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Miles To Go Before I Sleep

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Spock could no longer look at the stars and not think of his Captain. Many times in the year that they were grounded, they had stood together in front of the night sky, and Spock had found himself watching Jim rather than the vista before them, overcome with ardent affection that he could not act upon. At first, he had not been able to prevent himself from staying close, protective and possessive of the frail creature his Captain had temporarily become, his lifeless body haunting Spock’s once infrequent dreams. He had supported Jim through his painful physical therapy, had cared for him at his own apartment despite Jim’s feeble protestations, and had been there for every moment of frustration, misery, and elation. Over the course of that year, Spock had tried and failed to suppress his burgeoning emotions, unwilling to leave Jim, yet fearful of his reaction should his desires be exposed.

Jim would not want him. Jim was his friend, and Spock was certain that his feelings were nothing more than platonic, close as they had become. Spock’s deepening, irrepressible love for his Captain had weighed heavily upon him during the final month before the Enterprise’s departure, and in a fit of irrationality, he had even considered resigning his commission. The thought of abandoning Jim, however, was anathema to him. As his elder counterpart had once told him, they needed each other, and Spock would not – could not – leave his side. Instead, he had vowed to keep his distance on a personal level, hoping that in time, his desperate, improper feelings would evaporate. He dared not hope that Jim would ever return them.

Nyota was exasperated by his intention to distance himself from Jim, having long since accepted that Spock’s affections lay with him. She believed that separating himself from Jim would do neither of them any good, but he could not see an alternative. Continuing as they were would surely result in a confession from Spock, and rejection – or worse, revulsion – from Jim. Painful as it was, Spock would rather remain Jim’s First without his love than lose him altogether. Given Jim’s intelligence, Spock knew that he was aware of his avoidance tactics, and it was difficult to see the hurt etched across his face with every failed chess invitation. Spock wished for nothing more than to take him into his arms and let him know how much he was loved, but he knew that that was not what Jim wanted. Jim wanted his friendship, and Spock knew that once he had successfully repressed his emotions, he would be able to indulge his Captain once more.

‘What are you doing up so late?’

Nyota’s voice rang out across the otherwise empty Observation Deck, and Spock turned with a quiet sigh, light-headed with exhaustion. She was still in her uniform, which was odd, considering that this evening was usually her weekly ‘Girls’ Night’ with Nurse Chapel.

‘I could ask the same of you.’

‘Morrison wanted me to take a look at a section of a subspace message,’ she explained, grimacing as she pulled her hair from its tight ponytail. ‘He couldn’t quite read the code, but it’s nothing to worry about. I was kinda pissed to have to leave Chrissie, though.’

‘The Lieutenant should not have disturbed your rest unless it was urgent,’ Spock said disapprovingly, knowing how hard she worked without extra prompting.

Nyota shrugged, adopting a neutral expression.

‘He’s young and uncertain. He’ll get there. He’s talented.’

‘He is not of your calibre,’ Spock sniffed, recalling the Lieutenant’s drunken revelry at the last ship-wide party. Doctor McCoy had not been pleased to have vomit sprayed across his shoes.

‘Who is?’ she replied, with a wicked smile. ‘Anyway, stop distracting me. I came here to talk about Jim.’

‘Nyota,’ Spock sighed, his heart giving a painful lurch. ‘Please, I cannot…’

There was sympathy written across Nyota’s face, but she approached him nonetheless, resting a gentle hand upon his shoulder.

‘Spock, you can’t live like this. It’s painful to watch, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to feel the way you do.’

Spock suppressed a tremor with difficulty, the corners of his lips tugging unwillingly downwards. As a child, despite the so-called disadvantage of his mixed blood, the fantasy of finding a bondmate had carried him through the turmoil of his years on Vulcan. It had seemed such a remote possibility back then, but hope was not an easy thing to curtail, and a glimmer of it had followed him from the day he had become cognisant of marriage bonds, to the day he had set foot upon the grounds of the Academy. Though still different to his peers, he could not help but wish for acceptance for whom he was. Now, and not for the first time, he wished he were more disciplined in his kya’shin.

‘In time, I will control it,’ he rasped, appalled at the rough edge to his voice. ‘It is the Vulcan way to control our emotions.’

‘Not all of them,’ Nyota said quietly, shaking her head in desperation as her hand slid from his shoulder. ‘Not like this. Spock, that man looks at you like you light the stars at night. You’ve got to tell him how you feel.’

Spock shook his head desperately, finding it difficult enough to contain himself without her encouragement.

‘You are misinterpreting his friendship for desire. I appreciate that you wish for me to be content, but Jim cannot know this.’

‘I think you’re wrong,’ Nyota rebutted quietly, ‘and I hate seeing you this way.’

‘I am aware, yet I disagree with your assessment. No matter my pain, what matters is that I remain by Jim’s side, in whatever capacity I am allowed.’

Spock swallowed, his throat aching as he fought for composure.

‘I cannot lose him, Nyota. He is everything to me.’

Nyota nodded sadly, giving him a tight, empathetic smile that made his eyes sting.   

‘I know,’ she said softly, sympathy and frustration warring in her expression. ‘I wish you could see what I see. What all of us see.’

Spock did not wish to argue about this. He did not wish to hope. His gaze dipped, and he remained silent, tired of attempting to explain himself.

When nothing further was forthcoming from Spock, Nyota sighed and ran a hand through her hair, appearing to give up.

‘Okay, we can talk about this some other time. Are you going to your quarters?’

Spock shook his head. There was always work to do with the laboratories, and it would serve the dual purpose of delaying the possibility of his traumatic memories manifesting in dreams, and preventing him from hearing Jim wandering sleeplessly in the night, thereby eliminating Spock’s poorly-suppressed need to soothe him.

‘I have had an adequate amount of rest. I will return to Laboratory One.’

Nyota looked as if she were going to say something further in their battle of wills, but decided against it, her mouth cracking open in a yawn that drew her hand up to cover it.

‘Well, I should’ve been in bed ages ago,’ she said sleepily, eyeing him with as stern an expression as could be generated at this hour. ‘You should at least try and sleep after you’ve done your lab work.’

Spock dipped his head in acknowledgement of her statement rather than responding, knowing that there was little chance that he would return to his bed until the early hours. Nyota gave him a quick, fond smile, then turned to leave, her boots echoing on the gridded floor. Spock regretted that they did not share the same opinions regarding Jim’s feelings, but he was certain that she would come to agree, given time. Though Jim clearly wished for his company, he had displayed no amorous behaviours that Spock could identify, and given the tendency of others to objectify him, Spock did not wish to make his Captain feel as if he was one of those people. Jim had gifted him with friendship and trust, and he would not violate that.

He looked out into the expanse of space a moment longer, feeling perhaps less awed than usual by the view. While he still appreciated the gift and importance of their mission, everything felt a little dimmer in his current situation. Gathering himself, he straightened his uniform shirt and left the Observation Deck, beginning the long walk down to Laboratory One. Jim had insisted upon revealing the laboratory to Spock himself at the beginning of the mission, beaming like a child in receipt of a present as Spock praised the specifications and advanced equipment therein. Spock enjoyed praising Jim, if only for the flush of pleasure and the beautiful smile that would spread across his face, so genuinely happy to be commended.

Again, he found himself thinking of Jim against his best interests, and no matter how hard he tried to force his attention onto something else, he failed. As he walked the corridors, his surroundings were ignored, his focus resting entirely on attempting to distract himself from Jim. As such, when he reached the laboratory, he found himself surprised by how quickly he seemed to have arrived. The room was empty when he entered, a familiar and comfortable rush of heat overtaking him as the computer recognised his sole occupancy. This, if not at Jim’s side, was the place he preferred to be.

His experiment, well-handled by the ensigns under his supervision, remained in place on his habitual workstation. The latest planetary admission into the Federation – Euridian – had provided the Enterprise with a gift of various flora, fauna, and geological samples, which Spock had spent much of his free time recently studying. The variance in the properties of such samples never ceased to amaze him, and yet there were unexpected similarities, tying Euridian to both Terra and Vulcan despite their distance. Three oxygenated planets, two heavily water-based, but even so, Spock marvelled at how life could evolve in much the same way so independently. Calibrating his microscope, he slid one delicate slide easily into its cradle, focusing the lens precisely.

And paused.

The laboratory walls were not as well insulated as their quarters were, and Spock’s sensitive hearing caught the sound of wandering footsteps in the corridor. He knew that gait, and that low murmur of a voice, and a shiver flashed up his spine as Jim approached. He was unable to stop himself from turning towards the door when the access chime sounded, joy and anxiety warring in him at the sight of the man he loved so dearly.

‘Captain?’

---------------------------------

Jim couldn’t sleep.

That in itself wasn’t unusual. He’d spent many a night wandering his quarters in the early hours, wakefulness beating a painful drumbeat in his head as nightmares and insomnia conspired to deny him rest. Usually, he could soothe himself to sleep just in time to really feel his Alpha alarm, taming the dark circles under his eyes before shift barely enough to slide under Bones’ radar. Tonight, however, his own company wasn’t enough. Loneliness had been with Jim a long time, his constant companion throughout his early trauma. Bones was the first person he’d really let into his world, and he couldn’t ask for a better friend, but neither Bones nor friendship were what he needed tonight.

Shivering, Jim let his tired eyes fall upon the door to the fresher that connected his room to Spock’s, a familiar longing choking him. His throat ached fiercely, and he swallowed in an attempt to soothe it, folding his arms across his bare chest. He had no right to feel this way. Sure, Spock’s seesaw relationship with Uhura had apparently come to an end after his temporary death, but they still seemed to spend a hell of a lot of time together. No one touched him as freely as she did, and although she and Jim were now more siblings than enemies, Jim couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy every time he saw her hand brush Spock’s shoulder. What with all their whispered conversations in the mess, and the chess game invitations Spock had recently declined, Jim had a sneaking suspicion that they had rekindled things. The very thought froze his blood.

Even if they weren’t back together, Jim’s gradually increasing affection seemed to correlate with Spock’s gradually increasing disinterest. During the months that they were grounded, they had grown closer than Jim had ever thought possible, and it was the first time he had allowed himself to think of Spock in a romantic light. Though he was sure now that he had been imagining things, Spock’s daily presence at the hospital, his gentle hands on Jim during his physical therapy, and the unwavering emotional as well as practical support he had provided had led Jim to feel that most dangerous of emotions – hope. Under his care, Jim’s attraction had blossomed into affection far deeper and of more permanence than before, and the growing urge to tell him so had become difficult to ignore. Now, however, Spock had withdrawn from him, with subtle, painful slowness like the backwards drag of a needle, until Jim had forgotten what it felt like to hear warmth in his voice. He had not touched Jim in over a month, and he evaded Jim’s clumsy, desperate attempts to reach out with skill. Jim had no right to love him, but he did. And Spock was clearly not interested, attached or otherwise.

Shivering, Jim pulled on his old, faded Academy sweatshirt, intent on wandering the ship. There was no point rattling around in his quarters, and he didn’t feel a request for late night company would go well with Bones, who had just finished up yet another long shift after Crusher’s latest accident. Alone and confined wasn’t good for Jim when he felt like this.

Stuffing his communicator into the wide, stretched out pocket at the front of the sweatshirt, he ran a hand through his hair in an attempt to look vaguely presentable, and ventured out into the corridor. Ship’s night was always quiet apart from the low hum of machinery, and tonight was no exception. The corridors were largely empty, and Jim was grateful that those he did see seemed either too busy or too tired to notice the state he was in. He smiled and ducked his head at every passing salute, aimless in his wandering. The observation deck was a favourite of his, but he found that his feet carried him in the opposite direction tonight, taking the turbolift down to the lower levels.

Maybe it was a subconscious attempt to get closer to Spock, or maybe it was just coincidence, but without conscious thought, he ended up outside Laboratory One. Spock was king here, his subjects those whom Jim affectionately called his children – a group of young, starry-eyed Science ensigns who worshipped the ground he walked on. Sure, they respected Jim, but if it came down to a choice between the two of them, there was no question whose side they would take. Not that Jim intended on any kind of schism with Spock; according to Bones, it was pretty transparent that he was head over heels for him.

‘Captain,’ Lieutenant Mayes murmured as she passed by, and Jim greeted her absently, fixated on the slim figure visible through the glass. He couldn’t suppress the thrill that quickened his heart as he inputted the release code for the door and Spock looked over his shoulder, all soft, rounded nose and wide human eyes.

‘Captain?’

God, Jim was a mess. The low, even purr of Spock’s voice was enough to leave him shivering with want, and a beat passed before Jim could muster his own lame reply.

‘Hi. What are you up to?’

Spock gestured at his microscope, a detachment in his expression that made the joy in Jim’s chest shrivel into nothing.

‘I am analysing the properties of one of the samples from Euridian. It is… fascinating.’

‘High praise,’ Jim smiled, wilting a little when all he received was a cursory glance, and a quiet murmur of ‘‘Indeed.’’

Pain and irritation bubbled up in Jim in equal measure, and his dry throat ached as he waited fruitlessly for more. Spock’s attention was like food; once, he had subsisted on so little and had acclimatised, but having since been allowed to indulge himself, now he was starving for it. The silence grew long between them, and Jim shifted from foot to foot as Spock returned to his work, the easy balance they had once had entirely gone.

‘Will you just look at me?’ he blurted, feeling perilously, shamefully close to tears.

Spock drew back from the microscope and turned to him with a flicker of concern passing across his otherwise blank face.

‘God, Spock,’ Jim began, the sound bursting from him like the rush of water from a broken dam, words spilling uncontrollably from his lips. ‘I don’t mean to sound needy here, but you barely even interact with me anymore. What the hell is going on?’

‘I do not know what you mean, Captain,’ Spock sniffed, though there was an uneasy glint in his eye.

There was a tinge of hysteria to Jim’s ensuing snort, one unsteady hand rising from his pocket to comb through, and clutch at, his dishevelled hair.

‘You barely even make eye contact with me on the Bridge, let alone off-shift. What have I done to… have I upset you or something?’

‘Vulcans do not get upset,’ Spock replied, deadpan.

‘You’re half-human,’ Jim said roughly, regretting his intemperance when Spock’s gaze lowered to the floor. ‘Look, I-I’m sorry. I just don’t understand what I’ve done to change things between us.’

Spock shook his head, his mouth opening in a silent gape much like it had in Starfleet Headquarters on the day of Pike’s murder. Jim didn’t like the think about that day after all the pain it had brought, but the moment was so strongly reminiscent of back then, he couldn’t help it. Only this time, he wasn’t going to walk away so easily.

Eventually, Spock appeared to gather his thoughts, and spoke.

‘You have not done anything, Captain. Rather, it is myself who is the problem.’

‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ Jim quoted with a short, sad laugh. ‘What can I do, Spock? I mean, your relationship with the others doesn’t seem to have changed. Hell, I saw you have a civil conversation with Bones the other day, and I-’

Jim trailed off, uncertainty choking him. He’d thought he knew where he stood with Spock, but now he felt knocked off-kilter, and old insecurities began to surface.

‘What’s wrong with me?’ he asked quietly, his voice thick with vulnerability.

Spock’s eyes softened, and he stepped forward into Jim’s personal space, hesitantly encircling Jim’s bicep with his fingers. Just that simple touch was enough to make Jim’s breath catch, his focus settling entirely on the closeness of Spock’s body, and the controlled strength of the hand that grounded him.

‘There is nothing wrong with you,’ Spock said gently, running his hand down Jim’s arm, ‘and I apologise if my actions have caused you to feel that way. That was not my intention.’

Jim blinked back tears, angry at himself for being so pathetic. He was a grown man; he should be able to take rejection. He should be able to go about his life without clinging to a Vulcan who didn’t want him, and yet here he was, trembling with want at an innocent touch.

‘You are an exemplary Captain,’ Spock continued, still holding him, ‘and you have offered me friendship in a way that few others have. I care for you greatly.’

‘Then why do you feel so far away right now?’

It might have been a ridiculous question, given the fact that they were practically sharing breath, but Spock’s tiny, painful smile spoke of nothing but sadness.

‘I am currently attempting, with the help of meditation, to process some information that I have recently discovered about myself. Whilst I do this, I have withdrawn from the majority of social activities, including our chess games. Nyota is aiding me in this.’

That was a punch to the stomach. Of course, Nyota had known him for longer, and they had been together once if they weren’t still, but Jim was… Jim had thought they were close. The desperate sadness must have shown, because Spock moved in yet closer, and Jim was hyperaware of the diminishing space between them. It would be so easy to lean over and brush their lips together, with Spock’s mouth open and soft and pliant like this. It would be so easy… and yet, the chance of it being reciprocated seemed little to none.

‘Can’t- can’t I help?’ he asked pleadingly, in lieu of acting on impulse and doing something that Spock, at least, would regret.

Spock shook his head, beautiful eyes wide and sad.

‘You cannot. You are my closest companion, and I-’                   

The pneumatic hiss of the lab doors startled Jim, and they broke apart like guilty teenagers, Spock’s hand sliding from Jim’s arm. A rather sleepy-eyed Ensign Ferreira had wandered in, and upon seeing her senior officers, blinked, and scrambled to salute them.

‘Sirs!’

Jim might have sympathised more with her awkward attempt to salvage her dignity had he not been so furious that the moment was ruined. It was always difficult to get Spock to talk about his feelings – or admit that they existed at all – and now he was a rabbit in headlights, withdrawing back into the familiar, stoic figure that he always was in public. Helpless and deflated, Jim watched his opportunity to find out what was going on slip through his fingers, certain he wouldn’t get anything more from Spock tonight.

‘I… I was just coming to check on the samples,’ Ferreira mumbled, looking so nervous that Jim softened despite his disappointment. ‘I’m sorry if I interrupted anything. I didn’t think to check if the lab was occupied.’

‘It’s a free space for any crew member,’ Jim reminded her gently, his heart sinking as Spock stepped away from him.

‘I appreciate your diligence, Ensign, but the matter is in hand. You are free to go if you wish.’

‘Thank you,’ Ferreira said breathlessly, practically tripping over herself in her eagerness to leave.

Jim watched her go with a hammering heart, searching for Spock as soon as the door had hissed closed. His stomach dropped when he saw that Spock had returned to his work without another word, turning away from him literally and figuratively.

‘Are you going to your quarters?’ he asked hopefully, fidgeting with the threadbare cuffs of his hoodie. ‘We could walk back up together.’

‘Not yet.’ Detachment had returned to Spock’s voice in a way that made Jim’s stomach churn unpleasantly, his focus once more on his microscope. ‘You should return, Captain. You need your rest.’

‘So do you,’ Jim countered, but saw in Spock’s fleeting glance that he wasn’t going to win this round.

‘Goodnight, Captain.’

Jim stood dumbly for a long moment, feeling hot and shaky and exhausted. The sense of not being good enough roared back to life, and Jim stumbled backwards on unsteady legs, making a hasty retreat.

‘’Night,’ he managed to choke out, before fleeing the lab for his quarters. He held himself together on the journey in case any of the crew saw him, tight-lipped and blank-eyed in his effort to remain calm. Yet the second the door to his quarters closed, he allowed himself to lose his composure, his stinging eyes overflowing as he wiped furiously at them, desperately sad. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected. Spock didn’t feel the same – he was aware of that – but their easy, intimate friendship had disappeared with such speed, ripped away with no warning. No matter what happened, Jim had always known that he had Spock to fall back on, his steady, sure companion always there to ground and save and rebuke him. Now he had lost both his friendship and his footing, and his chest ached so fiercely, it felt like his heart was collapsing in on itself.

The urge to call Selek was overwhelming, despite the ungodly hour it would be on New Vulcan. Although he could never really tell Jim anything about his timeline, there was a Spock who loved him, and had loved another version of him for so many years. Their meld on Delta Vega had torn the breath from his lungs, such was the depth of emotion in Selek’s recollection of his own Jim, flashes of their extraordinary relationship playing out before his eyes. Jim wanted that with his Spock so badly, but it was just his luck that his would be the universe without the chance.

Drained by the painful emotions of the evening, he stripped down to his underwear and crawled into bed, leaving his clothes where they dropped. He’d regret that in the morning, but right now, he couldn’t care less. If he didn’t want Bones to take him off duty tomorrow, he needed to sleep. Wrapping his frigid body up in his duvet, he squeezed his eyes shut, and tried to force himself to rest.

Jim had clawed back four and a half hours of blessed sleep by the time he woke, dragging himself reluctantly out of bed as his alarm demanded his attention. Shuffling into the fresher, he sighed when he saw the state of his bloodshot eyes, knowing that nothing would hide them from Bones. If only he could get away with wearing sunglasses on the Bridge without Spock objecting. He cleared himself up as best he could, and hesitantly knocked on the door that led to Spock’s quarters, hoping that he would be able to catch him before shift. He waited for a long, silent moment as no answer came, but then realised with a heavy heart that no answer would. They’d got into a routine of going to breakfast together when they were on the same shift, but that had been phased out along with the chess matches and the warmth in Spock’s eyes. He knew he couldn’t show his feelings to the crew – not with the effect it could have on morale – so before he left his quarters, he made certain that he could at least pretend to be okay, forcing a smile as he encountered Uhura in the corridor.

‘Morning, Captain,’ she trilled, looking as bright and beautiful as ever. ‘Are you on Alpha this morning?’

‘Unfortunately so,’ Jim replied, forcing a chirpy tone. ‘Are you going to the mess?’

‘No, I met Spock for breakfast earlier.’

Jim tried not to look like he’d been punched in the stomach, but judging by the narrowing of Nyota’s eyes, he hadn’t been entirely successful.

‘I’ll- I’ll see you on the Bridge then,’ he said faintly, walking swiftly past and pretending not to hear her concerned call of ‘Jim?’

He wasn’t sure if it was the lack of sleep or something psychosomatic, but when he entered the Mess, a wave of nausea rolled over him, the smell of food making his stomach churn. He caught Bones’ terrifyingly sharp eye, and smiled as brightly as he could given the circumstances, sliding into the empty seat beside him.

‘If I didn’t know that that’s your ‘concerned’ look, I’d think you were a serial killer.’

Bones eyed him resentfully as he reached for a slice of his apple, picking at the skin.

‘Do you have to sit so close to me? I can feel your breath on my neck.’

‘You like that?’ Jim grinned, his dark mood lightening a little at Bones’ furious glare. ‘And yes, I do need to sit this close to you. It’s almost as if you don’t like me.’

