds himself facing the blonde anyway, frantically searching for ways to subtly change the subject, only to be rendered completely silent by the absolute fondness painting Jim’s features.
“I would love to go to New Vulcan with you.”
Spock wonders if the way his entire body seems to sag in deep relief would be considered pathetic. No matter. When Jim wraps his arms around him, he lets himself go, burying his face into the crook of the blonde’s neck and inhaling his comforting scent.
It still seems surreal to him that he is now allowed to do this.
Suddenly, Jim pulls away.
“Wait, hang on. We would have to stay at Sarek’s, wouldn’t we?”
Spock lifts an eyebrow. “Evidently.”
“You do realize that your father hates me, right?”
“He does not.”
Spock’s offended protest brings a laugh out of Jim. “He totally does,” he retorts, pressing a kiss to Spock’s jawline. Slowly, his face darkens. “Can’t say I blame him. I was pretty awful to you after…after Vulcan.”
The quiet admission surprises Spock. He did not know that this past occurrence was still an issue. “If I recall, I had not been extremely fair to you either,” he says simply. “You did what you had to do, Jim. You should not blame yourself when it is your actions that saved us all.”
Jim shakes his head. “Still. It doesn’t excuse what I said to you. But I hope you know—… I mean, I hope that you—…” he sighs frustratingly, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I didn’t believe a single word that came out of my mouth, that day. Saying them out loud made me sick. Of course you cared. Of course you loved your mother. And I knew it, even back then, I knew it. It was written all over your face, so how could I not?”
“No, please, let me finish,” Jim interrupts him pleadingly. “I never apologized for the way I manipulated you and twisted your grief, did I? I don’t know if that makes me a coward or a bastard. Either way, I’m sorry, Spock. I am truly, deeply, sorry.”
“Ashayam,” Spock breathes out, cupping Jim’s cheek in his hand, letting his lips brush the blonde’s forehead soothingly. “Please, believe me when I tell you that you have nothing to apologize for. Had I not been so stubborn, you never would have been forced to take to such extreme measures in order to make me see reason. I did not leave you with any other choices. But if my forgiveness is what you need to free yourself of that burden, then you have it. I forgive you.”
A bright, blinding smile illuminates Jim’s face, blue eyes positively shining as they gaze upon Spock. It seems natural, then, that their lips should meet. Slow and warm. There is no attempt to deepen the contact between them, both seeming content with exchanging small, tender kisses instead.
When they break apart, Spock unconsciously follows after Jim, his action earning him an amused laugh and another quick kiss at the corner of his mouth.
“So, meeting the parents, uh?” Jim teases, wrapping his arms around Spock’s neck. “I can’t believe we’ve already reached that stage in our relationship. You know, I always thought that the idea would freak me out, but I’m actually kind of excited.”
The notion is pleasant to hear. His chest feels strangely lighter now that he is faced with Jim’s obvious enthusiasm. “I, too, would be pleased to meet your mother. She is based at Starbase 6, is she not? Should we make the time for a visit during our next shore leave, then?”
Jim’s smile falters a bit. “Oh,” he lets out awkwardly. “I—..., I don’t think so, Spock.”
Spock blinks, too shocked by the clear refusal to register anything else.
“I thought you said that your relationship with the Commander has improved…” he starts, unsure.
Jim clears his throat, avoiding his gaze in an obvious sign of discomfort.
“Yeah, we’re getting there. But it’s still new, you know?”
No. He does not.
Feeling somehow foolish by his earlier eagerness, he tries to move away. But the blonde immediately tightens his grip on him and presses their lips together, his fingers rubbing the back of Spock’s neck apologetically.
“It’s better this way, I swear,” Jim promises. “Can we talk about this later?”
Not giving him the time to actually answer, Jim takes his lips once more, kissing him more heatedly this time. Spock knows what he is doing. This particular tactic has been used more than once when the blonde wished to keep him quiet.
At first, he barely responds, Jim’s instant rebuttal more painful that he expected. But Spock has never been strong enough to resist him, and this is no different. So he accepts to not press the matter further, convincing himself that Jim would come to him when he is ready.
Deft fingers thread into his hair and he can’t help the appreciative groan that escapes him at the touch. Sensing Jim’s triumphant smile against his mouth, Spock suddenly dives forward to deepen their kiss, taking advantage of the other’s shocked gasp to tangle their tongues together. Jim responds avidly, grabbing the hem of his blue shirt to lift it hastily.