‘Whatever gave you that idea?’ Bones asked sarcastically, his forehead creasing into a familiar frown. ‘And why the hell aren’t you eating already?’

Jim shrugged, his queasiness not yet having abated.

‘Not really hungry.’

Despite saying so, he reached for a few more apple slices, the idea of refusing available food anathema to him. He snapped off a piece of one with his teeth, grimacing at the watery taste and mushy texture, choking it down nonetheless. His hand flew to his neck at the sudden sharp pain there, and he glared at Bones when he noticed the empty hypo being disposed of, his nausea disappearing as if it had never been there at all.

‘Why didn’t you tell me you felt sick?’ Bones grumbled, pushing across the rest of the apple and some strawberries. ‘S’what I’m here for, dumbass.’

Jim shrugged, starting to eat without much thought, his appetite rapidly forming.

‘You know what? I’m going to get you some oatmeal. Don’t look at me like that, kid – wait here.’

Although he’d already finished what he’d been given, Jim obeyed, if only to avoid the inevitable bitching. His gaze wandered across the room and fell upon Sulu, who threw him a mock-salute and a grin, before being pulled back into conversation by a very animated Chekov. Everyone he made eye contact with someone, they acknowledged him with a smile, but no one approached his table. He appreciated that his rank might intimidate some of his crewmembers, and also that his duties prevented him from spending much individual time with those he did not see every day, but with the loss of Spock, he felt stripped bare, and his loneliness seemed that bit more acute. Still, he had Bones, and he didn’t doubt that he’d always have Bones, cantankerous and obsessive and caring as he was.

‘There ya go,’ Bones said breezily, sliding a bowl full of oatmeal and banana in front of him, along with a slice of toast and scrambled eggs. ‘You’re gonna eat the oatmeal because it’s good for you.’

Jim grumbled incoherently, but began eating anyway, making short work of the toast and eggs before starting in on the oatmeal. It wasn’t long before he realised quite how much he wanted to stop eating, his stomach becoming uncomfortably full, but he couldn’t waste food, not ever. He scooped a little more onto his spoon, and stared down at it, willing himself not to feel sick. Before he could try and eat it, the spoon was taken from him, and Jim was unable to suppress a peep of protest, knowing that he didn’t want it, but unable to give it up without a fight either.

‘All right, kiddo,’ Bones said calmly, carefully pulling the bowl over to his side of the table. ‘My fault for bringing you too much. You don’t have to eat it.’

Jim froze in indecision, struggling with the urge to hoard it, to save it for later when he might – just might – need it.

‘I can’t waste it,’ he whispered, flushing with shame.

Ever patient at times like this, Bones shook his head, looking him directly in the eye.

‘You’re not, Jim. Replicator food is recycled, you know that. You’re not taking food away from anyone, I promise. And there’ll always be more available, whenever you want it. ’

Jim nodded hesitantly, relaxing enough for Bones to pile the bowl on top of his own empty plate, rational thought returning. It was embarrassing that he still felt like this, but he knew Bones would never judge him.

‘Thanks,’ he murmured, earning a solid clap to his shoulder.

‘Anytime. I’d hug you, but I’m not sure you’d appreciate that in the mess.’

‘Yeah, maybe not,’ Jim smiled, grateful as ever for his best friend. ‘You on Alpha?’

Bones snorted.

‘I’m on every shift under the sun.’

‘Only because you put yourself on them,’ Jim laughed, gathering up the plates. ‘You never leave Medbay. You work too damn hard.’

‘Pot, meet kettle,’ Bones rebutted, following him as he moved towards the waste units. ‘I’d better go set up. I’ve got Crusher in this morning. Pulled his stitches again and Christine’s not best pleased.’

‘Jacob,’ Jim sighed, getting rid of their breakfast, and steering Bones towards the door.

‘I know. That boy needs to be more careful. Monty’s going to keep an eye on him for me.’

‘Ooh, ’Monty’,’ Jim mocked, earning a subtle, but sharp, elbow to the ribs as spots of colour appeared high on Bones’ cheeks. ‘Ow! I thought you were meant to heal people, not injure them.’

Bones shrugged, looking entirely remorseless.

‘Sometimes the occasion calls for it. Don’t get yourself hurt today.’

‘I’m on the Bridge,’ Jim protested, standing on one side of the doorway as Bones stood at the other. ‘How am I supposed to hurt myself? Tripping on the grid? Getting my ass trapped in the Chair?’

‘Wouldn’t surprise me,’ Bones said darkly, drawing his padd from his pocket as it bleeped. ‘Gotta go, Jim. Crusher’s already arrived.’

‘Good luck!’ Jim called after him, turning in the opposite direction towards the turbolift. He was slightly early for shift, but no doubt most of the others would already be in place, eager as they were. The thought of seeing Spock both thrilled and unnerved him, not knowing what his reaction would be, nor what reception he would get after last night. He tried not to be too hopeful though. Given Spock’s behaviour over the last few weeks, he didn’t think he’d be running into his open arms.

Stepping out onto the Bridge, he couldn’t help but smile as Chekov cheerfully announced his entrance, taking the place of the Gamma shift Lieutenant in his chair.

‘Morning, Captain,’ Sulu greeted, as he took the helm, and Uhura squeezed his arm as she walked by, giving him an affectionate smile. How times had changed. He knew that Spock had come to stand by him before he spoke, keenly aware of the shift in the air behind him, and the subtle, warm scent that he had come to associate with his Vulcan.

‘Captain,’ came the low, quiet greeting, and Jim turned with an irrepressible smile, enamoured as ever by the sight of him.

‘Hi, Spock,’ he beamed, taking a padd handed to him by Yeoman O’Neil. ‘Ready for another fun-filled day of star-mapping?’

‘As ever,’ Spock muttered, drawing an amused huff from Jim. ‘Given the complexity of our recent mission, I imagine that the crew is grateful for some respite.’

Jim’s smile died, recalling the number of private vidcalls to family he’d had to make, their son, daughter, wife or husband gone into the black. Nobody ever said it, but he knew that he was at least partially at fault. If he’d been a better Captain, a better strategist, a better person, then-

Jim sucked in a shaky breath as Spock touched him for only the second time in weeks, a solid hand taking hold of his arm and squeezing lightly.

‘You were not at fault,’ Spock said quietly, drawing his solemn gaze upwards to meet deep brown eyes. ‘There were extremely unfortunate circumstances, and had you not intervened, far more of our crewmembers would have perished.’

Jim wanted to believe that, but he wasn’t sure he could. Still, Spock seemed to, given his unwavering stare, and right now, that was enough. He managed a quirk of his lips, shoulders slumping as Spock’s hand fell away, and he returned to his station without another word. Time passed unbelievably slowly as Jim wrote report after report, cringing at his contribution to the ‘Fleet obituaries. He hadn’t known half of the officers who had died as well as he wanted to, and the standard patter sounded so dry and unfeeling. He brought a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose as a headache began to form, which was only exacerbated by the shrill call to his chair comm, the sound piercing through the quiet of the Bridge. Jim slammed his hand down on the answer button, wincing.

‘Kirk here.’

‘Sir, I think you’d better take a look at the transporter. It’s goin’ mad! It’s like a Risian rave in here!’

Jim’s eyes met Spock’s across the Bridge, understanding passing between them in a split-second, and Jim spoke for them both.

‘We’re on our way. Sulu, you’ve got the conn.’

‘Yes, sir.’

They rose as one, and Jim led the way into the turbolift, neither speaking as Jim grimly contemplated what fresh hell the transporter would bring. As soon as they were on the right floor, Jim was running, and Spock kept up with ease, strange flashing lights reflecting on the wall facing the transporter room. In a Risian nightclub, it wouldn’t have looked out of place, but when they arrived, it was clear that this wasn’t down to a rogue discoball. The transporter was throwing out a spectrum of colour, and Scotty was stood helplessly before it with screwdriver in hand, looking to them for orders.

‘Sir, I have no idea what’s happening right now.’

Jim started forward, intent on trying something with the control panel, but before he could, there came a blinding flash of light from the transporter. Jim threw an arm up to shield his eyes, and when he dared to look, his breath caught in his throat. There on the platform were three small children, one just a babe in the arms of the eldest, who appeared to be no more than four or five herself. They were the spitting image of Spock – cute little rounded noses, bitty pointed ears… except the baby was blond. And all three had very familiar bright blue eyes.

‘Spock,’ Jim said faintly. ‘I’m not seeing things, am I?’

Oddly, Spock’s voice was just as subdued.

‘You are not, Captain.’

The baby began to cry.

Chapter Text

As he, Jim, and the rest of the crewmembers in the room shared a moment of shock, Spock felt a twinge in his mind – a faint echo that came and went within a single breath. He looked at the children before him and felt his chest contract, an instant and somewhat emotional reaction to their presence. No matter their origin, he knew that these little ones were his children. Their children, with the bright blue eyes of the human he loved so dearly. Beyond the shock, a great well of joy and affection began to form, soothing the ever-present ache in his chest.

It was the cries of the babe that stirred Spock from his reverie, and he and Jim stepped forward as one as the youngest girl too burst into tears and came stumbling from the platform.

‘You get her and I’ll get the others?’ Jim suggested, sounding dazed, and Spock obeyed without thought, sweeping the little girl into his arms. She clung to him desperately, tiny hands displaying Vulcan might, and Spock shushed her gently, drawing on every paternal instinct he had to try and calm her.

‘Shhh, pi-veh. Du nam-tor ek’man.’

‘Pakik!’ she wept, burrowing into his shoulder.

Spock didn’t know what to say, but her distress leaked behind his shields with devastating ease as she searched for comfort through a bond that no longer existed in the same way. She couldn’t be more than two or three years old, and although he wished to reassure her, he did not know how thorough her understanding of the situation was.

‘I am here with you, ko-fu,’ Spock soothed, smoothing down her soft hair. ‘We are here with you.’

‘Daddy,’ he heard the eldest choke, her voice wobbling, and soon she gave in to the mood of her siblings, tears spilling down her cheeks as she reached blindly out. Spock started forward, arms full and heart open, but Jim lifted the other two children into his arms as one, staggering slightly under the weight of the eldest girl.

‘It’s okay, baby,’ he crooned, awkwardly rocking infant and child. ‘No one’s going to hurt you. Spock, Medbay?’

Spock nodded, glad that the youngest girl had calmed. Seeing that Jim would likely struggle with both the eldest and the squirming youngest, he approached him, his chest clenching as the girl held a hand out to him. How frightened they must be. He took her hand in his, feeling her turmoil in her touch.

‘Would you like to come with me, slor-veh? It may be difficult to carry both yourself and your brother.’

She nodded tearfully, and Spock took her onto his hip, allowing Jim to cradle the whimpering baby more securely. Spock felt a wet face press against his neck, and the little one whispered ‘Sa-mekh’, as much, it seemed, for reassurance than for any other reason. Spock brushed his lips briefly against her crown, knowing that the children’s comfort must come above the image he presented to the crew.

‘Do you- do you need any help, sirs?’ Mister Scott asked weakly, looking as confused as everyone else in the room.

‘No, thanks,’ Jim replied, carding through the baby’s golden hair. ‘Just keep an eye on that transporter, will you?’

Scott nodded, stepping back to allow them to leave the room. Jim led them back into the turbolift, and as they travelled to Medbay, they shared a wide-eyed look of disbelief, Spock’s tumultuous emotions threatening to engulf him.

‘How did this happen?’ Jim whispered, rocking their little one.

‘There was a bad man on the ship,’ the eldest girl quietly explained, detaching herself from Spock’s neck in order to turn to Jim. ‘Janice was looking after us while daddy and sa-mekh were on the Bridge, but then she got sick, and when I went out to find help the man put us on the transporter and then we were here.’

‘Oh, baby,’ Jim said sympathetically, stroking back her hair, and then her sister’s. ‘What are your names, sweetheart?’

‘I’m Beatrice,’ she sniffled, ‘but sometimes people call me Bea. That’s Linnea. And that’s Teddy.’

Spock had never heard the first two names, but he found them all pleasing nonetheless. Perhaps, however, he was biased. These appeared to be his children, after all. Jim was smiling widely, and Spock felt that he agreed.

‘Teddy? I guess that’s Theodore then?’

Beatrice nodded, scrubbing at the remnants of her tears with the back of her hand.

‘He’s three months old today, daddy said.’

Jim and Spock exchanged a loaded look over her head; Spock was horror-stricken that an infant so young was missing from his parents, even if he and Jim were their equivalent. If Spock had had a hand free, he would have reached out to him, but Jim acted on that instinct instead, holding the baby close.

‘Thank you, Beatrice,’ Spock said softly, as they left the turbolift. ‘You have been very brave.’

She gave him a shy smile, and he was glad that she seemed to feel free to express it, unburdened by the full weight of Vulcan propriety. Upon their arrival in Medbay, Doctor McCoy appeared as if summoned, his eyes widening at the sight of the children.

‘My God,’ he breathed, raising a hand as Beatrice waved bashfully at him.

‘Hi, Uncle Leo,’ she mumbled, and McCoy looked as if he were going to faint, eyes darting frantically between the children and their ‘parents’.

‘Nice to meet you, darlin’,’ he said faintly, ushering them through into a side room, and giving Jim a bewildered look.

‘They came through the transporter,’ Jim explained, as Spock lifted the girls onto a biobed. ‘No idea how, but they seem to have come from a universe where we’re – me and Spock, I mean – their parents.’

McCoy let out a disbelieving laugh, his expression softening as he looked at the children.

‘Well, I’ll be. Lay the baby down, will you?’

Without warning, Jim held Theodore out to Spock, who took him gently into his arms, marvelling at how small he truly was as he laid him next to his sister. Theodore appeared to have fallen into a fitful sleep, his face scrunched up in discontent. Spock stroked a finger down the side of his face, attempting to soothe him through touch telepathy, and was pleased when his grimace evened out. Despite Beatrice chattering on and off, Linnea remained silent as Doctor McCoy scanned all three children, exhaustion written across her tear-stained face.

‘Would you like to rest, pi-veh?’ Spock asked gently, watching her rub her eyes.

She shook her head, but within minutes, she was drooping far enough forward that Jim decided to pick her up, allowing her to sleep against his shoulder as he rocked back and forth. Spock was astounded by how natural it all seemed to him, and quite separately from the love he held for him, he was glad that Jim was the other parent to his children.

‘Well, boys,’ Doctor McCoy began, holding up his tricorder, ‘welcome to parenthood. There’s a DNA match with these cuties. And they’re all perfectly healthy.’

Spock had been 99.9% certain that that was the case, but to hear it confirmed was both terrifying and wonderful. He felt a great swell of affection for the little ones before him, and knew that Jim felt the same, a bright, beaming smile spreading across his face.

‘So where do you come from, honey?’ McCoy asked Beatrice, who, unlike her siblings, was wide awake. ‘Another Enterprise?’

‘That’s where we live,’ she replied, nodding sadly.

‘Kids live on your Enterprise?’

She nodded again, reaching for Spock to help her down from the biobed.

‘There’s lots of us.’

McCoy’s ensuing smile was bittersweet, and Spock felt too much discomfort to look at him directly, knowing that he was likely thinking of his own daughter.

‘It would be nice to have Jojo on the ship,’ he said wistfully, confirming Spock’s suspicions. He looked down at Beatrice with hope in his eyes. ‘I s’pose you don’t know Jojo?’

‘Yeah, I do! She comes sometimes to visit you and Uncle Monty and Maisie.’

‘Maisie?’ McCoy echoed, as Jim’s smile grew an impish edge.

‘She’s two,’ Beatrice offered, before reaching up to tug on Spock’s sleeve. ‘Sa-mekh, I need a wee.’

Aware that there was little time to lose with a small child, Spock took her hand and began leading her from Medbay, letting Jim know that he would be back soon. As he left, he heard Jim laugh, and then stage-whisper to McCoy –

‘I told you to tell Scotty how you feel!’

‘Oh yeah?’ Spock heard McCoy hiss, before his voice became too faint to hear.

So Leonard had romantic designs on Mister Scott. Spock’s eyebrow hiked, and when he looked down to see that Beatrice’s was doing the same, there was a warmth in his chest that he could only attribute to affection. He led her to the nearest bathroom, and by the time they returned, Jim and Leonard’s argument had devolved into furious mime, both evidently trying not to wake the little ones. At Spock’s reappearance, a lovely flush spread over Jim’s face, and he ducked his head in a display of bashfulness that was most unlike him.

‘Captain, perhaps we should return to our quarters with the children.’

‘Can’t call him Captain now you’re his baby daddy, Spock!’ Bones hooted, earning a subtle thump to the arm from Jim as Spock considered the title.

‘Shut up,’ Jim ground out, before rearranging his features into an expression far softer. ‘I think you’re right, Spock. I’ve already spoken to Scotty to see if he can set beds and a crib up for them. Want some food, sweetie?’

It took a beat for Spock to realise that the question was not directed at him. Beatrice considered for a moment, then nodded, taking Jim’s free hand as he held it out. Spock reached uncertainly for the baby, his weight negligible as Spock lifted him into his arms, cradling him as best he could. He adjusted his grip to make certain that Theodore’s head was supported, and looked up to see a soft, oddly affectionate smile on Jim’s face, which quickly evaporated, that familiar flush returning to his cheeks.

‘Let’s go,’ Jim said quickly, towing Beatrice behind him as he set off with Linnea against his shoulder. Spock blinked, making unfortunate eye contact with Doctor McCoy, whose expression of joyous malice was alarming to behold.

‘Go on then, off to see your love bug,’ he grinned, passing his hand over Theodore’s head.

Confused, Spock did not respond, simply leaving without another word. A gale of laughter followed him until the doors of Medbay swept shut, and he caught up with Jim who was waiting by the turbolift.

‘Off we go, then,’ he said superfluously, allowing Beatrice to precede him into the turbolift. He gave Spock an uneasy smile, shifting Linnea on his hip as he made room for him.

‘So, is this all of you, then?’ he asked Beatrice, who cocked her head in question. ‘I mean, do you have any more brothers and sisters?’

The thought had not occurred to Spock. He was overwhelmed, if elated, with the fact that his counterpart had any children with Jim, let alone more than the three they currently had in their care. Startled, he looked down at Beatrice, and was surprised by his own faint disappointment when she shook her head.

‘No, but daddy and sa-mekh are having another baby next year.’

She smiled as she spoke; Spock was pleased that she was glad about another sibling, even if her answer had startled him.

‘Right,’ Jim said faintly, his expression showing similar emotion to that which Spock felt internally. ‘That’ll- that’ll be nice, huh? When we get back, is there anything in particular you want to eat?’

Beatrice shrugged, tucking herself into Jim’s side and pressing her face into his trouser leg. Spock surmised that she was perhaps more tired than she had previously seemed, and exchanged a knowing look with Jim, suspecting that it would not be long before she, too, wished to sleep.

‘Sa-mekh?’ she asked quietly, as the turbolift came to a halt. ‘Are we going to have to sleep on the floor if the beds aren’t ready?’

Jim audibly stifled a laugh, and Spock felt a twinge of amusement himself, shaking his head.

‘If it came down to a choice, I can assure you, little one, that your- your daddy and I would be the ones on the floor. As it is, Mister Scott is crafting a bed for you, and in the meantime, you may rest in one of our beds, if you wish.’

‘Yes, please,’ she said politely, leading the way confidently towards their quarters.

As she skipped off ahead, thankfully staying within eyeshot, Jim leant towards him with a wide grin.

‘Oh my God, you called me daddy. This is the best day of my life.’

Spock felt himself begin to flush, and although he forcefully attempted to prevent blood from rising to his cheeks, he felt the heat there only increase.

‘Jim.’

‘I can’t believe-’

‘Jim,’ Spock pleaded, face burning.

Jim’s teasing expression softened, and he ghosted his free hand over the space between Spock’s shoulder blades, eliciting an involuntary shiver that was quickly repressed.

‘All right, I know when to stop,’ he murmured, still smiling. ‘Honey, wait up!’

Beatrice slowed obediently, skidding to a halt in front of Mister Scott, who was standing outside the open door to Jim’s quarters. A passing crewmember gawped openly, until they caught Spock’s eye, and walked at speed towards the turbolift.

‘Oh aye, you do look like your dads, don’t you?’ Scott was grinning, holding up a hand to Ensigns Johannsson and Raja, who were carrying what appeared to be the aforementioned bed materials. ‘And so do the other weans. You never get bored on this ship, Captain!’

‘That’s true,’ Jim smiled, the strain there visible to perhaps only Spock.

‘Where do you want the cot and the bed to go? We could put the wee ones in the room across from you?’

‘No,’ Jim said roughly, answering with such speed it seemed reflexive. ‘No, they’re unsettled enough. I’ll, uh, I’ll give the kids my room.’

‘No, Captain, you should not have to do that,’ Spock insisted, smoothing a hand over Theodore’s head as he whimpered in his sleep. ‘They may have my room, and we will share yours, if you are amenable?’

‘And… beds?’ Mister Scott mentioned uncertainly, earning a dismissive head shake from Jim as he waved Johannsson and Raja into Spock’s quarters.

‘We can share – it’ll only be temporary. As long as you’re all right with that, Spock?’

Spock swallowed. The thought was both wonderful and terrible, the idea of sharing the night with Jim, of waking up beside him, making his heart flutter strangely.

‘That is acceptable,’ he said lowly, attempting to conceal the quiver in his voice with volume. He was not certain that it was. ‘In the meantime, the children must be fed. Your quick work is appreciated, Mister Scott.’

‘Thanks,’ Scott beamed, stepping aside so that they could enter Jim’s quarters.

They were familiar to Spock by now, but given his recent attempts at avoidance, he found he had missed the organised mess, the paper books and knick knacks, even the omnipresent stack of padds upon the desk which suggested that Jim was avoiding his paperwork… again. Jim’s scent lingered here, unique and alluring, and to Spock, it looked and smelled like home.

‘Sa-mekh, can I have some pasta?’ Beatrice yawned, clambering up onto Jim’s bed as Jim lay Linnea down beside her.

‘You may,’ Spock replied, watching Jim scroll through the replicator options as he laid the baby on the bed, settling him with a gentle rub to his stomach when he squirmed.

‘Don’t want to give her that, ’cause I’m allergic,’ Jim was muttering, turning distractedly to Beatrice. ‘Do you know if you’re allergic to anything, baby girl? Or your brother and sister?’

‘Shellfish,’ she said confidently, mentioning one of Jim’s allergies. ‘Linnea can’t have mustard, but I don’t know about anything else.’

Jim’s worry was tangible, panic rising in his eyes, and Spock knew that he was fearful of harming the children. Moving into his personal space, Spock took hold of his arm gently, unselfconscious in the presence of a child who was purportedly theirs.

‘Doctor McCoy can run a blood panel tomorrow. In the meantime, food they have already consumed will not harm them. Beatrice, what pasta would you habitually have at home?’

She shrugged, eyes half-lidded in exhaustion.

‘Lots, but I like spaghetti with tomato sauce.’

‘All right, baby,’ Jim said softly, his smile flickering as Spock removed his hand. ‘Once you’ve had this, you can go to sleep, all right?’

She nodded sleepily, taking the bowl of spaghetti from him as he passed it over with a fork, allowing him to sit her at his desk. Jim replicated a similar meal for them both, and Spock was considering whether or not to wake Linnea when she began to stir, whining a little as she rubbed her eyes.

‘Would you like to eat, little one?’ Spock asked quietly, careful to avoid Theodore as he lifted her into his lap.

‘Thanks, Spock,’ Jim said, guilt in his voice as Spock began feeding her from his own bowl. ‘I’ll do it next time.’

‘It is no trouble,’ Spock assured him, and it was true. He marvelled at the fact that he was feeding his own child, and despite the fact that she had dropped food on his clothing more than once, he felt a great swell of affection as she snuggled into him, barely awake. She was beautiful, just as her siblings were. Spock was grateful that they had inherited Jim’s stunning eyes, and that they displayed human traits that he as a child would never have been allowed to show. Although they would begin to map out their return in the coming days, he knew already that it would be difficult to let them go.

The door chime sounded just as Spock finished his meal, their child drifting off to sleep in his lap. Jim, unburdened by the little ones, answered the door to McCoy, who was carrying a large bag with him.

‘I know you could replicate half of this stuff,’ he began, dropping the bag by the desk at Jim’s request, ‘but I thought it would be easier if I did it. There’re nappies and clothes, and baby will need a bottle soon enough, so I’ve brought those. Everyone doing okay?’

‘Looks like it,’ Jim said cheerfully, handing Spock the cloth he had just used to wipe Beatrice’s mouth. ‘Thanks for that, Bones.’

‘Yes, thank you, Doctor.’

‘I’ll keep my comm on,’ McCoy continued, as if he hadn’t heard. ‘I’ve signed you both off for the next few days, all right?’

Spock nodded, thankful for his foresight. He imagined that the children would require an adjustment period before being left in the care of others.

‘Night, night,’ Beatrice said sleepily, throwing her arms around McCoy’s legs.

McCoy started, but his arm came around her in return with no hesitation, a genuine smile crossing his face.

‘Night, darlin’. Be good for your dads, yeah? And that goes for you too, li’l miss.’

He looked pointedly at Linnea, who offered him a yawn and a clumsy wave as she curled into Spock. Spock held her securely, pleased that she seemed to be finding some comfort in him, despite the trauma of the day.

‘Scotty’s done with the beds,’ Leonard explained, avoiding Spock’s pointed look as he recalled the conversation he had overheard earlier between the doctor and Jim. ‘I’ll leave you to it.’

‘Night, Bones!’ Jim stage-whispered, hefting a swaying Beatrice into his arms. Spock echoed the sentiment, and McCoy left with a wave, Jim’s quarters going quiet in his absence. ‘Right then, Commander. Should we put these two to bed?’

Spock nodded mutely, making certain that Theodore was safely in the centre of the bed before following Jim through the fresher into his own quarters. His bed was gone, replaced by a bed, a toddler bed, and a cot. Their placement in the room reminded him of a human fairytale that his mother had once read to him – Goldilocks and the Three Bears. With Jim’s help, he put Linnea in a pull up and laid her in bed, indulging her sleepy, nonverbal request for affection with a sweep of two fingers down her cheek, projecting as much calm and peace as he was able. He watched as Jim kissed her forehead in the human way before turning to Beatrice, who was barely upright on her bed.

‘D’you want us to get you some PJs, sweetie?’ Jim asked, and she shook her head, allowing him to tuck her into bed and sweep her hair away from her face. ‘We’ll leave the fresher door open once Teddy is settled, all right?’

She nodded, but her eyes filled with tears, and Spock felt a surprising stab of pain at the sight.

‘I know you’re my sa-mekh,’ she said to him, clutching at the duvet, ‘and daddy is still my daddy but it’s not the same.’

Spock tried not to feel rejection, tried to empathise with this little one who had been ripped away from her true parents, and found that despite his affection for her, he truly understood her need to return home.

‘We know, taluhk-veh. We will help you get back to your parents, but it is time for you to rest now.’

‘Okay,’ she sniffled, accepting the same Vulcan kiss he had laid upon her sister, and Jim’s warm embrace.

‘Sleep well, Beatrice.’

‘Goodnight, honey,’ Jim whispered, leading Spock back through the fresher. As soon as the door was closed, he let out a long, releasing breath, conflicted eyes meeting Spock’s own.

‘God, they – we – must be frantic.’

‘I agree,’ Spock said quietly, eyes flicking towards Theodore, who remained asleep on the bed. ‘We must attempt to return the children as quickly as possible, for their parents’ sake as well as their own.’

Jim nodded, a flicker of reluctance in his expression that Spock felt himself.

‘I know. Are you sure you’re okay staying here with me?’

There was nothing Spock wanted more, even if he knew his self-control would be sorely tested.

‘Of course, Captain.’

Jim gave him an unidentifiable look, approaching the bed where Theodore lay.

‘Jim, Spock. I can’t wake up to you calling me Captain.’

‘Jim,’ Spock repeated obediently, watching him bend to Theodore’s level. The baby remained asleep, but when Jim touched his bottom, his face contorted in sympathy.

‘Oh, sweetheart,’ Jim said guiltily, beginning to undress him. ‘Spock, can you go in that bag and get me a new diaper and some wipes? And cream if there is any? We should have changed him before.’

Spock’s heart clenched at the thought of even inadvertently harming their child, and hurried to procure the items that Jim had requested, finding what appeared to be a changing mat as well. Difficult as Doctor McCoy could be, he was nothing but thorough.

‘He did not cry to be changed,’ Spock reassured Jim, laying out the mat. ‘And I did not sense any discomfort from him earlier.’

‘I know, I know,’ Jim conceded, as he lay Theodore down. His hands shook slightly as the baby began grizzling, and he beckoned Spock forward to kneel beside him. ‘I just don’t like the thought of him having to sit in his own mess for too long. Here, watch what I’m doing. We’ll be sharing this job.’

Spock did as requested, catching hold of Theodore’s tiny hand as he balled it into a fist, his grizzling growing louder until it became true crying. Spock felt helpless to calm him, and although Jim changed him with surprising efficiency, by the time he had finished, the baby’s cries were ear-splitting. Spock was trying and failing not to wince, concerned for their child, and uncertain how best to help him.

‘Will you pick him up a second?’ Jim asked, and Spock did so gladly, beginning a stilted rocking motion that proved mostly ineffectual. He twitched as he looked up from Theodore’s contorted face and saw Jim pulling his shirt over his head, his mouth going dry at the sight of solid pectorals, and the gentle curve of Jim’s stomach.

‘Skin-to-skin is good for him,’ Jim explained, holding his arms out. Spock tenderly handed Theodore over, watching Jim cradle him with an ease that was unexplained by what Spock knew of his experience with children. As far as he was aware, Jim had no young family members, and no children of his own, but he appeared so natural a father. Seeing him with the children made Spock’s blood burn, a primal part of him rejoicing in the fact that he had secured such a strong mate and devoted parent for his children.

‘Spock, can you make a bottle up, please?’ Jim asked, shushing Theodore as he rocked him gently back and forth. ‘There’s formula settings on the replicator, thank God. Aaaall right, baby, it’s all right.’

Though unpractised, Spock tried his best to make haste, taking Jim’s advice to test the temperature on his wrist before handing the bottle to him. Theodore was evidently hungry, taking the bottle as soon as Jim put the nipple to his lips. Spock saw an inexplicable spasm of pain and guilt on Jim’s face as he watched the baby feed so hungrily,

‘I should have fed him earlier.’

Jim’s voice was so thick with guilt that Spock felt compelled to reach out, confused as to his sudden low mood, but wishing to comfort him nonetheless. His hand settled on Jim’s shoulder, powerful muscles shifting as Jim adjusted Theodore, holding him closer.

‘If he required a feed, he would have made us aware,’ Spock reminded him, troubled by the glassy-eyed look on Jim’s face. He was certain that there was more to the situation than natural paternal anxiety. ‘Jim, he is well.’

He squeezed Jim’s shoulder, making certain to retain eye contact as he spoke, and Jim’s breath shuddered from him, the turmoil in his expression lifting somewhat.

‘I know,’ Jim murmured, so quietly that it was barely above a whisper. ‘I just… I worry.’

Theodore had calmed slightly as he fed, but his eyelashes were still wet, his eyes still wide and teary. The sight made Spock’s chest hurt, the concern for an infant he barely knew becoming a physical ache that reflected the emotional connection they had already unwittingly made. Jim was rocking him in a gentle, swaying motion, one hand feathering over fine, blond hair so close in colouring to his own, and yet, Spock could sense his continuing distress.

‘Let’theiri, sa-fu,’ he soothed, tracing his round face and chubby little arm. ‘You are not alone.’

Jim’s eyes were sharp as they met his, a question present in them.

‘Perhaps once he is finished, I should hold him. If his distress is that which he naturally feels, I may try and soothe him through touch telepathy. If, however, it is what I suspect, I may examine his mind.’

‘Why, what do you think is wrong?’ Jim asked, clearly alarmed.

‘I think perhaps that his parental bonds are strained. His sisters will have experienced the same unpleasant sensation, but they have at least some understanding of the situation, and are able to be comforted. Due to his age, Theodore has newly-formed parental bonds, and does not understand what has occurred. He knows merely that he has experienced pain, and that his primary caregivers, though our counterparts, have disappeared.’

Jim made a low, grieved sound, stroking his thumb over Theodore’s tiny fist.

‘He must be so confused. I hope he doesn’t think they’ve abandoned him.’ The bottle was nearly empty now, and when Jim lifted Theodore up to begin winding him, he immediately began whimpering, his face scrunching in discomfort. Spock watched his method intently, knowing that he would be required to do this in the future. ‘Shhh, darling, I know. I know. Honestly, I’m not sure he even needs it, he fed so well, but I don’t know whether wind is making him more upset.’

At last, Jim succeeded in drawing a burp from him, and as he squalled, Spock took the opportunity to pull his uniform shirts off. Given his attraction to Jim, and his desperate attempts to hide it, he was not entirely comfortable with being partially naked in his presence, but if it would soothe his child, then he would gladly do so. There was an odd flush to Jim’s face when his vision was once again unimpaired, but Spock's curiosity about this was soon displaced by concern for Theodore, who clearly remained unhappy despite being settled. Moving as one, Jim held the baby out and Spock took him gently into his arms, one hand cradling his little head and the other supporting his bottom. He was unaccustomed to such actions, but having witnessed Jim’s easy, careful movements, his own instincts had done the rest.

‘I am sorry, little one,’ he murmured, as Theodore began screaming, a tumult of emotion flowing through his bare skin into Spock. ‘My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts.’

Theodore’s mindscape was understandably chaotic, his young age and the trauma of separation from his parents producing a storm of violent emotion that would not easily be tamed. Fear, pain, and confusion predominated, and Spock wept internally for the child’s suffering, sourcing the broken bond. When once it may have been a strong, silver cord, now it was stretched and faded, a physical representation of the strain Theodore must have been feeling. Spock approached with care, wincing as he laid his hands upon the thread. It exuded loss, the agony of separation all too clear in the buffeting waves of despair surrounding Spock. He was glad that the thread remained, despite its condition. He could not replace the bond, nor did he think it ethical, but he could repair it as best he could. It would not be the same until the children returned home, but he could at least soothe the pain that Theodore was so evidently feeling.

Pouring all the affection, warmth, and security he could into the faded bond, he tried his utmost to rejuvenate it, pleased when colour began to seep slowly back through the thread. He felt Theodore’s storm of emotion begin to calm, and when Spock felt certain enough that he was no longer in pain, he withdrew from the meld.

The wailing that had previously assaulted his ears had died down to quiet grizzling, and even that soon ended as Spock rocked the baby in his arms. Jim was watching with wide eyes, impossibly attractive in his partially-unclothed state.

‘Is he all right?’ he asked, gaze darting to their calming child.

Spock inclined his head, allowing a corner of his lips to quirk, ever so slightly, as Theodore yawned, eyes falling shut.

‘He is now. His parental bonds were strained to a painful degree, but I have done all I can to limit that pain. It is a temporary measure, but it is effective nonetheless.’

‘I can see that,’ Jim smiled, gently passing a hand over Theodore’s crown. ‘Shall we put him to bed?’

Spock agreed, taking considerable care as Jim passed him the clothing that Theodore was to wear to bed, struggling to bend tiny limbs with confidence.

‘You’ll learn,’ Jim assured him, lifting the baby into his arms and leading him back through into the children’s room.

Spock was concerned that they would wake the girls with their entrance, but he needn’t have been; as the lights lifted enough for them to see, both were sprawled across their beds, breathing deeply. As Jim laid Theodore down, brushing a kiss against his forehead that made Spock’s chest clench, Spock tucked Linnea back in, as her limbs were threatening to escape from her blankets. Then he returned to Jim, and to Theodore, leaning down to touch his rounded cheek. There was peace in him now, calm settling him into his cradle, and Spock withdrew with the welcome sensation that he knew he felt safe.

When he looked up, Jim was beckoning him into his – now their – quarters, and Spock followed him gladly, illogically nervous to be spending the night with him. As promised, the doors to the fresher remained open, so Spock knew that any conversation would have to be hushed so as not to wake the children. It did not take him long to realise that his night clothes remained in his quarters, and when he expressed this thought to Jim, he soon found a shirt and trousers being thrown his way, soft, faded, and smelling ever so slightly of Jim.

‘Is that all right?’ Jim whispered, himself making no move to put on a shirt. ‘I’ll hike up the temperature too, but I usually sleep shirtless. Actually, I usually sleep just in my underwear, but I don’t think you’re ready for that.’

Spock struggled to find an appropriate reply, particularly when Jim turned around and, with no announcement, pulled his trousers down. Spock felt a flush of warmth through his body as he quickly averted his gaze, changing into his borrowed clothes at speed. It was not as if he had not seen Jim partially-clothed before, but in the intimacy of his quarters, the two of them readying themselves for bed together, Spock struggled to contain a blush. He heard movement behind him, but he did not dare turn until Jim’s hand fell upon his shoulder, warm and solid.

‘You ready?’ Jim asked, handing him his toothbrush, toothpaste already on. The domesticity of standing beside one another at the sink both attracted and repelled Spock, who wished desperately for it to be a true representation of their lives. While it was all he wanted, he knew that it was only temporary, and he was not sure that he would be able to adjust back to the loneliness of his previous life if he allowed himself to get used to it. He did not express his worries to Jim as they prepared for bed – how could he, when it would mean confessing his love to a man who almost certainly did not reciprocate? No, he would remain silent, and, however much it hurt, he would endure the situation.

There was a moment of awkwardness as they both got into bed, neither seeming quite sure how to arrange themselves without touching. Spock was hyperaware of Jim’s naked chest, close enough that an inch or two of movement would bring them into contact. Longing seized Spock with such intensity that it took his breath, but he forced the impulse down, knowing he must keep his control. Jim’s foot brushed against his calf, and he jerked reflexively, feeling his heart flutter in an unsteady rhythm.

‘Sorry,’ Jim whispered, eyes impossibly blue as they lay facing one another. ‘I didn’t mean to. Hey, what did you think about the kids mentioning Bones and Scotty?’

‘I was unaware that Leonard was enamoured with Mister Scott,’ Spock replied honestly. ‘Although, of course, their status in an alternate universe does not determine the outcome of their relationship here.’

Jim’s mischievous smile dimmed, devastation – or something close to it – flitting across his face. Spock’s stomach lurched at the thought that he might have put that expression there.

‘I know,’ Jim said hoarsely, shivering in a way that Spock could not attribute to cold, judging by the temperature of the room. ‘Still, we can hope, right?’

Spock thought it best not to further upset him.

‘I wish them success in their romantic endeavours.’

Jim’s painful expression evaporated, for which Spock was grateful. It occurred to him that there were certain aspects of the day that he found confusing, and while he wished to remain cautious not to make Jim uncomfortable, he could not resist mentioning them.

‘You seem to have some experience with children,’ he began, curiosity overtaking his caution, ‘and you seemed acutely concerned about Theodore being hungry. Why is this?’

He heard Jim’s breath shudder, and watched with anxiety as Jim’s eyes closed briefly, hiding the pain that Spock had seen there. Silence stretched on for a beat too long, and Spock found himself reaching out with a trembling hand, gently touching Jim’s cheek.

‘James?’

Jim’s eyes opened, an unfathomable emotion in them. He leant into Spock’s touch, almost imperceptibly, and his lips twitched into a painful smile.

‘Can we- can we talk about it tomorrow? I want to be able to sleep.’

‘Of course,’ Spock agreed, anxious, and yet willing to wait. He wanted to know Jim better, in all ways, but the thought of causing him emotional harm made him feel ill. Shifting into a more comfortable position, he felt Jim do the same, and called the lights down. It would take very little effort to reach out and hold him, but he dared not give in to his impulses. Jim was a tactile man, but Spock imagined that such intimacy would stray well beyond the boundaries set by their status of friendship. He did not wish to make Jim uncomfortable, and certainly not as a result of fulfilling his own selfish, unwelcome desires. Instead he folded his arms over his stomach, curling his fingers into the fabric of Jim’s t-shirt so as not to give into his longing. ‘Goodnight, Jim.’

‘’Night, Spock.’

Spock relaxed as best he could, and he heard Jim’s breathing begin to even out with satisfaction. Just as he was about to follow Jim’s lead, he heard him stir, a whisper meeting sensitive ears.

‘Crazy, huh? That another version of us have three kids and we’re… this.’

Spock suspected that he was imagining the yearning in his voice, as it so perfectly matched his own. He was not sure he could keep his voice steady enough to speak a full sentence, so instead, he offered the shortest reply he could.

‘Quite.’

Chapter Text

Jim woke in a better mood than he had in months. He was definitely sweating, and judging by the pain in his neck, he’d slept at an awkward angle, but it was worth it – so worth it – for the feeling of Spock against him. He didn’t dare open his eyes, just in case Spock was awake, but he was hyperaware of the warm body beneath and beside him, conscious of every inch of his body that was connected to the man he loved. His head was resting on Spock’s chest, his leg tangled between both of Spock’s own, and he couldn’t help but smooth his hand over the thick, soft hair poking out over his shirt’s low neckline, blindsided by the fact that this was real. He only wished that the feeling behind it, on Spock’s part, was too.

The baby had woken only once in the night, which was a miracle, considering the upheaval to which he’d unwillingly been subjected. He’d needed a bottle and a change, and when Linnea woke, they both had a cuddle, which Jim – and Spock – had willingly given. Jim was awed by the extent to which Spock had taken to parenting. While he was well aware of the strength of Spock’s well-concealed emotions, he’d expected some detachment, if only because the children came from an alternate universe, or because Jim was their other parent. But Spock had shown himself to be sweet, caring, and so, so gentle with them, and it only made Jim love him more. He’d tried to make Jim stay in bed when Teddy cried in the night, telling him as decisively as ever that humans needed more sleep, but when Jim had insisted on getting up, he’d followed suit. As Jim had laid Linnea back in bed, he’d turned to see Spock cradling Teddy with so much softness in his face that he’d nearly tripped over the trailing blankets. To see Spock willing to show all of that emotion was incredible.

As Spock’s steady breathing began to change rhythm, Jim shut his eyes tight, and held himself still, hopeful that he wouldn’t be discovered. Of course, he hadn’t factored in Vulcan hearing.

‘I know you are awake, Jim,’ came that delicious rumble of a voice, rough and low from sleep.

Jim looked up from his comfortable, sexy pillow, and smiled sheepishly.

‘Hey,’ he replied, feeling his face flush. ‘Sorry, I woke up like this.’

‘It is of no consequence.’

With great reluctance, Jim shifted so that they were no longer touching, inching back onto his cold pillow. Maybe this room-sharing idea had been a mistake. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to go back to sleeping alone, after knowing what it was like to be so close to Spock. With no alarm blaring, no children wailing, and no comm from the Bridge, Jim was almost drifting off again when Spock spoke, his question making his heart batter against his ribcage.

‘Jim, are you willing to elaborate on what we spoke of last night?’

Jim froze, feeling inexplicably cold despite the temperature of the room. He’s only ever chosen to tell Bones about Tarsus, when he finally knew he had someone to trust, and the story had been received with so much pain and so many tears that Jim was hesitant to tell it again. Still, he trusted Spock equally, and if there was anyone else in the universe he wanted to know, it was him. Taking a ragged breath, he leaned into the concerned touch to his arm with a tiny smile, turning onto his side so he could look into Spock’s lovely eyes. He loved that he could see the concern there; knowing that Spock felt for him was like a warm blanket around the cold fear in his chest.

‘I will,’ he said quietly, fixing Spock with a solemn look as a shiver ricocheted up his spine, ‘but please… please promise me you’ll stick around afterwards. I’m trusting you with the worst moments of my life.’

Spock was nodding before he had finished speaking, eyes Bambi-wide and full of certainty.

‘I will not leave you,’ he said softly, his hand sliding up Jim’s bicep in a way that brought Jim more comfort than desire for once.

Jim’s ensuing smile was barely a quirk of the lips, but there nonetheless. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself ready for the trauma ahead.

‘As I’m sure you’re aware, my father died the day I was born,’ he began, watching Spock’s expression warily for a negative reaction. ‘He was my mom’s world, and when it happened, she was broken. I think she had the capability to be a good mother – Sam always used to tell me how different she was before – but even though she met our basic needs, and occasionally, I saw flashes of this bright, loving person, she always kept us at a distance. Me, especially. Not that I could help it, but I’m the spitting image of my dad, and she couldn’t even look at me a lot of the time. And with my birthday the same as my dad’s ‘death day’, you can guess how that was celebrated. Lots of vodka and crying.’