Pleasure soon overcomes Spock’s senses, enticing him into letting the world around him fade away until it becomes nothing but Jim.
Later, as they both lie on the bed, still slightly panting but sated and content in each other arms, his uneasiness comes back even stronger when Jim innocently evokes his older counterpart.
“While on New Vulcan, we could take the opportunity to go visit Selik,” Jim suggests easily, excitement clear in his tone. “It’ll be nice. I miss him.”
Spock tenses, and he is unlucky enough that Jim senses the change in him nearly instantly, if the way he lifts his head to look at him in curiosity is any indication. In any case, Spock tries to save face and forces a small encouraging smile on his features.
“Of course,” he says calmly. “If that is your wish. I am certain the Elder will be glad to see us.”
He will certainly be happy to see you.
Jim does not appear to be convinced, because he frowns and carefully observes Spock’s face. A quiet sigh escapes him. Barely a few seconds later, Spock feels the blonde’s fingers trace his lips in a touch so gentle, he cannot help but lean into it. He hums pleasantly, tightening his grip on Jim’s waist and absently rubbing the small of his back.
“Why do you hate him so much?” Jim asks, breaking the fragile tranquility surrounding them.
Spock closes his eyes in defeat. Letting his guard down was a mistake. But perhaps was it foolish from his part to expect Jim to simply let the matter go, particularly as it concerns someone he greatly cares about.
The blonde could not have been more wrong. He harbors no hatred for the Elder. On the contrary, Spock admires him.
Respected by his pears, comfortable with his mixed heritage, Selik is every bit the Vulcan Spock has always aspired to be. But he also resents this apparent perfection, acting like a mirror that only seems to reflect his own flaws, that only serves to remind him how much of a failure he truly is.
Here lies the heart of the problem; the respect and admiration Spock holds for Selik are tainted by a perverse sense of jealousy that he has not yet managed to erase, despite his numerous attempts at doing so. Logic does not help. Meditation does not help. And the thought of Jim and the Elder together only makes it worse.
Spock has never asked about Selik’s last night on the Enterprise, when he caught them entering the Captain’s quarters together. His own cowardliness shames him, but he is afraid of what Jim might reveal.
He cannot stand the thought that he has such little control over his reactions.
The Captain adores Selik; he has never hidden that fact. And Spock also knows that Jim wishes he could act more like his older counterpart. He does not blame him for it. After all, Selik is easier to be around with, more open with his emotions and, most importantly, he has made his devotion to the blonde known more than once. Loudly and proudly. Whereas Spock is still unsure about his place in Jim’s life and does not know how to show his affection, or even how to act around him in public now that their relationship became romantic in nature.
Truthfully, Spock often wonders if Jim regrets being with him. It is not something he is proud of, and yet he cannot help but think with every disappointed sigh, every sad smile, that Jim expected something different out of their relationship. Something that Spock has unfortunately failed to offer. During those moments, he finds himself cursing his older counterpart and the promises he must have given Jim. Illusions never live up to reality and Spock is the one who is now paying the consequences.
Despite the strength of his feelings for Jim, Spock worries that his quiet loyalty is nothing compared to Selik’s open dedication. Worse, when he is at his weakest, he even starts to believe that it would perhaps be better for Jim to be with someone who would meet his needs in a way that Spock never could. That way, the blonde would not have to settle for the pale copy; he could have the original instead.
“I do not hate him,” he finally admits, pressing his forehead against Jim and desperately trying to hide his shame. “I fear him.”
Jim offers no answers to that. The silence is as distressing as it is reassuring.
Do not challenge a Vulcan in his Time, it is a lesson that he has learned a long time ago.
That is why his father insisted that he goes check on Jim and the Elder first, when all Spock wanted to do was to run to his counterpart’s house himself. Only, he could not argue against the sound logic that had been presented to him. Should the worst happen, their familial bond would keep Selik from seeing Sarek’s presence as a challenge, giving him enough time to be assured of Jim’s wellbeing.
So Spock had stayed put, left alone with his fears, and trying his best to convince himself of their irrational nature. He should have known that Jim would take advantage of their absence to go visit his older counterpart, that his poor explanation about the Elder’s sickness would not satisfy him. But Spock had asked and he had been so certain that Jim would respect his request, if only for a few hours.