There was a hard gleam to Spock’s eye that made Jim shift uncomfortably.

‘I forgive her, you know? I used to be so angry; I used to hate her for not stepping up, but that didn’t do either of us any good. She just wanted to be up in space, as close to him as she could get.’

‘That does not excuse her negligence,’ Spock said tightly, and Jim shrugged, feigning being nonchalance.

‘No, it doesn’t, but I understand it intellectually. Emotionally, not so much, but I’ve come to terms with it, at least.’ Jim swallowed around the burning lump in his throat, finding it strange how difficult it was to talk about. ‘It still hurts – I’m only human. And I wish she hadn’t just dumped us with Frank.’

‘Who is Frank?’ Spock asked, brows furrowing.

‘The guy my mom married to look after us. Or rather, the guy who stayed in our house rent-free, and whose favourite pastime was abusing me and Sam.’

Spock made a noise that was suspiciously like a growl, his hand tightening on Jim’s arm. Pleased by the support, Jim gave him another weak, painful smile, and continued –

‘Sam got the brunt of it. He was older, and way more outspoken. If you can believe it, I was actually a really quiet, well-behaved child, up until he left. The day he’d had enough, he took off and wouldn’t let me come with him, and with the horrible prospect of being left alone with Frank, I just… I snapped. Dad had these vintage cars, and of course, Frank tried to say they were his. When I was twelve, on the day Sam left, I got into one and floored it with a cop bot behind me, determined that if that was my only option of ‘home’, then I didn’t want to be here anymore.’

Spock’s hand had been stroking feather-light over Jim’s arm, but at this, he froze, and Jim couldn’t bear to look him in the eye.

‘I drove it over a cliff,’ he blurted, dropping his gaze to the bed, ‘but I jumped out at the last second because… well, I guess I couldn’t let him win.’

‘And for that, I am thankful,’ Spock said roughly, the odd quality to his voice drawing Jim’s eyes back up to the barely-concealed pain in his expression. ‘I am grieved that you ever felt so desperate.’

Vulnerable as he felt, Jim wanted to throw his arms around him and ask to be held, but he knew how bad an idea that was. In lieu of giving in to his need, he drew his arms around his own stomach, trying desperately to focus on fact rather than emotion.

‘After that, Frank got a little overzealous in his punishment, and decided he couldn’t take care of me anymore. Luckily enough, my Aunt Sarah and Uncle Gabe agreed to take me in. They lived on Tarsus IV.’

He felt as much as saw the horror in Spock, tangible grief radiating through the space between them. Spock’s face was drawn with it, voiceless in his distress. Swallowing thickly, Jim rolled over to stare at the gridded ceiling, soothing himself with the familiar linear patterns as he continued.

‘Everyone knows about Tarsus. Well, everyone thinks they know about it. Did you know the Academy used to ask students to write an academic essay on the morality of Kodos’ decisions? Thank fuck Pike put a stop to that.’

‘Fortunately, I did not encounter that essay.’

Jim shrugged.

‘You’d have answered the question,’ he said lightly, shaking his head as Spock made to argue. ‘No, no, I’m not blaming you for that. There would have been no reason for you not to, and you’d have written it like any other paper. But for me and the others… that’s like a slap in the face. He was a psychopath who committed genocide, and there’s nothing right there. I met him once, y’know. He had the coldest, cruellest eyes I’ve ever seen, and he was absolutely emotionless as he condemned half a population to death. Sure, the crop had failed, and the blight was everywhere, but instead of calling for help, his first and only insane option was to cull those he considered weak. He was a madman.’

He waited for Spock to pick at his choice of wording, but no such protest came. Clearing his throat in the unnerving silence, Jim glanced sideways, making, and quickly avoiding, eye contact.

‘They came for us at night – Kodos’ men, I mean. They’d already got Uncle Gabe and my cousins downstairs, but Aunt Sarah pushed me out of a first-floor window into the bushes, and in doing that, she saved my life. I ran like a coward.’

‘You were not a coward,’ Spock said forcefully, taking hold of Jim’s chin so he couldn’t turn away. ‘You were a twelve-year old child who should not have been exposed to such horrors, and your aunt clearly wished you to survive.’

Spock’s grasp only loosened when Jim nodded, reluctantly accepting the latter at least.

‘I never saw her again,’ he murmured, glad for the fact that Spock’s hand had migrated to his arm rather than leaving his body. ‘I never saw any of them again. That night, when I ran off into the wilderness, I saw two other children doing the same. Kevin, I knew because he was my cousin’s best friend, and he was dragging along a little girl by the hand. She was crying; they both were. I didn’t know where I was going, or if I’d even survive the next few hours, but I couldn’t leave them there. We found shelter for the night, and when I woke up, there was another little boy staring me in the face. And they just kept coming. Kids who were small enough to pass by the guards unnoticed, kids whose parents had sent them off alone in the hopes that they would survive when they wouldn’t, and we found more in wrecked and empty homes when we went scavenging for food. Toddlers who’d been hiding in cupboards and under beds. Once, I found a baby, screaming her lungs out in what remained of a backyard. I named her Freya.’

Thinking about her – thinking about them all – made Jim’s eyes sting, and he screwed them up in an effort not to cry.

‘I tried my best, Spock,’ he said hoarsely, trying to quell the tremor in his hands. ‘I tried so, so hard, and did such terrible things to try and get enough food and medicine for them to survive. But it wasn’t enough. Have you ever seen a child starve to death? To feel yourself doing the same? The blight had taken the crops, food stores were ransacked, and I couldn’t- I couldn’t provide for them. At one point, there were nearly twenty of us, but disease and starvation killed all but eight.’

He was losing the fight with his tear ducts, and as a sob burst from him, he felt Spock’s arms come around him, pulling him tightly against a solid chest. Jim clutched at him like the lifelines he was as he shook with misery, crying desperately into his shirt.

‘I sat there one day with a little boy dying in my lap,’ he sobbed, gasping for breath. ‘I knew he was starving to death, but I had no food to give him, and nothing to ease his pain. He was the first, but he wasn’t the last. And I swore to myself that if I ever had children, I would never, ever, ever see them go hungry.’

He fell silent abruptly, squeezing his eyes shut as he hid his face in shame, curling into Spock. He didn’t expect to be soothed, knowing how uncomfortable Spock could become with displays of emotion, but he all but melted into the hand that began stroking slowly over his back, taking whatever he could get in his moment of vulnerability. Traumatic as those particular memories were, Spock’s calm was infectious, and with the steady motion of the hand upon his back, and the feeling that, for once, he was totally safe, Jim found himself beginning to relax.

‘The- the horrors you have endured…,’ Spock said quietly. It was the first time Jim had ever heard him even close to a stutter. ‘I cannot imagine how you have suffered, but I assure you that I will always listen should you need to speak about it. I appreciate your trust in me, and I am in awe of the person you have become in spite of your traumatic experiences.’

Jim couldn’t help but smile into his chest, thankful that Spock had taken it well. Tarsus hurt to talk about, but much like the removal of a splinter, the relief of having done it was worth the pain.

‘Thanks,’ he said thickly, sniffling. ‘God, I need-‘

A tissue appeared before his face, and he took it with gratitude, sitting up to blow his nose. There was no judgement in Spock’s expression, only warm acceptance, and that was enough to begin chipping away at the insecurity Jim felt. He pulled his legs in to sit cross-legged, slightly conscious of his bare chest being on display.

‘I wonder when the kids’ll wake up.’

‘Theodore is already awake,’ Spock replied, sitting up himself. ‘He seems content. As a child of Vulcan descent, it is not surprising that he is not-’

A burbling cry pierced the quiet of the room, and Jim raised an eyebrow at Spock.

‘What was that you were just saying? Just a second ago?’

Spock ignored him, a wonderfully endearing petulant pout on his face as he stood.

‘I will retrieve him,’ he said snootily, earning a sharp bark of laughter from Jim, who lay back against the pillows as he watched him leave. He heard the cries come to an abrupt halt, and moments later, Spock returned with Teddy in his arms. Jim felt his stomach flip at the sight of those strong arms cradling their baby against his chest; he didn’t think he’d ever get used to it.

‘Morning, buddy,’ he cooed, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat as Spock sat carefully down on the bed, laying a wriggling Teddy on the duvet. ‘How are you this morning?’

Teddy kicked his legs excitedly, squealing with delight as Jim tickled his tummy. He grabbed at Spock’s finger as it stroked his chubby fist, big blue eyes wide with victory.

‘You are strong, sa-fu,’ Spock praised, or rather, grimaced. ‘His nails seem particularly sharp this morning.’

‘We can cut them later.’

Jim just wanted to look at Teddy forever. The tiny, pointy ears, the fat rolls on his arms and chunky legs, the mix of features from another version of themselves – it was mesmerising, and somehow, it made his heart ache worse than ever.

‘Do you want to try changing him this morning?’ he asked, grinning at the microexpression of distaste he caught crossing Spock’s face.

‘I will,’ Spock agreed, his face resuming normal programming. ‘Would you please pass me the correct… equipment?’

It took all the strength Jim had not to laugh as he handed everything over, watching Spock go slowly through the motions that Jim had shown him the night before. Naturally, it didn’t seem to have taken him long to get the hang of it, and before long, Teddy was neatly dressed in a fresh outfit, cooing up at Spock. Jim had realised a long time ago that Spock’s emotional expression was mostly in his eyes, and it was impossible to miss the way they softened upon their baby, a tiny curve of the lips visible as he feathered Teddy’s cheek with the pad of his finger.

‘Better, little one?’ he asked rhetorically, receiving a wide, toothless smile in response.

Jim melted at the sight, loving the way Spock was interacting with him.

‘His smile is gorgeous,’ he managed, before the patter of little feet interrupted him, and Beatrice, closely followed by Linnea, came bounding into the room.

‘Daddy?’ she yawned, hopping up onto the bed. ‘Is everyone the same here as on our ship?’

Jim caught Linnea as she almost fell on top of her brother, settling her in his lap.

‘I’m not sure, sweetheart. Why?’

‘I want to go and see Christine,’ she said eagerly, an idea which Linnea seemed to enjoy, judging by the way she elbowed Jim in the ribs in excitement.

‘Ow! Sweetie, please be careful,’ Jim winced, smiling at the soothing pat of a little hand. ‘Chris is probably in Medbay with Uncle Bones this morning. Maybe we can go and see her after breakfast?’

‘Yes!’ Bea squealed, clapping a hand dramatically over her mouth as Teddy grizzled.

With far more confidence than expected, Spock lifted him into his arms, cradling him against his shoulder.

‘We should prepare ourselves for breakfast. Are you able to dress yourself, Beatrice?’

She looked so offended that Jim had to bite the inside of his cheek in an effort not to laugh, allowing Linnea to crawl off his lap.

‘Sa-mekh, I’m five.’

‘I shall take that as a yes, then,’ Spock muttered, herding her back into her bedroom. ‘I will replicate some clothes.’

‘And I’ll change this one,’ Jim added, looking down at a giggling Linnea. ‘Do you wear a diaper in the day, honey?’

She shook her head emphatically, lifting her arms up to allow Jim to pull her pyjama shirt off.

‘You sure?’

‘I’m a big girl!’ she squealed, giggling as Jim tickled her ribs.

‘Whatever you say, baby girl,’ Jim conceded, mouthing his thanks at Spock when he was handed a pile of clothes. ‘Let’s get you into these, then.’

Unsurprisingly, it was more difficult to get a wriggling toddler changed than it was a sleepy baby, and both Bea and Spock carrying Teddy had returned to the room by the time Jim had pulled up the final sock.

‘There you go,’ he said, slightly winded by the glancing blow to the stomach he had received whilst putting on a shoe. ‘Ready for breakfast, guys?’

‘Yep!’ Bea chirped, bouncing on her heels. ‘Pancakes, pancakes, pancaaaaaakes!’

‘Pancakes and fruit,’ Spock corrected, and for once, Jim didn’t argue.

‘Come on, then,’ he said brightly, holding out a hand each for Bea and Linnea. ‘Let’s go.’

He manoeuvred them awkwardly out into the corridor, their journey to the turoblift slowed by numerous yeomen, ensigns, and lieutenants who cooed over the children, baffled as to their existence. Jim had decided the night previous that he wasn’t going to make any big announcement. It wasn’t fair for the children for them to be paraded around, and Jim intended to ask his senior officers to answer curious questions as vaguely as possible, if they were willing. If he could avoid getting the brass involved, he certainly would; Jim didn’t want his children, whichever universe they were from, becoming the subject of Starfleet scrutiny.

‘It is as if they have never seen children before,’ Spock commented as the doors to the turbolift closed.

‘Never as cute as this,’ Jim quipped, earning a beaming smile from Beatrice.

‘Daddy, can my stawbees go under my pancakes?’ Linnea asked, swinging from his hand.

‘Yeah, so long as you eat them.’

‘Can we have pancakes tomorrow?’

‘See how you feel after eating them today first.’

‘You don’t even like pancakes,’ Bea interjected, frowning in such a similar way to Spock that Jim’s breath caught.

‘Do too!’

‘Nuh-uh!’

‘Do too!’

‘Kanlar,’ Spock warned, stopping both in their tracks. ‘Hiyet.’

‘But she only likes the thin ones,’ Bea muttered under her breath, and Jim was forced to stifle a laugh.

‘We can stretch to crepes, I think.’

The mess was much like the corridors in that people were staring, only more intense. It wasn’t too long before the start of Alpha, and the mess had long since become the habitual gathering place for early risers, both willing and reluctant. Jim smiled as always at those who did the same to him, and ushered the children with little fanfare towards where Sulu, Scotty, and Bones were sitting.

‘Oh wow,’ Sulu breathed, clearly stunned despite the scuttlebutt which must have got round.

‘Sulu, Scotty, this is Beatrice, Linnea, and Teddy,’ Jim smiled, taking the baby wordlessly from Spock as the girls sat down.

‘Aye, we briefly met,’ Scotty said faintly, his expression warming as Linnea leant over to give him a hug. ‘Aww, that’s nice, darling.’    

‘Morning, Boneo,’ Jim sang, enduring his death glare with a grin.

‘Do not.’

‘I will get the girls their breakfast,’ Spock offered, taking hold of Beatrice’s hand as she scrambled off her chair to follow him.

‘Can I get four pancakes, Sa-mekh?’ Jim heard her ask, as they went over to the replicators.

‘Definitely your kid,’ Bones snorted, leaning back in his chair.

‘Oh, yeah. Thinking of having any more yourself, Bones?’

He smiled smugly as Bones choked on a spoonful of porridge, and even more smugly when Scotty leant over with a worried frown and began smacking him on the back.

‘Menace,’ Bones snarled, when he righted himself.

Jim blew a kiss at him, barely catching the odd look Scotty threw his way afterwards. That was interesting.

‘How..?’ Sulu breathed, shaking his head. ‘What happened?’

‘Turns out that someone in their universe has the ability to transport between universes,’ Jim explained, bouncing Teddy as he grumbled. ‘And it also turns out that that someone hates me and Spock. He led the kids to the transporter and they turned up here.’

‘My God,’ Scotty said, clearly horrified. ‘Poor little weans, but at least they have their parents, in a way.’

‘Thank God,’ Jim quietly replied, smoothing back Theo’s fluffy hair. He couldn’t tear his gaze away for a long moment, mesmerised by the way his chubby little fists curled up against his chest, wide blue eyes staring soulfully back up at him. When he tickled Theo’s cheek, he received a gummy smile that melted his heart, and he found his lips curling into an answering smile with little prompting.

‘Look at that smile,’ Sulu grinned, head tilting in a way that Jim would have found funny if he hadn’t caught himself doing it.

‘Aye, he’s gorgeous, isn’t he?’ Scotty agreed, reaching over to run a finger over Theo’s little fist.

‘We keeping things on the down-low for now?’ Sulu asked, getting to his feet. ‘I imagine you won’t want to Admiralty involved if possible.’

‘As much as we can for now, yeah.’

‘If you need any help, just give me a shout. It’s not been that long since Demora was that age.’

Jim smiled widely, beyond grateful for how supportive his friends were being.

‘Thanks so much. I’m sure I’ll take you up on that.’

Sulu threw him a casual salute, and left for what Jim assumed would be the Bridge, although knowing the crew rosters hadn’t been his priority recently. A plate was slid in front of him before he even realised that Spock had returned, helping the girls climb back into their seats. They all had pancakes – or crepes – and fruit, and Jim grinned at the even circle of chocolate sauce on his plate, thanking Spock. He knew Jim better than Jim knew himself sometimes. There was also a bottle of milk for Theo, and although Jim began manoeuvring him to drink, he was interrupted by Bones reaching over the table.

‘Here, hand him over,’ he offered, pushing away his empty plate. ‘I’ll feed him while you eat.’

‘Thanks, Bones,’ Jim said warmly, keenly aware of his stomach growling. He carefully passed Teddy over, and turned his attention to Linnea, who already had what looked to be strawberry sauce covering her chin. ‘You like that, sweetie?’

‘Uh huh,’ she nodded, surrendering briefly to the napkin that Jim passed across her face before digging back in.

‘And you, Bea?’

‘I always like pancakes,’ she informed him, her own mess more neatly contained. It looked to Jim like she took after Spock, which made his heart pulse with joy.

‘So do I,’ Jim agreed, watching Spock cut his last pancake into neat triangles with aching fondness. ‘I wouldn’t have put you down as a pancake man, Mister Spock.’

Spock looked slightly like he had been caught in the act as he looked up from his half-eaten meal, eyes adorably wide.

‘Balanced diets include carbohydrates,’ he said innocently, popping another triangle into his mouth.

Bones snorted, but there was no bickering to be heard; Bones’ gaze was trained upon Teddy as he fed hungrily, little grunting sounds of happiness escaping him. Jim was pleased that his best friend wanted to be involved in the children’s lives, and even more so by the way Scotty seemed transfixed by him feeding the baby, the remnants of his own breakfast lying forgotten. Even if Jim never got the chance to be with Spock – and God, the very thought was nauseating – he was sure that Bones and Scotty would get their chance at happiness.

Luckily, Spock had had the forethought to replicate some napkins, so when the girls had finished eating, he cleaned them off one by one, taking Teddy from Bones to burp him. Jim was pleased that the girls had eaten most of their breakfasts – although a tiny voice in his head said that wasting food was dangerous, a far larger part of him was glad that he hadn’t passed his neuroses onto them. He couldn’t stop himself from eating more than he actually wanted, but he would take his victories where he could.

‘Right, boys, we’ll have to love and leave you,’ he said as he gathered the plates. ‘We’ll probably be down in Engineering later, though. We need to have a look at the transporter and try and figure out how the kids actually got here.’

‘I can make a start in the meantime,’ Scotty offered, though he didn’t appear to be moving from Bones’ side quite yet.

‘That would be great,’ Jim smiled, gathering Teddy into his arms as Linnea reached up to Spock. ‘I think we’re going to need all the help we can get.’

‘Ah, I’m not sure about that, Captain.’

‘We shall see,’ Spock replied, inclining his head at Scotty and Bones as Jim and the girls waved goodbye, leading them all to the turbolift with Linnea in his arms. Jim followed like a lovesick puppy, bouncing little Teddy as he grumbled. He hadn’t thought he could be any more in love with Spock than he already was, but seeing the way he cradled their child made Jim physically ache for him, desperate to touch. It was strange beyond belief to share children with a man who barely seemed to want to be his friend, but at the same time, it felt so right.

‘I guess, after Medbay, we should go to Engineering,’ he suggested, a reluctant lump already in his throat.

‘We should,’ Spock replied softly, ‘and yet, the children…’

‘I don’t want to leave them,’ Jim murmured, eyeing Bea, who was thankfully distracted by Linnea for the moment. ‘I’m not sure how they’d react to being without us.’

Spock nodded, eyes uncertain, and Jim could not help but hold Teddy a little closer, unwilling to do anything to further damage the children.

‘We shall see.’

It wasn’t too long before the girls’ needs overrode their need for conversation, and Jim found himself thoroughly distracted as he swung Bea out of the turbolift, warmed by the way she giggled as he hefted her into the air by the hand.

‘Again, again!’ she demanded, and Jim indulged her with little reluctance, cradling Teddy as securely as he could as Bea dragged him through the doors of Medbay. She tore past empty bays, letting go of Jim’s hand and pulling back a privacy curtain before Jim could tell her not to.

‘Holy sh-ugar.’

A giddy smile pulled irrepressibly at Jim’s lips as he caught the sight of Nyota and Christine making out against a biobed, startled apart by his exclamation. Bea giggled as a flush crossed even Nyota’s cheeks; Jim had never known her prone to embarrassment.

‘Alpha hasn’t started yet,’ she said defensively, to which Jim waved his hand in dismissal.

‘I don’t care about that. Why didn’t you guys tell me?’

‘It’s pretty new?’ Christine offered, obviously trying to appease him. She combed her hair back into place, eyes darting nervously to Spock as he drew up beside Jim. ‘We weren’t deliberately, uh-’

‘No one tells me anything,’ Jim whined, pouting fiercely.

‘No sad, daddy,’ Linnea consoled, giving him a clumsy pat on the cheek from where she was perched on Spock’s hip.

Jim couldn’t help but smile, both at how cute his little girl was, and at the fact that this finally confirmed that Spock was no longer with Nyota.

‘I’m not really sad, baby girl,’ he explained, squeezing her little hand. ‘Chrissie, Nyota, meet Beatrice, Linnea, and Teddy-’

‘Theodore.’

‘Theodore, who is also known as Teddy.’

Nyota blinked, as if she were seeing the children for the first time, returning an enthusiastic hug from Bea just in time before she pulled away and lunged at Christine instead. Jim felt a hand brush his trouser leg as Linnea soon followed, having wiggled down from Spock’s hip.

‘I didn’t think they’d look so much like you,’ Nyota said softly, taking hold of Teddy as Jim held him out. His heart stuttered as Teddy grumbled a little, but he soon settled with Nyota, the girls chattering away to Christine behind them.

‘Well, they are ours,’ Jim pointed out, blushing as Nyota raised her eyebrows. ‘A version of us, anyway.’

Nyota gave Spock a look that Jim couldn’t decipher, an unreadable smile on her lips.

‘Must be a very similar universe given that the kids look like this, and that they seem to know me and Chris already.’

She gave Spock a pointed glance, and although Jim wasn’t looking, he felt him stiffen beside him, the air between them shifting.

‘Perhaps,’ Spock replied coolly, and Jim felt something within him wilt. He didn’t dare look at Spock for fear of what he might see.

‘They’re gorgeous,’ Christine gushed, already having let the girls up onto a biobed. ‘What are your plans for today?’

‘Well, that’s the thing,’ Jim began nervously. ‘I know you’re busy, and you’re not a babysitter, but the kids seem pretty comfortable with you and Bones, so I guess-’

‘Would you be willing to look after them for the morning?’ Spock interrupted, efficient as ever.

Christine blinked, nodding as she looked over at the girls.

‘I mean… yes, that’s fine, so long as they’re all right here.’

‘Girls, are you okay to stay with Auntie Chris for a while?’ Jim asked, coming to stand over by the biobed. Bea nodded happily, but Linnea looked more uncertain, wide eyes flicking between Jim and Spock. In a move that might have surprised Jim had he not seen how Spock had interacted with the children over the past day, Spock came to kneel by their middle child, combing back her light brown hair.

‘We will return to you before lunchtime, pi-veh,’ he said softly, making steady eye contact with her. ‘You needn’t worry.’

Jim’s heart gave a miserable stutter at her uncertainty, but as Christine handed her a bioscanner, she lit up, concentrated absorbed almost immediately by the lights and beeping. Nyota slipped out for Alpha as Spock, then Jim, said goodbye to the children, giving little Teddy an extra squeeze. As confusing as it must have been for them all, Jim knew that the little one couldn’t be consoled by understanding.

‘You givin’ your kids my equipment now?’ Bones grumbled from behind them, his expression for once devoid of irritation as Jim turned to look.

‘You’ve got yourself a tiny apprentice for the day, Bonesy. Chris has agreed to have them down here for a few hours while we go and look at the ansporter-tray.’

Bones snorted, taking Teddy from Christine, his eyes softening upon Teddy’s drowsy face.

‘Yeah, the little’uns’ll be fine with us. I hope to God they take after Spock, though, ’cause I ain’t got enough arms for three mini-Kirks.’

‘That’s what Chrissie is here for,’ Jim trilled, grabbing Spock by the sleeve and pulling him away whilst the children were distracted and they had the chance. ‘I don’t care what Bones says – he loves ’em already.’

‘He does appear to harbour some affection for them,’ Spock agreed, falling naturally into step beside him as they approached the turbolift.

‘He’s a big softie underneath all that bluster,’ Jim said sagely, hyperaware of how close they were to touching. If he accidentally leant into Spock, allowing his knuckles to brush along the back of Spock’s hand, well, nobody was to know. ‘You all right, Spock?’

He’d gone a little green around the gills, so to speak, and while pretty, didn’t always bode well for how Spock was feeling. The hesitation before Spock’s singular nod was enough for Jim to narrow his eyes in suspicion, worry creeping into his heart.

‘I am fine.’

‘Yeah? You sure?’

Spock raised his eyebrows in a way that made Jim feel small, and more than a little stupid. His second, more decisive nod was enough to quiet him, gaze dropping in embarrassment. Could he make his feelings any more obvious? Jim couldn’t think of what to say, didn’t want to be the first to break the silence, but it didn’t look like Spock was willing to either. In fact, it didn’t look like he was bothered by the quiet at all, as he stared straight ahead at the turbolift doors, posture as rigid as Jim had ever seen it. Losing all confidence, Jim felt his next attempt at conversation die in his throat.

The transporter room was unusually full when they arrived, Scotty evidently having directed a large proportion of those on shift towards solving their bizarre problem. Jim and Spock weaved their way through busy crewmembers to look up at the now innocuous transporter which had spat out both the light show and the children, exchanging a loaded glance. For once, it seemed, they were in total agreement.

‘Where the hell do we start?’

Chapter Text

‘Spock, your dad’s on the line.’

Spock looked up from where he had the transporter schematics projected before him, his absolute concentration seemingly having caused him to mishear Jim.

‘Your dad,’ Jim said weakly, holding the padd desperately out towards him with barely-concealed panic in his eyes. ‘Your dad is on the line.’

Spock had not spoken to his father for three point two five weeks, which was unusual given the habitual frequency of their contact. Sarek had always viewed communication between the two of them as something to be enacted only in times of necessity, but since the death of Spock’s mother, it seemed that opinion had changed. Spock had been confused, yet secretly pleased, by the sudden increase in communicator messages and vidcalls, never before having had such attention from his father. Although Sarek had made mistakes, he was willing to forgive them. He only wished his mother had lived to see their relationship repair.

‘Sa-mekh,’ Spock greeted, as Jim handed over the padd as quickly as possible.

‘Sa-fu,’ Sarek replied, eyes uncharacteristically soft. ‘Captain, before you go, may I have a moment of your time?’

Jim’s eyes met Spock’s with unquestionable horror within, freezing for a brief moment before edging into view of the camera, a nervous set to his features.

‘Please, call me Jim, sir.’

‘Then you must call me Sarek,’ came the reply. Spock, having never seen his father dispense so quickly with formalities, quirked an eyebrow. ‘You seem somewhat unnerved.’

Jim’s ensuing squeak of laughter was a little hysterical, though he soon cut it short, colour flooding his face. At first, Spock could not identify his expression, but he soon realised it was shame, and his stomach rolled uncomfortably.

‘Given the last thing you heard me say to your son,’ Jim murmured, eyes lowered, ‘I think that’s pretty appropriate.’

Spock did not hesitate to take hold of Jim’s forearm, moving instinctually more than consciously, and did not flinch as Sarek’s keen eyes took in his gesture.

‘Captain… Jim. Having been informed of the situation, I do not blame you for your words. At the time, yes, I considered them intemperate and disrespectful, but I understand that you were instructed to emotionally compromise my son by his counterpart. As such, the blame for your actions lies with the Ambassador, not yourself.’

Spock felt the ripple of guilt and relief through where his fingertip touched bare skin, and he quickly shifted his hand away,

‘Thank you,’ Jim said quietly, a small, thankful smile crossing his face.

‘No thanks is needed,’ Sarek replied gently, displaying far more empathy than Spock had seen during his time on Vulcan. ‘I had thought perhaps that one of you might be on the Bridge at this hour.’

Spock did not wish to lie, and yet the truth was something which he and Jim barely comprehended. A tiny, niggling part of him also feared that Sarek may reject the children based on their mixed blood. Despite his own decision to have a child borne of two races, he had, in the past, appeared to be ashamed of Spock’s inability to perform exactly as his peers did. If he told his father, and he was derogatory towards the children, Spock did not feel that he could control his temper. If he did not tell his father, and the news reached him through other sources, the concealment could fracture their relationship irreparably. He could feel Jim’s eyes upon him, his Captain likely to reply in his stead if he did not hurry, and yet, their dilemma soon did not matter.

Before either could formulate a response, a thin wail rent the re-circulated air, and Spock could not help but go rigid.

‘I’ll- I’ll get him,’ Jim said hoarsely, looking neither at the screen nor Spock as he left.

‘Him, sa-fu?’

Sarek’s tone was somewhat bewildered, somewhat accusatory, but Spock could not find the words to reply quite yet. Instead, he let the situation speak for him, as Jim returned with a grizzling Theodore cradled against him, and Linnea beside him, rubbing her eyes.

‘Sa-mekh-al!’ she babbled, her smile strikingly similar to Jim’s.

‘Bea’s still asleep,’ Jim whispered to him, handing Theodore fluidly over as he lifted Linnea into his lap.

His attention taken by the need to soothe Theodore, Spock spent a moment rocking his whining son, before looking up to see that Sarek’s eyebrows had risen so high they seemed in danger of leaving his forehead altogether.

‘Spock?’

Spock exchanged a loaded glance with Jim, who gestured for him to speak for them both, shushing Linnea gently with a finger to his lips as she began babbling at him.

‘There was a transporter anomaly,’ Spock began, wondering whether Theodore might require another feed given his grizzling. ‘When Jim and I went to investigate it, the children materialised on the transporter pad, clearly in distress, and identified us as… as their parents.’

He fell silent for a moment as Theodore cried in earnest, little arms waving in his frustration. Before Spock could speak, Jim had already risen to prepare a bottle, Linnea on his hip, and Spock could not help but notice how strong his paternal instincts appeared to be. Had he not already been in love with Jim, he might have felt mere admiration, but as it was, he could not help but be enamoured by it.

‘They do appear remarkably similar to you both,’ Sarek said faintly, eyes travelling over the squalling baby. ‘For what reason are they here?’

Spock lifted Theodore up to rest against his shoulder, trying to calm him through his touch telepathy, gently projecting a soothing warmth to his son.

‘It appears that a crewmember from their version of the Enterprise wished for them to disappear, potentially to cause harm to the alternate versions of ourselves. As Beatrice described it, they sought help when Yeoman Rand, who was taking care of them at the time, fell ill.’

‘I’m kind of suspicious about the ‘ill’ part,’ Jim muttered, cradling a drowsy Linnea against him.

‘As am I,’ Spock said softly, exchanging a grim look with him as he took the fresh bottle, Theodore suckling hungrily. ‘The crewmember from whom they sought help ushered them onto the transporter and beamed them away.’

Jim made a low, angry hissing noise, the air rushing out from between his teeth, and Spock found that he mirrored his ire.

‘Despicable,’ Sarek snapped, and Spock felt Jim jump beside him. ‘Whatever the perpetrator’s perception of the parents, the children are innocent. Who is Beatrice?’

‘Bea’s the eldest,’ Jim replied, ‘She’s asleep in the other room. This is Linnea; she’s two. And Teddy – Theodore – is three months old.’

‘Naturally,’ Spock cut in, ‘we intend to take care of them until such time… until such time that they are able to return to their biological parents.’

The thought already carried with it a twinge of regret, and Spock could not help but cradle the baby closer as he fed, smoothing back fine wisps of golden hair from his forehead. The children already seemed so dear to him, despite their recent appearance.

‘I would expect nothing less,’ Sarek nodded, his attention caught off-screen for a moment. ‘Ah, Ambassador, I was not expecting you quite so soon.’

‘Oh God,’ Jim said, sotto voce, and Spock could not help but agree with the sentiment. Who knew how this may affect his counterpart? Still, there was little time to consider that, as Selek soon appeared beside their father, his expression crumbling into something that defied definition as he saw the children in their arms.

‘What is this?’ he asked hoarsely, at once pained and hopeful.

‘They’re from another universe,’ Jim gently explained, rocking Linnea, ‘but they’re ours, kind of. Except that they’ll have to go back.’

Spock was not certain quite why Selek seemed to be so emotional; there was a sheen of tears in the old Vulcan’s eyes, and a tremulous smile tugged at his lips.

‘Would you introduce them to me?’

‘This is Theodore,’ Spock began, sitting the baby up to face the screen as he rubbed his back. ‘He is three months of age, and he has settled well despite his initial distress.’

‘He has your eyes, Jim,’ Selek commented softly, eyebrows lifting as Theodore let out a burp rather swiftly.

‘They all do,’ Jim replied, turning with Linnea in his arms so that her sleeping face was visible. ‘This is Linnea, and she’s two. She’s the quieter one.’

‘And I’m Beatrice!’

Beatrice, rubbing her eyes, stumbled through the doorway with the enthusiasm and lack of coordination of a tired five year-old, electric blue eyes shining with joy.

‘Hello, sa-mehk-al. Hello… you.’

She appeared uncertain as to Selek’s identity, which surprised Spock, given the similarities between their two universes. Blinking, he looked to Jim, who seemed as taken aback as he, drawing Beatrice close with an arm around her waist.

‘This is Selek, sweetie. He’s, uh, he’s related to your sa-mekh.’

Satisfied by that explanation, she smiled sweetly, approaching the screen.

‘Hi!’

‘Greetings, little one,’ Sarek said warmly, holding up his hand in a Vulcan salute. ‘I am glad to meet you.’

Spock struggled to repress a smile as Beatrice attempted the same, her nose scrunching in concentration.

‘You’ve met me lots of times where I come from.’

‘I’m sure that I have,’ Sarek agreed, lowering his hand. ‘You may consider me as your sa-mekh-al whilst you are here.’

Beatrice nodded, fidgeting restlessly as her eyes flicked over them both.

‘Daddy or Sa-mekh, please will you come and play with me?’

‘Sure, honey,’ Jim smiled, lifting Linnea and Theodore carefully into his arms as he stood. ‘Bye, Selek… Sarek.’

Their response was acknowledged with a smile, and as soon as the door closed behind Jim, Sarek began questioning him.

‘You did not inform me that you were in a relationship.’

‘We are not,’ Spock said softly. It was a painful reminder that he did not need, given how closely the situation had drawn them together. ‘The children merely originate from a universe in which we are.’

‘You appear close.’

‘Jim is my friend,’ Spock replied, glancing at Selek, who stared calmly back. ‘He harbours no romantic feelings for me.’

‘And you?’ Sarek pressed, seemingly intent on interrogation.

‘I… it is of no import. He wishes only to be my friend.’

‘Spock,’ Selek said gravely, face drawn with grief. ‘If there is a piece of advice I most wish you to heed, it is that you should not waste time as I did. My Jim and I could have had many more years together had I not been so fearful.’

Stunned, Spock found himself unable to speak, reeling at the revelation that his counterpart and Jim’s had been in a relationship. Selek had always appeared devastated by the loss of his Captain, and presented as an uncomfortably lonely figure, yet this was an eventuality that Spock had not considered.

‘I must go,’ he blurted, finding his voice at last. ‘There is much work to be done.’

Thankfully, neither protested, and Spock responded to their ta’als with one of his own, shutting down the video feed. Shaken, he drew himself to the floor and into a cross-legged position, hoping at least to compartmentalise his conflicting emotions. Calming his erratic breathing, he sought the source of his distress, sifting through the bright flickers of emotion and seeking to contain them. It did not take long given its reactive nature; a full, proactive meditation session would have to wait until such time that the children were asleep.

When Spock emerged, he was unsurprised to find that Jim and Linnea had returned to the room, but he had not expected Beatrice to be sat by his side, legs crossed and eyes closed. She opened them upon his quiet intake of breath, Jim’s beautiful smile upon her face.

‘Are you finished?’

‘For now, yes,’ Spock told her, making to stand. ‘Do you meditate also?’

‘Sometimes,’ she shrugged, copying him. ‘We tried to do it all together, but daddy’s too giggly, so I just do it with you now.’

‘Hey!’ Jim said, mock-offended. ‘I’m not giggly.’

‘Are too, daddy.’

‘Spock!’ Jim appealed, beautiful eyes wide and pleading.

‘Last time you pulled a prank on Doctor McCoy, you laughed for so long that you complained the next morning of a sore stomach. I think that perhaps you could be defined as ‘giggly’.’

‘Untrue,’ Jim muttered, letting Linnea swing from his hands, her legs kicking in the air as she squealed with laughter.

‘We should meet with Ensign Chekov. He has volunteered to help trace the origin of the transporter beam.’

‘If anyone can help us figure it out, it’s him,’ Jim replied, dropping a wiggling Linnea to the ground. ‘The kids?’

‘I do not see why they cannot come with us,’ Spock said quietly, carrying Theodore over to the newly-erected changing table. ‘So long as they remain occupied, I am certain that they will be in less distress in our presence than with others.’

‘I wouldn’t want to leave them anyway,’ Jim agreed, giving Linnea a noisy kiss that made her giggle uncontrollably.

While Spock was changing Theodore, taking Jim’s previous advice about covering him with a cloth as he did so, there came a knock at the door. Beatrice reached it first, and when she saw who was behind it, she threw her arms around their legs.

‘Uncle Scotty!’

Looking slightly bemused, Mister Scott gave her a brief hug, a genuine smile crossing his face. As she squeezed tight enough that he almost toppled over.

‘Careful there, lassie,’ he laughed, holding out a folded roll of fabric to Jim. ‘I brought you this, for the wee one, y’know.’

Jim, at first, appeared confused, but then his frown cleared, and a bright smile lit up his face.

‘It’s a sling! Scotty, I can’t thank you enough.’

Scott shifted awkwardly, shaking his head.

‘Ah, it’s nae bother, honestly, Captain.’

‘It is much appreciated,’ Spock added quietly, redressing Theodore with difficulty as he kicked.

‘You used to wear one of those with Maisie in it!’ Beatrice volunteered, draping the sling around her shoulders like a queen.

‘Who’s Maisie?’ Scott asked, forehead lined with confusion.

Before Beatrice could speak, Jim put a hand out for her to stop, eyes shining with mischief.

‘I think you should ask Bones about that.’

‘…Right,’ Scott said hesitantly, fiddling with the back of his communicator. ‘If you need me today, just comm me, but otherwise, I’ll be down near the warp core.’

Those two words, as harmless as they may have been to anyone else, forced Spock to repress a shudder. Jim had gone milk white, and Spock desperately wanted to reach out to him, but he knew that Jim would not appreciate it in front of his friend.

‘Thank you,’ Spock answered for them both, steering Scott out of the door, and turning back to Jim. ‘Jim. Jim. James?’

Jim had been staring blankly at the door, but at Spock’s final query, he gave him a fleeting, miserable look before turning to the girls.

‘Bea, get your shoes on, honey,’ he said distantly. ‘And help your sister with hers, please.’

When they had gone running into their temporary bedroom, Jim lifted his eyes to the ceiling, and Spock saw, for the first time, that he was blinking back tears.

‘Jim-’

‘Don’t,’ Jim choked, voice hitching. ‘This is… I shouldn’t be so pathetic.’

‘You are not pathetic,’ Spock said firmly, taking hold of his wrist, wincing internally at the anguish Jim was so clearly experiencing. ‘You cannot be expected to control your emotional reaction to trauma, and that day… that day was agonising for us both.’

As distressing as it certainly was for Jim to recall, the warp core incident had destroyed Spock’s emotional controls, and the very mention of it sickened him. He had been forced to watch his Jim - the man whom he loved so dearly - fade away before his eyes, and the agony and fury of that day had never left him. Still, he would not submit to his own distress when Jim so clearly needed comfort. He was shaking so strongly that the movement was even in his face, his lips tugging tremulously downwards as he fought his pain, and those beautiful, bright eyes were glimmering with tears. Spock could not control himself; he reached out, and Jim collapsed into his arms, burying his face in Spock’s neck as he wept. With anyone else, it would have been intensely uncomfortable, but it was bliss to hold his beloved, however briefly. He combed through Jim’s soft hair as they swayed together, indulging in the feel of Jim’s hands curling into the fabric of his shirt, and the texture of the clean, sweet-smelling hair running between his fingers.

‘I know,’ he said lowly, his own eyes burning. ‘I know, Jim. I… I understand your pain.’

Jim’s arms tightened around him, hands pulling so tight at his shirt that he was briefly concerned it may tear, but the thought passed as easily as it had come. He was not accustomed to giving comfort, but it seemed far more natural with Jim than with any other, daring to brush his lips lightly over Jim’s temple, soft as a breath. Jim leaned into it, his hand sliding round to the front of his shirt in a movement that stole Spock’s breath, but then the rapid clatter of footsteps heralded a tackle from Beatrice that almost sent them to the floor. Had Spock not ground his foot downwards, steadying them both, Jim would surely have fallen on top of him. He was not altogether certain that that would have been a poor outcome.

‘Careful, Bea!’ Jim scolded, ‘We’re very close to your little brother, and we don’t want to hurt him, do we?’

He stepped back from Spock, who missed his warmth immediately, linking his hand to his wrist behind his back in an effort not to touch. Beatrice had turned her bright eyes upon Theodore, resting in the cradle of the changing table, and shook her head vehemently at Jim.

‘No, daddy. Sorry, daddy.’

She appeared so genuinely guilty that Spock felt compelled to give her a gentle squeeze, passing his hand over her unruly caramel hair.

‘It’s okay,’ Jim said gently, eyes still red, but the tears gone. ‘We just don’t want any of you going flying. Thank you for helping your sister with her shoes.’

‘S’okay,’ Beatrice shrugged, allowing Jim to comb her hair back from her face. She handed Jim a ribbon, with which he awkwardly attempted to tie her hair up, resulting in a passable ponytail, whilst Spock captured Linnea during her latest lap of the room.

‘Which of us will carry Theodore?’ Spock asked, eyeing the sling with some trepidation.

‘I will. I can work a sling,’ Jim asserted confidently. ‘I can work anything. You should see me in hot pants.’

The mental image that brought to mind was surprisingly arousing, but Spock tried not to dwell on it, given that his face was beginning to burn, and Jim was smirking in a way that only seemed to make it worse.

‘I am not certain if and how that opportunity would arise,’ he said blandly, avoiding eye contact with increasing determination.

‘Stranger things have happened on the good ship Enterprise.’

‘Indeed, they have,’ Spock agreed, although his response was somewhat drowned out by Theodore’s indignant squawk, legs kicking in frustration.

Jim’s expression melted into one of adoration, and he reached out to lift Theodore into his arms, manoeuvring him into the sling.

‘Are we ignoring you, baby? Oh no! Sorry, sweetie.’

Spock’s lips were twitching unbidden into a smile, and when he caught Beatrice’s eye, she beamed back at him, so clearly a part of Jim that it took his breath away. He stopped trying to repress it, allowing himself that tiny indulgence, and was glad that Beatrice felt able to express herself freely in front of him.

‘Sa-mekh, ice keem?’ Linnea piped up, tugging at his trouser leg.

Spock was not sure where she had got the idea, but he was sure that it wouldn’t be a good idea at this hour.

‘You may have ice cream after you eat all your vegetables at dinner.’

She considered this, nose wrinkling in thought, which Spock could not help but find endearing.

‘When is dinner?’

‘Dinner will be at approximately 16:00 hours for you,’ Spock told her, hastily clarifying when she began pouting. ‘Later, but still today.’

‘You hungry, baby?’ Jim interjected, eyes focused enough that Spock realised where his thoughts were spiralling.

‘Yeah!’ she squealed, and Jim’s lips tugged sharply downwards, guilt suffusing his expression.

In a hasty attempt to rectify the situation, Spock attracted Linnea’s attention by bending down to her level, holding eye contact.

‘Are you just a little hungry, Linnea? You do not need a lot of food, do you?’

She nodded, then shook her head to his questions, and Spock looked up to see the wariness in Jim’s face begin to abate, if slowly. Holding Theodore steady with one hand, Jim reached into a drawer and pulled out a pack of crackers, avoiding Spock’s gaze.