Instead, he came back to find his Captain gone from the mansion.
Waiting for Sarek’s return had been a long torture during which Spock had desperately reminded himself over and over again that Elder Selik had impeccable control, that perhaps he had already meditated the Fever away and Jim was simply currently sharing a cup of tea with an old friend.
He had nearly managed to convince himself of that reassuring notion when Sarek came back. Spock had not needed his father’s words to know; that the Vulcan Ambassador could not bring himself to look at his son was enough.
“The Captain is in no danger.”
He had been given his answer, accepting it like a violent blow that took the air out of his lungs.
It has been a few minutes – 12.4, his mind supplies – and Spock still has not moved from the living room since Sarek’s return. Truthfully, he has no idea how to react to the news that Jim is, in all likelihood, helping his older counterpart through his Time. He just feels cold. A strange sensation swirls in his chest, something he is unable to name until his father speaks once more.
“My son,” Sarek starts, unsure and hesitant. It is surprising to see his usual confidence gone from his tone. “Is there anything I can do?”
Shame. That is what he is currently experiencing at the moment. His father means well, but Spock finds himself incapable of facing him. He feels humiliated. It is something he has not experienced since he was a child, rejected by his pears because of his mixed heritage. The room starts to spin around him and he closes his eyes, willing his control to return to him. But his treacherous mind does not let him focus, assaulting him instead with images of Jim and Elder Selik together, naked in each other’s arms, intimate in a way only Vulcan bondmates can be. Suddenly, the very act of breathing becomes painful.
“Spock?” Sarek sounds worried and it only serves to reinforce his humiliation. His own father should not be witnessing this total loss of control. He should not have been the one to find his t’hy’la in someone else’s bed. “Perhaps meditation would provide you some peace?”
“I—,” Spock says difficulty. “Yes. Perhaps. If you will excuse me.”
He leaves the room without looking back, choosing to go outside instead of hiding in the security of his own room. He does not believe himself to be strong enough to withstand the sight of Jim’s things, laid scattered across the bedroom where they had made love only a few hours prior.
Most of the new capital is still nothing more than a gigantic construction sight. Spock just walks, aimless and oblivious to the building areas, only stopping when he arrives to the very edges of the city, facing the desert landscape. He is so unfocused that it takes him a few seconds to realize that his 2.6 hours walk ultimately took him in the direction of the Elder’s home.
The road ahead of him goes straight into the mountains. Spock is punched with a raw feeling of resentment at the thought that, right on the other side of them, Jim is with his older counterpart. That anger infects his cells, flows through his veins. It takes possession of him until he is shaking under its force.
Spock turns around, walking straight back towards his family’s residence. Now that he has a goal in mind, the distance becomes negligible, but the journey still feels too long to him. When he finally arrives in front of the house, he does not go inside, choosing to borrow his father’s vehicle instead.
Sarek would disapprove his decision. It is a good thing that Spock has long ago ceased to care about his approval.
He is aware of the risks he is taking by going to the Ambassador’s house by himself. If Elder Selik is consumed by the Fever, then there is a 92.07% probability that he will see Spock as a rival for his mate’s affection. Should that scenario occur, his counterpart will become uncontrollably violent towards him.
But he has to know. He has to see for himself. Those are the only thoughts that possess him at the moment.
Again, the trip seems endless, lasting an eternity. But Spock drives fast and his throat tightens when the new compound finally appears within viewing range. He does not need to search for long, as he catches sight of a motorbike parked in front of one of the houses. The engine can only belong to Jim.
Spock does not give himself time to think this through. He parks right next to the bike and leaves the car door opened after he exits the vehicle, practically running towards the house.
Fortunately, the door is unlocked. Unfortunately, the first thing he sees as he opens it is the black garment lying carelessly on the floor. Vulcan robes.
His newfound drive leaves him at once in the quiet residence. The Elder and Jim are nowhere to be found, but a general look around him is enough to give life to his worst fears. Spock recognizes Jim’s clothes, scattered around the living room where the coffee table is flipped over. He swallows hard at the sight and his hands are shaking when he bends down to grab the Vulcan garment in quiet disbelief.
He has his answers.
That is when he hears it; broken, languid moans that Spock would recognize anywhere.