‘Here, Linnie,’ he murmured, handing one to her, and another to Beatrice, his efforts to conceal the drawer unsuccessful, as Spock could see a number of similar packets concealed within. Spock’s heart stuttered at Jim’s clear shame, colour suffusing the apex of his cheeks as he resealed the packet with care, as if it were something precious. Perhaps, to him, it was.

‘Ready to go?’ Jim asked breathlessly, false cheer in his voice as he closed the drawer once more.

‘I was ready ages ago,’ Beatrice sighed, reaching up for Jim’s hand before being directed to.

Spock tried to ignore the way that Linnea was leaving crumbs all over the floor as she ate her cracker, and followed Jim out of the door. Just before they left, he reached out and took Jim’s wrist in a gentle hold. He did not often seek to use touch telepathy to influence others, but he wished strongly for Jim to know that he was cared for. Jim shuddered at the gentle wave of affection and acceptance, looking up at Spock with wide, grateful eyes before continuing on, a tiny smile curving his lips, which Spock considered his greatest victory.

They received the habitual number of odd looks and expressions of bemusement on their way down to the transporter room, as well as the expected greetings. Spock’s ears twitched as he caught the advent of furious whispering as soon as they had turned a corner, and the disappointed sigh of one of Jim’s greatest admirers. A primal creature within crowed its victory at securing Jim as a parent to his children, but Spock’s rational mind and the reality that Jim was not bonded to him soon overpowered it. Still, he could not help but move a little closer to him as they passed a blushing Ensign, protective of the family that felt so much like his own.

Spock lifted Linnea into his arms as they reached the transporter room, conscious that all the activity was bound to lead to an accident if she was left uncontained. Their arrival was met with a form of shock which was becoming commonplace, but Spock politely ignored the stares as they approached Ensign Chekov, who was scowling into a mass of data spread across no less than six padds.

‘Chekov,’ Jim grinned, affable as ever. ‘Thanks for offering to help.’

‘It is the least I could-’ He cut himself short as he finally turned from the screens and saw the children for the first time, wonder in his eyes. ‘Ё моё.’

‘We know,’ Jim smiled, allowing Theodore to take hold of his finger as a chubby fist emerged from the sling. ‘Spock, want to do the honours?’

Assuming he meant their introductions, Spock nodded shortly, gesturing first to their middle child.

‘This is Linnea, Theodore, and Beatrice.’

‘Hi, Pavel,’ Beatrice sang, and even little Linnea smiled shyly.

Chekov’s eyes widened, but he soon recovered, beaming as he took Beatrice’s hand in his own.

‘It is nice to meet you, Мышка,’ he said warmly, before reaching out to tickle Linnea’s cheek. She giggled and squirmed, and Spock barely suppressed a wince as she accidentally kicked him in the hip.

‘Careful, pi-veh,’ he muttered, voice strained.

‘And you are so small,’ Chekov cooed at Theodore, craning his neck to see him over the material of the sling. ‘How old is he?’

‘Three months,’ Jim replied, a protective hand laid on the baby’s back over the sling. ‘Pavel, have you managed to make any sense of what happened?’

Chekov shook his head, mouth drawing into a thin line of regret.

‘I’m afraid not, sir. I have never seen anything like it, and neither has Mister Scott, which is strange, considering his expertise.’

Spock was disappointed on behalf of the children, even though the thought of them leaving him made him distinctly uncomfortable. Beatrice reached out to him for comfort, her face crumpled with worry, and he drew her into his side, rubbing his hand over her arm.

‘It’s okay to be upset, baby,’ Jim said softly, stroking her hair back from her face and tightening her ponytail. ‘But don’t worry, we’ve not been looking at it for very long.’

‘I… I would appreciate some help sorting through the data, if you do not mind, sir.’

Spock nodded shortly, allowing Beatrice to lean her full weight against him as she pressed her face into his leg.

‘Show me.’

Chekov obliged with a grim expression, holding one of the padds flat and drawing the picture up from the screen. Spock looked up at the projected image with dismay; the readings were lengthy and convoluted, and nowhere near matched the usual output from the transporter logs.

‘Jesus,’ Jim breathed, eyes flicking rapidly over the data. ‘What even is that? It makes no sense at all.’

Chekov shrugged helplessly.

‘I have been asking myself the same question.’

‘Help?’

Linnea’s timid question took Spock by surprise, enough so that Jim was the first to reply, his eyes soft and warm upon their daughter.

‘No, sweetie, you can’t help,’ he said gently, taking her tiny hand briefly into his own. ‘Daddy and sa-mekh will fix this. Thank you for offering, though.’

Curiously, she accepted this without debate, and settled back against Spock’s shoulder with a sleepy sigh, the energy of before apparently gone.

‘I will take a copy of this back to… back to the Captain’s quarters,’ Spock suggested, wishing fervently that he could say ‘our’ instead. ‘I believe there is to be a meeting tomorrow?’

He turned to Jim to verify this, and Jim nodded, addressing Ensign Chekov.

‘Tomorrow at 0800 hours, I’m pulling all the senior staff together, and I want you there too, please.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Chekov said enthusiastically, smiling at Beatrice as she emerged from Spock’s leg. ‘If you need any help with the children, I am happy to babysit. I am the eldest of 25 cousins, you know.’

‘I do know,’ Jim grinned, although the grin turned into a grimace as an unpleasant smell met their noses. ‘Looks like we’re going to have to get this little guy changed. We appreciate the offer, though, don’t we, Spock?’

‘Indeed.’

‘See you tomorrow, Chekov,’ Jim said, hastily leading Beatrice from the room as Spock followed with Linnea.

‘Yes, sir, I will be there!’

After the children had been fed, bathed and put to bed, and Spock had stared at the transporter readings until his eyes burned with the strain, he watched as Jim emerged from the fresher, shirtless and stunning. Spock could not help but stare, taking in the sculpted, beautiful body that he would likely never see in this manner again once the children returned. The thought of losing the domesticity that they now shared, however brief it had been, made his stomach lurch. He knew that wishing was illogical, and that rationality was always the course that a Vulcan should take, but he could not help but wish that this situation was their reality. He should be grateful that Jim was willing to sacrifice his space and share not only a room, but a bed with him, but knowing that it wasn’t going to continue tore at him. He did not wish to return to his cold, empty bed, aching for a man that could never be his.

‘Hey, you okay?’ Jim asked gently, and Spock blinked when he realised how close he had become. A warm, solid hand fell upon his shoulder, squeezing in a way that made his stomach fizz, and he scrambled to gather himself before he showed his desire.

‘I am in need of meditation,’ he muttered, forcing down the quiver that threatened to emerge in his voice.

‘Oh, okay. Are you coming to bed afterwards?’

The choice of words did not help his situation, and he avoided eye contact as he nodded stiffly, fearful of his transparency.

Jim smiled, but Spock could see the strain there, and he hated himself for it.

‘Are you… are you mad at me?’

Spock’s bowed head shot up as he heard the insecurity in Jim’s voice, ignoring his own discomfort as he sought to soothe him.

‘Not at all, Jim,’ he reassured, meeting vulnerable eyes with a steady gaze. ‘I simply require meditation in order to process my current situation.’

‘Yeah, I get that,’ Jim said softly, shivering in a way that could not be due to the temperature of the room. ‘It is pretty unreal, huh? Just… promise me you’ll get some sleep tonight. We’re gonna need it.’

Spock nodded, offering him as much of a smile as he could.

‘I promise.’

Jim simply looked at him for a long moment, then nodded and got to his feet, heading over to the bed.

‘Okay. Well, night then, I guess.’

‘Goodnight, Jim. Would you like me to turn the lights off? I am able to meditate in the dark.’

‘No, no,’ Jim said hurriedly, sliding under the duvet. ‘I’m fine with- I don’t like total darkness much.’

Spock had not been aware of that. He could hear the fear in Jim’s voice, and the thought of him being frightened made him feel nauseous. Had he not so desperately needed to meditate, he would have foregone it, but he knew he could not.

‘That is fine,’ he said softly, keeping the lights low, but not turning them off. As he slipped into his meditative state, he heard Jim shifting, and then his sigh as he settled, but then awareness left him as he sunk ever deeper.

Withdrawing from his own mind was much like waking from sleep, and he found that a repetitive noise was lifting him faster than usual. When he regained a sense of reality, his sensory perception returned, and he heard that Jim was whimpering in the bed, his face twisted in discomfort. Stomach dropping, Spock stood far more quickly than he should have done, and stumbled over to the bed, his hand sliding over Jim’s cheek in an attempt at comfort. As soon as they made contact, Spock’s mind was assaulted with images he wished he had not seen, but wished far more so that they had not been Jim’s memories. If these men were still living in the universe, he would find them. His father remained significantly influential within the Vulcan Council.

Sliding into bed beside Jim, Spock gathered Jim into his arms, desperate for him to stop uttering those terrible, fearful noises. He slid a hand up to his meld points, and although he did not wish to meld without permission, he was able to soothe the fear with as much warmth and love as he could muster. He gently flooded their connection with memories of the two of them together, safe and happy and as far from Jim’s current nightmare as possible.

‘There, taluhk-veh,’ he whispered, as Jim’s rigid body began to relax. ‘There you go.’

He dared to brush a butterfly-soft kiss against Jim’s temple, then another that lingered, closing his eyes against his bitter longing.

‘Rest, ashayam. I am here.’

Chapter Text

In the quiet of the briefing room, sans-children, Jim could not help but fidget. Sure, he snatched every chance he had to be alone with Spock like the gift it was, but given the way in which the children had arrived on the ship, he felt quite uneasy about them being out of his sight. Eyeing Spock, who with tired eyes and ruffled hair was still the most beautiful creature he had ever encountered, Jim voiced his concern.

‘Do you think Janice was the right choice? I know that’s who Bea wanted, but I can’t help but worry that history will repeat itself.’

‘The malevolent entity which sent the children here did not appear alongside them,’ Spock pointed out, neatening the edge of the padds lined up in front of him. ‘Besides, should anything happen to Yeoman Rand, she has her alert bracelet in order to warn us.’

Jim nodded, trying to ignore the emerging twinge in his head as he did so.

‘That’s true. Wait, entity?’

Anyone else might have shrugged, but Spock instead merely looked at him, giving him a deliberate, slow blink like a cat.

‘What human has the ability to transport between universes? What Vulcan, for that matter? We cannot yet be certain, but it may well be a being that can mimic the appearance of a humanoid.’

Jim conceded the point with a twitched eyebrow, mulling it over.

‘What, like a shapeshifter?’ he suggested. They had certainly seen stranger things on their travels.

‘Maybe so.’

‘Weird,’ Jim breathed, enjoying the way that it made Spock’s eyebrow quirk. ‘Hey, your hair is a little mussed. C’mere.’

His heart fluttered as he reached out and Spock bent obediently forward, delighted at the opportunity to touch him. He took perhaps longer than necessary to smooth the silky hair back into its rightful place, but Spock didn’t seem to mind at all.

‘All done.’

‘Thank you,’ Spock said quietly, and Jim’s belly fizzed at his gratitude.

Jim had never been a fan of silence, but when there was a lull in their conversation, he was comfortable with it. Spock had always been able to put him at ease with his presence alone, and simply being able to sit beside him felt good at this point. If only he didn’t have this damnable headache. The bright lights of the briefing room were burning into Jim’s face, and he closed his eyes against the migraine that threatened, unable to suppress a wince.

‘Jim, are you in pain?’ Spock asked, and Jim forced his eyes open again to find Spock leaning over him, the halo of light over his head making him look like an angel. Despite the pain, Jim couldn’t help but smile.

‘Just a little headache,’ he lied, dark spots beginning to encroach on his vision. ‘I’ll be fine.’

‘Fine has variable definitions,’ Spock muttered, and before Jim could argue, he reached out and smoothed a searching hand over his cheek. Jim closed his eyes for an entirely different reason, his lips parting at the pleasure of the strong, sweet pressure against his temple, and the soothing waves of warmth that swept away the pain. He felt a low moan bubble up in his throat, and blushed furiously as it escaped his mouth, not wanting Spock to think he was a pervert. It just felt so good to have his hands upon him.

‘Are we interrupting something, sir?’

Jim jerked so violently backwards that he almost fell off his chair, Spock’s hand slipping from his face. In the doorway stood a rather awkward-looking Scotty, and a rather smug-looking Bones, a malicious gleam in his eye. The headache was gone, but the embarrassment certainly wasn’t.

‘Not at all,’ Spock said calmly, inviting them in with a far more polite hand gesture than Jim was considering. ‘The Captain merely had a headache. Please sit.’

Bones, of course, ignored his instruction, and approached Jim with a hypo he had surely pulled out of thin air.

‘A headache?’ he growled, jabbing it into Jim’s neck without warning.

‘Hey, that hurt! Spock fixed me anyway, so that was completely unnecessary.’

‘Oh, really?’ Bones asked sarcastically, scowling at Spock. ‘Did you gain an MD in the last few days that I don’t know about?’

Spock’s back visibly stiffened, his mouth pinching into a moue of distaste.

‘As usual, Doctor, you are overreacting. I was able to soothe Jim’s pain on a temporary basis.’

‘Oh yeah, I bet Jim wanted you to soothe his pain.’

‘Bones,’ Jim snapped, panic crawling up his throat.

Can we not at this hour?’ Scotty asked wearily, grabbing with little coordination at Bones. ‘Leonard, sit down, for God’s sake.’

Bones allowed himself to be dragged backwards, to Jim’s great interest, and he did at least look slightly shamefaced for what he’d said.

‘Thank you, Scotty,’ Jim smiled, if a little poorly. ‘Can we please try not to have any arguments this morning? It’s really important that we all work together, for the kids’ sake.’

‘Sure, kid. Sorry, you know what I’m like first thing in the morning.’

Scotty’s forehead scrunched, which made sense considering the way that sentence could be read, but Jim also thought he felt Spock shift beside him. When he looked he saw nothing out of the ordinary, but it made him uneasy enough that he had to say something.

‘Just to clarify, we were roommates at the Academy,’ Jim blurted, for Spock’s sake as much as Scotty’s. ‘Don’t you go dragging my name through the mud!’

‘Pretty sure you’ve got that sorted yourself, kiddo.’

Jim gave him a withering look that melted into a genuine smile as Uhura arrived, Chekov trailing behind her, and Lieutenant Commander Giotto bringing up the rear.

‘Morning, people,’ he greeted, earning an enthusiastic grin from Chekov, and a slightly less enthusiastic twitch of the lips from Uhura. Jim knew that she hated mornings, but she was so well put together, no one would know without being told.

‘Where are the kids?’ she asked, sliding into a chair with coffee in hand.

‘Yeoman Rand is looking after them,’ Spock volunteered, fingers dancing over the padd in front of him. Jim found it difficult to drag his eyes away, idly daydreaming about what else Spock could do with those lovely hands. ‘She has agreed to take on the role when we are busy with our duties.’

‘I will happily babysit too, sir,’ Chekov reminded them, and Jim smiled, feeling a familiar rush of fondness for their youngest friend.

‘We appreciate that. I’m sure Bones could be persuaded to again as well – what about you, Scotty? Would you help him out?’

Bones’ glare had the intensity of a thousand suns as Scotty set off stammering, but they were both lucky enough to be interrupted by Sulu’s timely entrance.

‘Are you talking about babysitting?’ he asked, rolling his eyes as he slid into the seat beside Chekov. Jim shifted closer to Spock, just in case they wanted more space. ‘Again?’

‘A little bit,’ Chekov said sulkily, pouting.

‘Might I remind you all that I have the youngest child out of all of you, and am therefore the expert on tinies?’

‘Sulu’s first choice for babysitting,’ Jim asserted, guiltily avoiding Chekov’s puppy eyes.

Sulu beamed, sitting back in his chair with his legs crossed.

‘I’ll teach them how to fence!’

‘Okay, Sulu’s banned from babysitting.’

‘Hey!’

‘Anyway,’ Jim blurted, after receiving a pointed look and a raised eyebrow from Spock. ‘We’re here to talk about getting the kids back, not babysitting. Do all of you know how they ended up here?’

He was met with mostly nods and a few ‘kind of’ hand gestures, but Giotto shook his head, which was enough for Jim to explain.

‘So, in another universe, Spock and I have Beatrice, Linnea and Teddy, and they’re mostly looked after by Janice when neither of us – them – can be there. As Bea tells it, Janice got sick one day, and when they left to get help, someone grabbed them and shoved them onto the transporter.’

Sulu hissed a breath out from between his teeth, shaking his head in apparent disbelief.

‘Did she say what this person looked like?’ Uhura asked, having drained her coffee.

‘She described them as humanoid,’ Spock replied, shifting so that his leg brushed Jim’s, ‘apparently male, and an adult, but considering Beatrice’s current concept of age, that could mean anything.’

Jim’s mouth had gone dry at the feeling of Spock’s leg against his, however innocent the touch, and when Spock looked to him to continue, he swallowed, his face feeling hot.

‘Obviously, our priority is to get the children home. There’s another set of us out there, and they must be scared to death.’ He glanced at Spock, heart heavy, and met eyes that reflected his own sadness. ‘The kids need to get back to their parents.’

‘We’ll do whatever we can to help,’ Uhura promised, and there were several nods of agreement from the group.

‘I’m going to send you the transporter readings to take a look at. See if you can make any more sense of it than we can.’

She nodded firmly, straightening back up in her chair.

‘This is the section of the readings that I believe to be the most important,’ Spock took over, flicking the data up into a projection they could all see.

Scotty was already shaking his head, an uncharacteristic frown on his face.

‘It’s nonsense,’ he said despairingly, lips tugging downwards. ‘I know the codes inside out, but it’s like someone’s taken them and put them in a blender.’

‘I know,’ Jim said heavily, ‘but we have to try and find patterns. We’re… we’re not their real parents.’

He omitted the ‘as much as we’d like to be’ that came naturally with it, not daring to look at Spock. In the beat of silence that came afterwards, his breath hitched as a hand fell upon his leg close to his knee, squeezing gently. Before it could withdraw, he tentatively laid his shaking hand on top, allowing himself that brief moment of contact before they both withdrew.

‘As of tomorrow, we return to duty,’ Spock explained, to which Bones’ eyes narrowed.

‘I can always sign you off for longer if needed.’

Jim shook his head.

‘Thanks, but I really don’t want the Admiralty to get wind of this.’ He eyed each of them in turn, lingering on Giotto, whom he didn’t know as well as the others. ‘Ideally, I don’t want them knowing about the children at all. Given past experience, the likelihood is they would take over, and the last thing I want is the children becoming lab rats.’

‘Of course,’ Sulu said softly, and Chekov nodded fiercely, a determined gleam in his eye.

‘We will keep it to ourselves, sir.’

‘Thank you,’ Jim smiled, turning to Giotto, who thankfully seemed not to have revolted at his last request. ‘Giotto, I wanted you to know the story, because there’s always a chance – however small – that someone in this universe might try and do the same thing to the children here. I’d just like you to keep an eye out for any security threats towards them, and we’ll obviously be doing the same.’

‘Of course,’ Giotto agreed, saying nothing more about the brass issue. Jim was always surprised when his crew was loyal to him, especially given the experience of some crewmembers compared to his own. Jim smiled brightly at him, then at the others around the table, grateful for their support.

‘Any questions? Comments?’

Nobody spoke, and after a few moments of silence, Jim sat back in his chair and let his hands fall onto the armrests of his chair.

‘Right, then, class dismissed.’

Uhura snorted, and Jim narrowed his eyes playfully at her, throwing a subtle hand gesture at her as he pretended to scratch his nose. She did the same as she pretended to tuck her hair behind her ear, and Jim huffed out a quiet laugh, turning to see Spock watching them with disapproval.

‘What?’ he asked innocently, waving goodbye as the others trickled out of the briefing room.

Spock’s eyebrow hiked higher than before, but Jim smiled sweetly at him until the disapproval evaporated, and Bones’ smack to Jim’s back distracted them from one another.

‘Rude!’ Jim complained, rubbing as best he could at the sting. ‘Next time Teddy has a full diaper, I’m sending him down to you.’

‘Ha! Threatening a doctor with bodily fluids is like threatening a barista with coffee. I have an iron stomach, kid.’

‘Great, you’re hired as our full-time nanny!’

Bones snorted in lieu of a goodbye, exchanging a loaded look with Scotty as he left. Scotty was dawdling; waiting, it seemed, for the room to empty. When at last only the three of them remained, he approached Jim, rubbing the back of his neck in a way that Jim had only ever seen him do when nervous.

‘Captain, d’you mind me having two minutes of your time?’

‘Not at all,’ Jim replied, looking reluctantly at Spock, who drew himself to his feet.

‘I will go to the children and await your return,’ he declared, and Jim offered him a smile as he left, unable to tear his eyes away from him.

A polite cough drew his attention back to Scotty, who was shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot, a strange flush over the apex of his cheeks.

‘I… I asked Leonard who Maisie was.’

Pulse quickening, Jim nodded, hopeful for his friends.

‘What did he say?’

Scotty smiled crookedly, his face softening as he shook his head in what appeared to be incredulity.

‘That she’s ours in the other universe,’ he beamed, disbelief colouring his voice. ‘It’s mad, but it’s amazing.’

‘Yeah, that’s pretty much how I felt,’ Jim grinned, although his smile faded when he saw Scotty’s do the same, a troubled frown creasing Scotty’s forehead.

‘After he told me, he ran off, like he was embarrassed or something. I dunno, it just felt a bit like… like is the thought of it that horrible for him? I mean, I know I’m not a model or nothin', but I didn’t think I was that repulsive.’

He sounded so sorrowful that Jim felt an uncomfortable, empathetic twinge. It didn’t have to be like this for Scotty too. Weighing up the probability of Bones murdering him if this went wrong, he dared to give up his secret.

‘You’re not repulsive, Scotty. The reason he ran away is because he likes you. And I don’t mean the way he likes me or Christine.’

Scotty blinked, a soft, disbelieving laugh escaping him as his eyes narrowed.

‘You mean..?’

Jim nodded, vaguely concerned that he would soon be receiving the hypo of death.

‘You should talk to him. I’m not talking crap, I promise.’

Scotty looked somewhat dazed, but he nodded nonetheless, a smile creeping across his face.

‘I will, sir,’ he said breathlessly, already halfway out of the room. ‘Thank you.’

Left alone, Jim couldn’t help but smile, hopeful that at least there would be a happy ending for his best friend. Bones had been wilfully alone since his separation from Jocelyn, and Scotty was just the right person to pull him from his solitude. Yet even as Jim thought that, melancholy settled upon him for his own unrequited love. He had no right to be miserable when he had Spock’s friendship – he knew that – but waking beside him every day was as much a punch in the gut as it was a thrill. He wanted desperately for their little family to be a reality, and it was so easy to pretend that it was when they were in their quarters, looking after their children. It would all come to an end, though, and probably soon. The children would leave – and god, wasn’t that a painful thought? – and Spock would move back into his quarters, and the brief, wonderful intimacy that they had shared would never be shared again.

Squeezing his eyes shut against the looming threat of tears, Jim straightened his back and balled his fists, determined not to show weakness in front of his crew. Broken-hearted though he may be, his priority was the ship and all aboard her, not his own redundant feelings. He still had Spock beside him, and he was beyond lucky to have that, considering all the amazing career opportunities Spock had been courted with. He should count his blessings. After all, a ship without Spock was far worse than a bed without him, however much he’d got used to it.

Shaking off the melancholy, Jim tucked his padd under his arm and left the room, ducking his head at a pair of lieutenants who rounded the corner. He hoped he seemed busy rather than unapproachable, but he didn’t feel that he had the time to stop and chat. Sooner or later, someone with nefarious intentions would get wind of the children’s existence, and Jim wasn’t about to let them get hurt. It didn’t take long for him to get back to his quarters, and as soon as he opened the door, he was assaulted by two squealing little girls, his ears hurting but his heart lifting.

‘Hey, babies,’ he grinned, hefting one up under each arm as they giggled. ‘You missed me?’

‘Yeah!’ Linnea shrieked, though she soon abandoned him for Spock, who was walking towards them with Teddy cradled against his shoulder. Jim’s heart gave a lurch as he reached down to smooth back Linnea’s hair, unable to suppress a giddy smile.

‘Hey, you,’ he said lamely, allowing Beatrice to run off after Linnea in a mad scramble. He reached out for Teddy, and beamed when Spock passed him over, matching the toothless grin on their baby’s face. ‘And hello to you too! Look at that gorgeous smile! Beautiful boy.’

He tickled Teddy’s stomach and watched rapturously as he kicked and giggled, chubby fists balling as he swung his arms about.

‘Janice informed me that all three were initially upset,’ Spock explained, handing a full bottle over. ‘They soon calmed, however.’

‘That’s good,’ Jim said softly, angling the bottle so that Teddy could latch on. ‘Did she agree to come back later?’

Spock nodded, looking a little bereft now that Jim had taken the baby.

‘I have already informed the girls that they will be spending the afternoon with her. I am hesitant to once again leave them in another’s care, but I think that is preferable to them spending an afternoon with little stimulation due to our need to work.’

‘I know what you mean,’ Jim agreed, watching Bea and Linnea spin each other round with amusement. He lifted Teddy’s head a little more as milk dribbled out of his mouth, and gratefully accepted the cloth Spock handed to him. ‘I’m sure Janice will manage to occupy them.’

‘They will only be in the adjoining room should any of them need us,’ Spock reminded him, swapping the bottle back with the cloth. ‘We will not be far.’

‘I know,’ Jim said quietly. He didn’t want to say it, given how selfish he knew it was, but a huge part of him wanted to forgo the research today in order to maximise his time with them. They had become so important to him so quickly, tiny apparitions made real, and despite knowing that they were only his to borrow, he cared for them so deeply, it was as if they were theirs by birth. He didn’t try to hide his inner conflict as he looked back up at Spock, surrendering Teddy to the only person to whom he was truly willing to surrender him.

Spock took a hitching breath as he rubbed circles on Teddy’s back, warm brown eyes similarly conflicted.

‘They are… temporary gifts,’ he murmured, so softly that Jim had to strain to hear him. ‘It is logical for them to return to their biological parents.’

Jim’s lips curved in more of a grimace than a smile, his hand rising unnecessarily to pull up Teddy’s sock.

‘Logic’s never really been my thing.’

Spock said nothing more, only looked at him with those beautiful, sad eyes, and Jim wanted to kiss him so badly that his chest physically ached. But then Beatrice tugged at his hand, and Linnea begged him to tie up her hair, and the moment, as so often it was, was gone.

------------------------

While determined to work as hard as he possibly could on the transporter problem for the children’s sake, seven hours in, Jim couldn’t help that his attention had begun to wander. His favourite distraction was sitting across from him, after all, and Spock was utterly adorable when he was concentrating. Jim’s tired eyes drifted up from his padd and over the soft, parted lips, the tiny furrow in his brow, and the long eyelashes close to dusting his cheeks, a thrill of want passing through him. Given that this was the last day that Bones had signed them off for, he should probably have been concentrating more, but the last few hours had led to only a few tiny lines of code being unscrambled, and Jim was tired. He had sent the unscrambled code to Scotty, hoping that he could make some sense of it, but he wasn’t hopeful. He felt a creeping sense of dread at the idea that this could take far longer than anticipated. A few months; a few years – how was he meant to let them go after that?

At times like this, he couldn’t help but think of the children on Tarsus. Kevin, Tommy, Freya and the others - they’d all been his, in so many respects, but had been torn from him upon their return to Terra, packed off to live with relatives that some of them hardly knew. Rationally, Jim knew that with his age and the acute post-traumatic stress, he wasn’t the best candidate for parenthood, but god, he would have tried for them. It had been particularly hard to let go of Freya, given that he was practically all she knew. He had grown so attuned to her cries, and hearing her wail as she had been taken from him had been so unbearable that they’d drugged him in order to stop him going after her. He hadn’t forgiven them for that either.

‘What are you thinking about?’

Spock’s low, warm voice drew Jim from his reverie, and although it took a moment, he soon gathered himself enough to speak.

‘Freya,’ he answered honestly, seeing confusion, then understanding, spark in Spock’s eyes. ‘I still keep an eye out for them, you know. She’s in high school now, and she’s doing great. Kevin’s in the ‘Fleet – a Lieutenant straight out of the Academy – and Tommy’s a scientist like… like you.’

He was so proud of them all that it brought a lump to his throat, and he barely managed to choke out his final words before falling silent.

‘They all sound like accomplished young people,’ Spock offered gently, his expression so earnest that Jim fell in love with him all over again.

‘They are. They’re amazing.’ He dropped his gaze to the padd in front of him and sighed, dragging the code into a message for Scotty, Chekov, and Uhura, then minimising the app that contained it. ‘I hope Scotty can make use of this, but I doubt it.’

‘It is some progress, at least,’ Spock said optimistically, following his lead.

Jim nodded, bringing a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose. He had a headache again, although this time, it wasn’t exactly a surprise.

‘You are in pain,’ Spock remarked, sounding distinctly unhappy. ‘We should have stopped working before this.’

‘It doesn’t matter. You know I’m prone to them anyway.’

As he had that morning, Spock reached out with a question in his eyes, and Jim’s mouth formed a half-smile, half-grimace before going slack as Spock touched his pressure points. He slumped back in his chair as he surrendered himself to the feeling of Spock’s cool hands and their healing touch, wondering how debauched he looked to Spock. Within minutes, the headache was gone, but Jim stayed silent, knowing that soon enough, Spock’s touch would be a rare treasure. Eventually though, the magic hands withdrew, and Jim opened his eyes to find Spock sitting very closely to him, a soft, open expression on his face. Neither spoke for a long moment, breathing one another’s air as they remained silent and unblinking, and Jim wished fiercely that he had the courage – and the stupidity – to kiss him. It was only a few inches, and Jim’s gaze dropped from gentle eyes to soft, pink lips, wetting his own as he considered closing the gap, his breath quickening in anticipation.

‘Captain?’

Jim closed his eyes as Uhura’s voice came through his communicator, resenting the sound of shifting fabric as Spock sat back in his chair. He knew how foolish the idea was, but having the choice to act upon his feelings taken away was like a punch to the gut.

‘Yes, Lieutenant?’ he gritted out, avoiding Spock’s gaze as he replied.

‘Admiral Zhang is on the line for you. I also wanted to let you know that I’ve received the data you sent me, and I’ll make a start trying to decode it.’

‘Thanks, Uhura,’ Jim said, feeling a little guilty for his initial brusque response. ‘Please patch her through.’

He beckoned Spock to come and sit beside him, and by the time Zhang appeared on-screen, they were shoulder-to-shoulder. Jim tried very hard to react to that in a way that was appropriate.

‘Good evening, Admiral,’ Jim greeted.

‘Captain,’ Zhang said evenly. ‘Commander.’

Jim couldn’t help but smile as she folded her hands together on her desk. He liked this tiny, fierce woman, who fought their corner, but wouldn’t take any shit, just like Pike. The thought of him stung slightly, but Jim took comfort in the fact that they weren’t without allies in the brass, with Zhang and a few beside her prepared to back the flagship crew.

‘Given that the Enterprise is in between diplomatic missions at the moment, a request has come through for you to transport Admiral Dacre from Deep Space Twelve to Euridian.’

Jim’s heart sank. Although the journey would not be a long one, three days was a long time to try and hide the children from Dacre’s sight. If that wasn’t bad enough, Jim was unfortunate enough to know Dacre’s character, and he was another Admiral who despised the fact that Pike’s young upstart had won the Enterprise. He couldn’t find out who the kids truly were, or he’d have them carted off to Starfleet Medical without a second thought. Something must have shown on his face, because Zhang looked at him with admonishment, staring over the rim of her glasses.

‘Now, come on, Captain. I know it isn’t the most exciting of directives, but you are the nearest ship, and he has requested the Enterprise specifically.’

Of course he had.

‘Yes, ma’am,’ Jim said solemnly, not daring to look at Spock while the call was ongoing. ‘Are we being asked to go there immediately?’

‘You are,’ Zhang confirmed, and Jim’s breath caught as Spock took hold of his wrist out of sight. ‘By my calculation, it should take you no longer than 16 hours. If it is any consolation, you should know that we are currently in talks with the government of Luriana, and it is anticipated that we will begin courting them for Federation membership soon.’

Good news, and yet Jim could not get past the idea of Dacre coming near his children. He forced a smile that he was certain wouldn’t reach his eyes, and raised them to Zhang.

‘That is good news. Is there anything else, Admiral?’

‘No, that’s all,’ Zhang replied, her eyes sharp. ‘I will let you know if we need you in relation to Luriana. Zhang out.’

Jim raised a hand in farewell as Spock held up the ta’al, but the picture winked out before Zhang could have seen them. As soon as she was gone, Jim turned to him in despair, and the hand that was closed around his wrist turned to take his forearm in a gentle hold.

‘We will be cautious, and we will fool him. If we hide the children for that period of time, then Dacre will remain unaware of their existence.’

Jim nodded, though he remained uneasy.

‘I know. It’s just… Dacre is a bastard, and he’s always after something to discredit me. I just don’t want the kids falling victim to that.’

‘We will ensure that they will not,’ Spock said gently, and Jim felt a pang of regret as the comforting hand slid away from his arm.

‘I’ll go and let Bones know about Dacre,’ he offered, pulling his Command shirt back over his head. ‘We’ll have to warn the others tomorrow.’

‘I will call the Bridge with the new order,’ Spock replied, eyebrow lifting as Jim pulled his face. ‘I believe it may be beneficial to arrive during ship’s day when we are on shift.’

‘Good idea. I won’t be long.’

He had the strongest urge to lean over and kiss Spock goodbye, like he might have done if this were real, but he had to settle with a smile and a half-wave, certain that his regret was showing. Determined that at least Bones should know before the morning, he hurried down to Medbay, knowing that despite the end of his shift, Bones would almost definitely still be there.

Swinging round the corner, he nearly collided with Uhura and Christine as they came out of Medbay, arms linked and giggling. Christine skidded to a halt first, far too used to Jim storming into Medbay to visit an injured Spock, steadying Uhura before she and Jim ran into one another.

‘Jim!’ Uhura scolded, the laughter barely having left her.

‘Nyota,’ Jim returned lightly. ‘What’s got you two so giggly?’

They exchanged a look, a gleeful grin forming on Christine’s face as she jerked her head back towards the entrance to Medbay.

‘Go and take a look for yourself.’

‘Oh, I will,’ Jim grinned, intrigued. ‘Hey, listen. Now that I’ve seen you two, I should let you know that we’re picking up Admiral Dacre for a three-day trip tomorrow.’

‘Dacre?’ Uhura repeated, her face echoing the horror that Jim felt.

‘Oh, yeah. We’re going to hide the kids as best we can, but I wanted to let you all know before he arrives. Bones in there?’

He’d set off before they could even reply, and Christine’s call of ‘Now might not be the best time!’ went duly ignored as he reached the door to Bones’ office, blinded by the instinct to protect the children. The determination, however, faded away in favour of glee as the doors shot open to reveal Scotty in Bones’ arms, the two of them tangled together in a rapturous embrace that was intimate enough to make Jim blush.

‘Woah, sorry! And, uh, congratulations, I guess!’

The initial force of Bones’ glare as the two broke apart was almost enough to make Jim turn tail and run, but the children were too important for that.

‘Thanks, Captain,’ Scotty mumbled, bright red and avoiding his gaze.

Bones couldn’t hold a scowl for once, obviously too happy to even pretend to be angry. The glare had faded, and his eyes softened as he looked over Scotty, then to Jim, lips quirking in a gentle curve.

‘I heard you had somethin’ to do with this,’ he said quietly, the hand that still held Scotty’s lifting in gesture.

‘What’s that, Bones? You’re happy for once that I interfered in your life?’

Bones’ smile twitched ominously, and Jim twitched along with it, on high alert for a hypo.

‘I am,’ Scotty interjected, and Bones’ attention thankfully shifted back to his new paramour, looking so in love that Jim was at once happy and hurting. ‘I’m glad you did. Thanks, Jim.’

‘I’m here to serve,’ Jim said playfully, but upon recalling why he had actually come down, his mood changed, and his expression along with it. ‘Look, I know you’re all hyped up on dopamine, but we’ve gotta talk.’

Chapter Text

Although Spock had only been in his company for a relatively short time, his overall impression of Admiral Dacre was that he was an extremely unpleasant man. Perhaps he was biased, but after witnessing his blatant disrespect for Jim upon his arrival, ignoring his outstretched hand and rebuffing his affable greeting, Spock was disinclined to respect the Admiral himself. He had always considered a good leader to be someone who treated those subordinate to them with kindness, decency, and compassion, and the Admiral seemed not to fall into that category. Despite his unusual promotion to Captaincy, Jim was more than worthy of the title, and Spock detested the fact that there were those who continued to see him as undeserving.

Once the initial introductions had been made, Spock and Jim left the Admiral to retire to his temporary quarters, thankfully on a different floor to their own. Nyota had offered to look after the children while they were gone, and when the door to their quarters opened, Linnea rushed from where she was clamouring at her towards Jim, who swept her into his arms with a mock groan of effort.

‘Didya miss us, Linnie?’ he grinned, just as Spock found himself accosted by Beatrice, her arms squeezing his legs together with force.

‘Sa-mekh, Auntie Nyota told us that man’s here,’ she murmured, bright blue eyes wide with worry. ‘When is he going home?’

Nyota had approached with Theodore in her arms, the little one grizzling angrily, and Spock took him from her to tuck him against his chest, his free hand smoothing over Beatrice’s fine hair.

‘You needn’t worry, little one. Admiral Dacre will be leaving in approximately three point two seven days, when the ship is due to arrive at Euridian.’

She nodded thoughtfully, her grip loosening, and Spock squeezed her gently before reaching up to adjust Theodore’s clothing, his grumbling abating as Spock began to rock him to sleep.

‘Are you finished for the day now?’ Nyota asked, handing Beatrice’s hair ribbon to Jim.

‘I wish,’ Jim deadpanned, letting Linnea scramble out of his grip. ‘We’ve got some reports to do, though I don’t know how much we’ll get done with these little wrigglers around.’

He tickled the back of Beatrice’s neck, and she squeaked with laughter, drawing her shoulders up in an effort to trap his hand.

‘I don’t mind spending a little longer with them,’ Nyota offered, holding out her hand to Linnea, who took it with force.

‘That would be a great help,’ Spock said gratefully, and Jim nodded, smiling.

‘Want to go play with Auntie Nyota in your room, girls?’

‘Yeah!’

‘Thanks, Nyota,’ Jim said wearily, leaning down to kiss Theodore’s forehead when Spock held him out. ‘You going to put him down?’

‘I am,’ Spock said softly, staring down at the peaceful little face, features slack with sleep. He felt such a powerful wave of love for these children now, it was as if they truly were his own. He did not want to think about letting any of them go, but he had to accept the reality that it was likely to happen very soon. Cradling Theodore close, he followed Nyota into the children’s room and laid him down in the cot, pressing a gentle Vulcan kiss to his rounded cheek.

‘Goodnight, slor-veh.’

It seemed Jim hadn’t been able to resist coming with them, and Spock shivered as their bodies brushed together when he stepped back to allow Jim to move in, enamoured by the loving look Jim was giving their child.

‘Night, night, Teddy Bear,’ he whispered, leaning over the cot side to brush a kiss against his forehead.

They withdrew with reassurance to the girls that they were only next door, and Jim dropped heavily into a chair by the desk, pulling a padd towards him with distaste.

‘I hate reports enough without them impacting on the time with the kids.’

‘I imagine our counterparts also have to do reports,’ Spock pointed out.

A dark scowl flitted across Jim’s face, soon replaced by a melancholic expression, his lips tugging down at the corners.

‘Yeah, well we’re only borrowing the kids, aren’t we?’ he muttered, head bowing towards the padd. ‘They get them forever.’

Spock felt an unpleasant tug in his stomach, uncertain of what to say. He, too, hated the thought of the children leaving, but it was an unpleasant reality that they would soon have to face. He wanted to reach out to Jim, but he was not sure if that would comfort him. This was an anticipatory grief that they shared, and it threatened to separate them as much as bring them together. Spock, despite his determination not to tarnish their friendship with his emotions, did not want that.

‘It is difficult to think about,’ he acknowledged quietly, sitting across from Jim. ‘But we are spending as much time with them as we can outside of duty.’

‘I know,’ Jim mumbled, squinting down at the screen in the light that the padd exuded. ‘It just sucks, that’s all.’

It did, in fact, suck. Spock knew better than to harass Jim when he was in a mood such as this, so instead sat with him in companiable silence, hoping that his presence was a help rather than a hindrance.

A sharp knock upon the door startled Jim enough that he jumped in his chair, and Spock rose, tugging his shirt down in an anxious, habitual movement. Jim’s tongue wetted his lower lip as he frowned, exchanging an unreadable look with Spock. A second, impatient knock sounded, and Jim got to his feet, slamming his hand on the door release with a scowl that quickly melted away as he came face to face with Admiral Dacre. Spock’s heart sank.

‘I didn’t expect to see you here, Commander,’ he said rudely, piggy eyes narrowing.

‘I find that when report-writing is done together, it improves both the quality of the reports, and the time it takes to complete them.’

Dacre didn’t bother to reply, only giving him a look that bordered on contemptuous.

‘The replicator is not functioning in my quarters,’ he complained to Jim, who blinked back at him, unconcerned.

‘Any of our Engineers would be able to fix that. Do you want me to ask one to go up to your quarters?’

‘I would like to know why it wasn’t checked before I boarded the ship.’

Spock experienced a spark of irritation so strong that it was difficult for him to control his facial expression, his eyebrows threatening to leave his forehead.

‘We aren’t a hotel, sir,’ Jim replied, an aggressive smile upon his face. ‘The guest quarters aren’t used all too often, and while of course they were cleaned before your arrival, I imagine the Yeoman did not think to try the replicator.’

‘Well they should have done,’ Dacre snapped, his face reddening alarmingly. ‘I do not expect this kind of-’

Spock’s stomach lurched with dread as the fresher door swished open, and Beatrice came dashing through, her face alight with excitement.

‘Daddy! Sa-me- oh.’

‘Hizhuk, pi-veh,’ Spock said sharply, just as she fell silent, terror suffusing her face.

There was a beat of silence, Spock’s heart hammering in his side as he attempted to piece together an explanation. Though the moment seemed frozen, Nyota followed with Linnea at her side, eyes bright with guilt.

‘Did that child just call you ‘daddy’?’ Dacre asked softly, a dangerous edge to his voice.

Jim appeared to be sweating slightly, but composed himself quickly, a lie falling easily from his lips.

‘Um, no, no she didn’t. It was a Vulcan word – uh – dahd’he. It’s… it’s a title used for family or close friends, kind of like ‘uncle’, I guess.’

The Admiral’s eyes narrowed, his scepticism clear, but he appeared to be mollified by Spock’s stiff nod.

‘It’s from a very obscure dialect,’ Uhura added, staring at Jim with barely-concealed incredulity. ‘There are some interesting similarities in the linguistic roots of Standard and Vulcan.’

‘Interesting,’ Dacre ground out. ‘Who are they?’

‘They are my brother’s children.’

Spock could feel Jim’s eyes burning into him, but he kept his own on Dacre, making certain not to allow his expression to waver.

‘Huh,’ Dacre frowned. ‘Never seen a blue-eyed Vulcan before.’

He turned his gaze on Linnea, who shrank back against Uhura’s leg, clearly frightened. Spock’s hand twitched within the grip of the other behind his back, wishing to reach out to her, but knowing that it could raise suspicions with Dacre, a man who truly believed that Vulcans lacked all emotion.

‘There are variations in hair and eye colour amongst my people, although dark eyes and hair are predominant features amongst the majority of the population.’

‘And why are they here?’

‘They are being transported to New Vulcan as part of a repatriation scheme,’ Spock invented, glancing briefly at Jim. ‘Their mother had intended to transport them herself, but she recently fell ill, so it was decided that a maternal family member will collect them from the next Starbase we arrive at. We were fortuitous enough to be nearby to care for them in the meantime.’

‘The flagship is not a daycare,’ Dacre sneered, showing no compassion towards either of the girls.

‘We are aware of that, sir,’ Jim replied, affecting a respectful tone. ‘We did not go out of our way to collect the children, and they are in the care of Yeomen until we arrive at the next Starbase. However, it is my understanding that there is no longer any regulation preventing the presence of children on Starships.’