He cannot move. He cannot even breathe. He can only grip the robes in his hands and close his eyes at the unbearable sounds.
It is illogical. Blinding himself to the truth will not stop him from hearing it.
« God, Spock. »
The black robes slip out of his hands and Spock has to grip the wall in order to steady himself. The house is quiet, yet too loud. There is a door left ajar across the hallway, from where he distinguishes muffled noises, coming out of what he can only assume is the bedroom. Have they finished? Is it over? Or is the blood pounding in his ears simply rendering him deaf?
He should leave. He will. He must, if only for his own sanity.
But he cannot bring himself to depart without being absolutely sure.
So he starts to walk down the hallway, slowly, until the noises become clearer.
« …—you need—… Spock—… »
Jim, he begs silently. Jim, do not do this. Please.
There is some sort of grinding noise that starts to fill the empty corridor, strangely reminiscent of a bed creaking. Spock very much doubts that the Elder and Captain have suddenly decided to jump on the mattress. The mental image alone nearly makes him snort.
It occurs to him that he may be becoming a little hysterical.
He can barely hear Selik, apart from the occasional grunts and growls, but Jim’s throaty moans become louder and louder. Spock takes each one like a stabbing, heart clenching painfully in his side. It feels like his body is attacking him for choosing to stay instead of sparring himself this agony. The punishment seems unfair. He just wants to be certain.
“I love you so much,” Spock hears Jim say, keen and sincere. “I— aah!”
Spock flinches, as if slapped. He is going to be ill.
Now, he knows that they have finished.
He cannot stand this any longer. As he already knows what he is going to find behind that door, subjecting himself to this torture is needless.
And yet, he cannot deny the small part of him, so small, it’s nearly inexistent - too illogical, too human - that keeps protesting at this evident betrayal. Nor can he rebuff the quiet voice in his head that still somehow manages to make itself heard over the cacophony of dark thoughts, trying its best to be soothing and reassuring.
His Captain is an honest man, loyal to his core. He has previously made his affection for Spock known and had been pleased to accompany him on New Vulcan as his romantic partner. Jim had been the one who had pushed for a relationship between them in the first place. That he would prove to be unfaithful now makes no sense.
But—… affection is not love, and Jim is still human. Perhaps more human than anyone he has ever met. A slave to his emotions. After all, is the man not known and praised throughout the galaxy for his irrational genius? Was it not his propensity to ‘act before thinking’ and ‘jump with his eyes closed’ that ultimately led him to become the Enterprise’s Captain?
And Spock knows perfectly well how dear his older counterpart is to the blonde. The Ambassador holds a special place in Jim’s life and their bond is extremely precious to him. Friendship, Jim had claimed many times. Only, Spock remembers. He remembers the last time the Ambassador had come aboard the Enterprise, the quiet intimacy that had nearly constantly surrounded the two of them when they were together, the pitying looks the Doctor would send Spock’s way as the Elder monopolized Jim’s time, to the point where it felt like the Captain had all but forgotten Spock’s existence.
“Sometimes, I wish he could be more like you.”
Spock is not like his counterpart. He is his own person. Not Vulcan enough. Not Human enough. Not even enough to satisfy Jim’s needs.
Was the temptation of helping the Elder through the Fever too strong? Was this just another occurrence of Jim becoming so enthralled by the Ambassador that the world around him faded to nothingness?
Jim would not do that to you! The voice is becoming a little more inaudible with each passing moment, more desperate also. But Spock holds onto it tightly. There is a 4.8% chance that another explanation exists.
It is excruciating, to force himself to walk and get closer to the bedroom. The more he progresses, the more audible the noises coming from inside become. He can identify the quiet sounds of what he suspects to be sliding sheets, followed by pleasant hums and groans. When Spock finally gets close enough to distinguish the inside of Selik’s room, he is unable to keep going. The moans of pleasure coming from Jim are familiar, too familiar, and he knows what he is going to find on the other side of that door. He is going to stumble upon a couple, entangled in each other and kissing languidly.
He has to bite his lips to keep quiet when Jim’s laugh echoes around him. « I think you’ve just fucked my brains out. » The gaping hole in Spock’s chest becomes more pronounced; the void is agonizing. “The things I want to do to you…”
There's a 4.8% chance.
He has to be sure.
Putting a trembling hand on the doorknob and schooling his features into an impassible mask, Spock opens the door.