‘There should be,’ Dacre scowled, staring at Beatrice with such contempt that even their brave eldest child dropped her eyes to the floor. ‘I want an Engineer in my quarters now.’

‘Certainly, sir,’ Jim said, voice dripping with deference. ‘I’ll ask Lieutenant Commander Scott to go there himself.’

‘Good,’ Dacre muttered, turning to leave without another word.

After the door closed behind him, there was a long moment of silence. Spock felt ill; he knew that the danger was not over. Dacre could choose at any time to make enquiries to the Starbase, to the Vulcan High Council – even to the Admiralty itself.

‘Are you all right, babies?’ Jim asked softly, crouching down to Beatrice’s level. Her eyes were filled with tears, and as she threw herself at Jim, Spock reached for Linnea, allowing her to cling to him like a monkey as he considered the best course of action.

‘I will call my father,’ he asserted, ears twitching as the baby began to wail. ‘But first I will tend to Theodore.’

‘I’ll get the call set up before I go,’ Nyota offered, her face drawn with worry. ‘Is there anything else I can do?’

Jim shook his head as Spock moved past her, offering her a grim nod of gratitude.

‘I think that’s all,’ Spock heard him say, before their quiet conversation was drowned out by the baby’s cries. Linnea was still clinging to his leg, and he allowed her that comfort as he reached for Theodore, cuddling him close. Big blue eyes blinked tearfully up at him, face reddening with frustration, and Spock shushed him gently.

‘I know you want milk, little one, but I must change you first.’

He shuffled awkwardly with Linnea over to the changing table, and swiftly changed Theodore as he shrieked at a pitch that hurt his ears, comforting himself with the fact that his cries were designed specifically to grate on his and Jim’s nerves. When Linnea was plucked from his leg and taken to brush her teeth, he began soothing the little one to sleep with a bottle, inordinately relieved that he had quietened. He traced over Theodore’s soft, chubby cheek and his little button nose as he began to drift off, and when he felt a hand come to rest upon his back, he turned to allow Jim to see him, mesmerised by the love in his eyes.

‘Linnie’s asleep,’ Jim whispered, bending to press a kiss to Theodore’s head. Sure enough, when he looked over, Spock saw her sprawled on her front, one hand clutching at the toy sehlat they had replicated for her. ‘I think Bea wants a story, but I can do that if you’re going to call your dad.’

‘I will,’ Spock replied, though he regretted missing the opportunity to read to Beatrice.

She was waiting patiently, sitting cross-legged on her bed as the two of them settled Theodore, and held out a book to Jim as he approached.

‘Goodnight, little one,’ Spock said warmly, returning her ta’al as she held one up, her fingers beginning to shift quickly back to their habitual position.

‘’Night, sa-mekh.’

Hearing the word directed at him was still unfamiliar, but wonderful all the same. As he left, he closed the fresher doors behind him so as not to disturb the children, and sent a comm request to his father on the padd Nyota had set up. It was early on Vulcan, and yet Sarek still answered, though he appeared to still be in his night clothes. His eyes flickered over Spock as if to satisfy himself of Spock’s safety, but his guarded expression did not change.

‘Are you and James well? Are the children?’

‘Yes, although we may have a problem. Admiral Dacre is aboard the Enterprise for the next three days, and he has a particular dislike for Jim. We attempted to conceal the children from him, but he arrived unexpectedly at our- at Jim’s – quarters this evening, and came into contact with Beatrice and Linnea.’

A crease appeared between Sarek’s eyebrows in a minute tell of consternation.

‘How did he react?’

‘He demanded to know their origin, and I told him that they were my brother’s children.’ He paused as Sarek’s eyes flashed with grief, his own chest tight with it. ‘He was dismissive towards the girls, and his presence certainly frightened them. I was not able to comfort them, lest Dacre viewed my behaviour as suspicious.’

Being unable to soothe the children did not sit well with him, and Sarek was visibly angry, eyes flashing with rage.

‘He will not harm them,’ he said firmly. ‘I will make sure of it. I presume that you would like me to maintain your story in the event that Dacre makes enquiries.’

‘I would. Please inform T’Pau also. I do not put it past Dacre to contact her directly.’

‘Certainly,’ Sarek agreed, laying his hands upon the table. ‘Do let me know if he threatens you or the children in any way. He will regret it if he does.’

Spock did not doubt it. He bowed his head in thanks, grateful for his protection.

‘Where are the children now?’

‘Theodore and Linnea are sleeping, and Jim is reading to Beatrice. I thought it best to settle them before contacting you.’

‘Of course,’ Sarek said softly. Spock could see the sunrise behind him, colour rising through the wall of glass which led on to his balcony. The garden looked empty without Mother in it, tending to the plants. The land was less barren now that a gardener had taken over her previous work, but the house itself still seemed so. Spock wondered if Sarek was lonely without either of them there. Of course, he had Selek nearby, but that would not be forever. At their next opportunity, he decided that he would visit. Perhaps he would ask Jim to go with him.

‘How are they?’

Spock considered his words carefully, but given the shift in their relationship, he no longer wished to entirely conceal his emotions from his father.

‘They are a joy,’ he said honestly, glancing towards the fresher door. ‘Beatrice is extremely bright. She has many of Jim’s personality traits, but she is still able to sit and meditate with me. Linnea is just beginning to develop her character, and she likes to draw. Theodore is sleeping through most of the night now, and he smiles frequently. I am blessed to have them in my life, however briefly.’

There was a strange sheen to Sarek’s eyes, but after a blink, it was gone.

‘As am I, however distant I am from you all.’

‘We will visit at the next opportunity,’ Spock promised, only to see Sarek’s lips twitch with amusement.

‘We?’

‘I,’ Spock hastily corrected, realising that he had included Jim without thought. ‘I will visit.’

‘James is, of course, welcome at any time,’ Sarek said graciously, a twinkle in his eye. ‘I will speak to T’Pau this morning. Dacre will not succeed in harming the children, or yourselves, in any way. Good night, my son.’

‘Good day, sa-mekh,’ Spock replied, signing off with a ta’al.

Despite knowing the restrictions of their mission, he felt guilt for not visiting his father more since the death of his mother. He had always had an excuse, yet although their relationship was much improved from what it had been, Spock could admit to himself that resentment from the past had driven many of his decisions regarding travel to New Vulcan. Sarek had not always been a good father, and they both knew it, but Spock did not want anger to pervade their relationship. He would not forget, but he would forgive as best he could.

When he turned away, he started at the sight of Jim leaning against the open fresher doorway, appearing more relaxed than he had since Dacre’s arrival.

‘The kids are asleep, but I’m sure at least one of the girls will wake up tonight.’

‘Yes,’ Spock sighed, moving over to the replicator. ‘I do not blame them for their upset.’

‘Neither do I,’ Jim agreed, shaking his head to Spock’s offer of tea. ‘Coffee?’

‘At this hour, Captain? If not tea, then perhaps water?’

‘Yes, mother,’ Jim said irritably, a pout on his face as he took the glass into his hand. He sat on the edge of his desk as Spock took one of the chairs, idly stirring his tea. ‘Where did you come up with that story, by the way? About where the kids come from?’

Spock lifted his shoulders very slightly, as much of a shrug as he would allow himself.

‘I mean, you don’t have a brother, do you?’

Spock was quiet for a beat too long, and Jim’s eyes narrowed.

‘Do you?’

‘I did, once,’ Spock murmured, that great swell of grief taking hold once more. ‘He passed away when I was very young.’

Jim’s expression was stricken, and Spock found himself unable to look at him, afraid that the burning in his eyes would develop into tears if he did. His head lifted, however, when he heard Jim approach, leaning infinitesimally into the gentle hold his arm was taken into.

‘God, Spock, I’m so sorry,’ Jim said mournfully, eyes even brighter than usual with shared grief. ‘I didn’t know.’

‘Few do,’ Spock replied, ignoring his fervent desire to be held instead of touched. ‘It was a long time ago.’

He vaguely remembered the childhood illness that had swept Sybok away, his own mixed blood for once counted as a blessing, as it prevented the virus from infecting him too. Their household had been in mourning for quite some time, but Mother had tried her best to smile for him, even when he no longer appreciated it for it being a reminder of how different he was.

‘Still.’ Jim’s hand caressed his arm in a long, slow movement, and Spock was conscious of every centimetre. ‘He was your brother, and you lost him. ‘S'ti th'laktra.’

Spock blinked, surprised and touched by Jim’s efforts to comfort him.

‘Shaya tonat, Jim.’

‘You’re welcome,’ Jim murmured, and Spock keenly felt the loss of his warmth when he moved away to begin readying himself for bed. He tried not to stare as Jim’s golden skin and impressive musculature were revealed, even if, by now, he was used to the sight of Jim’s bare chest.

‘You not getting changed?’ Jim asked, throwing his shirt with upsetting accuracy into the laundry chute.

Taking a deep breath, Spock took hold of the hem of his own shirt, deciding for the first time not to enter the fresher to change. Jim’s sudden flush was well-worth the brief moment of self-consciousness.

The next few days were spent on opposite shifts to Jim, which was both exhausting and miserable. Spock had spent a great many of his duty hours on the Bridge with Jim, and felt bereft of him now that they were separated. When once they may have brought the children with them, or left them with Yeoman Rand, neither wished the little ones to be at the forefront of Dacre’s mind, especially when he appeared unaware of Theodore’s existence. Although Spock missed Jim greatly, both on duty and in his temporary quarters, he knew it was for the best.

He had been as polite as possible to Dacre, and he knew that Jim had gritted his teeth and done the same, despite the numerous unreasonable demands made by the man. The children had never been mentioned during their interactions, but that did not mean that Dacre was not making enquiries in private. As such, when the Admiral was stood on the transporter platform ready to leave, and spitting increasingly offensive insults at Jim, Spock made a herculean effort to remain silent.

‘I have been treated with respect by the crew,’ Dacre conceded, pompous as ever, ‘but my opinion of yourself has not changed, Captain. I do not believe that you deserve this vessel, nor, in fact, your rank.’

A low growl rose in Spock’s throat, but at Jim’s warning look, he swallowed the sound, recalling exactly why they were taking Dacre’s vicious comments without complaint.

‘Noted,’ Jim said coolly, nodding at the transporter technician to send Dacre away.

In the seconds after his disappearance, there was a heavy silence, but then the room appeared to sigh in relief as one. None of the crewmembers Dacre had come into contact with had escaped his wrath, and Spock intended to speak to his Ensigns about it when he had the chance. Now, however, the children were of paramount importance, and he and Jim only had to exchange a look before striding off in the direction of Jim’s quarters.

The girls were drawing upon their arrival, but leapt to their feet once they had entered the room, Linnea especially keen to show off her hard work.

‘That is very good, Linnea,’ Spock praised, commenting rather more on the development of her fine motor skills. ‘Would you like to keep it?’

She nodded enthusiastically, and Spock handed the picture over to Jim so he could make further effusive remarks, resisting the urge to smile in front of Yeoman Rand. As Jim was distracted by the girls, she handed Theodore and his half-full bottle over to Spock, who took both gratefully.

‘As ever, we appreciate your care for the children, Yeoman.’

She beamed,

‘It’s no trouble at all, honestly. They’re delightful.’

Spock quite agreed. Theodore had squawked in indignation as the bottle was taken from him, but soon settled when Spock replaced it, eyes closing in contentment. He was beautiful, and Spock had become more and more reluctant to miss moments like this. During Dacre’s time on the ship, they had managed to decode a small part of the transporter code, as had Nyota and Mister Scott, and although there was no clear picture yet as to what it meant, it would only be a matter of time. The children had been in their care for such a short period of time, and yet they meant so much to them both.

‘Thanks for your help, Janice,’ Jim smiled, sitting Linnea in her new custom chair as Beatrice hopped up into hers. ‘We’ll probably need you a little more now that Dacre has gone, if that’s okay.’

‘Of course,’ she said graciously. ‘If that’s all, sir?’

‘Yes, you’re dismissed, Yeoman.’

Linnea was wriggling in excitement as Spock walked over to the replicator to acquire her dinner, as enthusiastic about food as Jim was, without the negative experiences behind it. It was clear that Jim was trying hard not to pass his own anxiety surrounding food onto them, and Spock was glad to see that all three appeared to be good eaters.

‘Daddy, can I have cheese on mine?’

‘You want cheese on your stir fry noodles?’ Jim clarified, raising his eyebrows when Beatrice nodded enthusiastically. ‘Yeah, sure, if you want.’

Spock handed a plate over to Linnea, sans-cheese, and she fell upon it like a ravenous wolf. Spock and Jim sat back to watch the carnage, and Jim took the baby from his arms to burp him, nodding over at Beatrice.

‘Child likes cheese as much as I do,’ he commented, sotto voce.

‘It is commonly liked amongst humans, is it not?’

‘Yeah, but…’ Jim trailed off, nose wrinkling. ‘On noodles?’

‘Perhaps it is her Vulcan heritage. We do enjoy various combinations of flavours that you may well consider unpleasant.'

‘Do you want cheese in your stir fry, Spock?’

Spock took a moment to consider it, but then shook his head, watching Jim rub firm circles on Theodore’s back.

‘I do not. I do, however, want soy sauce. Do you know if Mister Scott fixed that particular problem?’

‘Oh, yeah,’ Jim snorted, settling Theodore into the crook of his arm after eliciting a burp. ‘Doesn’t come out as maple syrup anymore.’

‘That is not one of my preferred flavour combinations,’ Spock admitted, standing up when there came a knock on the door. ‘I will get it.’

When he opened the door, Mister Scott was behind it with a box in hand, and he waved at Jim and the girls as he handed the box to Spock.

‘I should have known it was tea time,’ he said apologetically, checking his wrist chrono. ‘I thought you and the kiddies might want some real Scottish shortbread to try.’

‘I love shortbread!’ Jim called, helping Linnea out of her seat. ‘Thank you, Scotty.’

Spock also loved shortbread, and had been quite gluttonous when he had previously acquired some. He intended to at least have one piece before the children got hold of it.

‘Thank you, Mister Scott. It will certainly be enjoyed.’

‘How’s Bones doing?’ Jim asked, a teasing tone to his question.

Scott went pink, but his voice did not waver when he spoke.

‘Fine. We’ve, ah, been talking about some things. Like, y’know, the other universe.’

‘Like Maisie?’ Jim asked innocently, to which Linnea shouted ‘Maisie’ excitedly.

‘Aye,’ Scott smiled, looking over at the children. ‘It’s mad to know you have a bairn somewhere, even if it is another version of you.’

‘Indeed,’ Spock replied, his heart suddenly, and unexpectedly, heavy. ‘Thank you for the shortbread, Mister Scott.’

Scott shook his head dismissively, holding a hand up.

‘It’s no bother. Sleep well, kids. And you two.’

He cast an oddly knowing look in Jim’s direction, and when Spock turned to him, confused, there was a pretty flush across Jim’s face.

‘Night, Scotty,’ he said with slightly more aggression than necessary, and with a grin, Scott left.

Jim flushed deeper at Spock’s questioning look, and turned away without responding.

‘Right, bedtime, everyone!’ he announced, to which Beatrice grumbled, and Linnea clapped delightedly.

Theodore was almost asleep, and they made a collective decision to bathe him first in the sink whilst the girls got ready and the bath water ran. As per Beatrice’s request, and Linnea’s near-faceplant into the water, they were out and dried quickly, and the bedtime routine ended with Spock watching Jim lying face down upon the bed.

‘I cannot imagine that that is good for your breathing.’

‘Yeah, well,’ Jim said, voice muffled by the duvet. ‘Sometimes you just need to faceplant the bed, y’know?’

‘I do not,’ Spock admitted, coming to rest gingerly beside him with a padd in hand. ‘However, I respect your need to do so.’

Jim rolled over to face him, then groaned when he saw the padd.

‘I have, like, nine reports to check over,’ he grumbled, shuffling onto his knees. Spock’s mouth went dry at the position he should not find suggestive but did, Jim’s legs spread wide apart to hold his weight, the material of his trousers pulled tight over powerful quadriceps.

‘Seven,’ he corrected faintly, and Jim slumped in defeat, pulling his own padd from the bedside table and, blessedly, moving to sit beside Spock.

‘Better get started then,’ he sighed, and silence reigned for the next few hours.

Spock was the first to put down his padd, finished with his own reports, and having wordlessly taken one of Jim’s in support. It was only a few moments later that Jim did the same, pinching the bridge of his nose and blinking rapidly.

‘Thanks for helping out, Spock. I don’t think I’d have made it through another one.’

‘As your First Officer, it is my duty to help you.’

‘Spock,’ Jim sighed, peering tiredly up at him. ‘We’re lying together on a bed that we currently share. Can we please not talk about duty?’

‘Technically we are sitting on the bed.’

‘Not for much longer,’ Jim replied, getting to his feet and stretching like a cat. ‘I’m beat.’

Spock followed his lead as he began changing; although he had seen Jim semi-nude a number of times now, he did not think he would get used to it. Unfortunately - or perhaps, fortunately - given his shameful desires – Jim was soon clothed, and they both got into bed, Spock lying ramrod straight on his back. He had woken up a number of times now touching Jim, and while Jim did not seem to mind, it did not help Spock keep his feelings at bay. Feeling the warmth of his body against him was addictive, and it was becoming harder not to simply reach out and hold him. Perhaps if he endeavoured to keep still, his wandering limbs would not make contact.

‘Hey,’ Jim said quietly, and Spock could not help but turn to him, measuring the scant distance between them with his eyes. ‘Before all this, you said that you were working through something with Uhura’s help. What was it?’

Spock’s heart began hammering hard enough that blood beat at his ears, the sense of being caught out falling heavily upon him. He could not tell Jim the truth, yet he did not want to lie to him either. Jim was far too important for that.

‘I was having difficulties with my meditation,’ he said hoarsely. It was not, technically, a lie. ‘I could no longer contain my emotions in the way in which I had always been able.’

Jim’s eyes were soft and beautiful, and they softened further still upon his admission, a tremulous hand coming to lie upon his bicep. Pleasure pulsed in his abdomen, the innocent touch awakening his yearning for the man who could be in his arms in a second if he dared to reach out.

‘Why didn’t you come to me? I- I would have tried to help you.’

‘I know you would have, ashayam,’ Spock said tenderly, the word slipping out before he could stop himself. He saw Jim’s eyebrows knit, and continued with haste. ‘The reason I did not come to you was not because I distrusted you.’

‘Then… why?’ Jim breathed, inching perilously closer.

His tongue swept across his full lips, and Spock’s eyes fell to them, helpless to restrain himself. He teetered on the brink of self-indulgence, heart flying, and when Jim’s eyes fell shut, he made his decision. Leaning in, he was close enough to taste the mint on Jim’s breath when a piercing cry rent the air, and they wrenched apart, wide-eyed, a shuddering sigh expelling itself from Spock’s lips. Jim’s eyes closed briefly in apparent exasperation, then fluttered open again, and his voice was rough when he spoke.

‘I’ll get him.’

‘No,’ Spock blurted, conscious of how close he had come to ruining everything. ‘Bolau tu shom – y-you need to rest, Captain.’

Before Jim could argue, he was out of the bed, and then the room, trembling equally in desire and fear.

Chapter Text

Jim was sure that Spock was going to kiss him last night. Well, at least he thought he was sure. He suspected. He-

Oh God.

He wasn’t sure at all. What if it was just his own wishful thinking? What if Spock had only allowed him that close out of pity, and not out of answering desire? Given that Spock had neither responded nor reassured him, it seemed the most likely option. Wracked with insecurity, Jim shifted away from Spock’s warm body, thankful that, for once, he had woken first. He had grown used to taking liberties, to becoming bolder in their pretend domesticity, but now, he didn’t know where he stood. He was scared he might have gone too far.

Sitting up, Jim drew his knees towards his chest and blinked at the chrono, wincing at the sight of 0603. Since the children had arrived, he seemed to be waking earlier and earlier, and falling into bed exhausted each night. Still, it was very much worth it, and he felt blessed to be able to both parent them, and spend more time with Spock. Perhaps he’d become too complacent. After all, it wasn’t real; none of it was. In time, the children would return to their rightful parents, and he and Spock would drift apart again, as if none of it had ever happened. Jim didn’t know if he would be able to bear either loss.

He heard Spock begin to shift, and kept his eyes resolutely on his knees, unsure whether he would be able to control his face if Spock berated him.

‘Captain?’

Jim braced himself, cringing in anticipation.

‘I believe that your padd has a message.’

Oh. Deflating somewhat, Jim reached over to it, and found an encrypted message from the brass, detailing the details of their next mission. The nervous anticipation did not go away as he read over the briefing, then passed the padd over to Spock, a wordless exchange that left Jim as much on edge as before.

‘It is a supply run of sorts,’ Spock commented, and Jim nodded, finally daring to look up.

There was no anger in Spock’s eyes, yet neither was there any affection. Jim had become used to a soft warmth there, even when they argued, but now - now there was nothing, a cold, blank wall of indifference that threw Jim right back to their terrible first meeting at the Academy. Something inside of him withered painfully.

‘Yep,’ he replied, voice small with misery. ‘I’ll, uh, I’ll cascade it out. Shouldn’t be a long mission, given that we already have the medical supplies in the hold.’

Spock did not deign to answer, instead rising and walking towards the fresher with purpose.

‘I am going to take a shower. The door will remain unlocked lest one of the children cries.’

The door closed behind him, and all of a sudden, Jim felt like crying. He wished Spock would talk to him about their almost-kiss, snap at him – anything but this. It was a punishment that he had not expected, and as he heard the sonic programme start up, he let his forehead fall against his knees, eyes burning. Really, it was no less than he deserved, and if Spock had made the decision to ignore last night, then he could only respect that. He should have known that he wouldn’t want him.

The children brought him enough joy that he forgot for a little while; Bea’s morning grumblings, Linnie’s squeal at the sight of breakfast, Teddy’s sleepy eyes and gorgeous, toothless smile. He swept through the morning routine with a painful rigid grin, handing out cuddles and kisses like they were going out of fashion, soothing both the children and his own, aching heart.Thankfully, Spock’s disposition towards the little ones had not changed, and for that, Jim was grateful. He watched with a genuine smile as Spock swept them up in his arms, indulging their squeals to be thrown around like bean bags, and wondered if he’d truly ruined everything between them. Jim didn’t have many close friends, and even fewer whom he’d trusted enough to tell about Tarsus. Spock had become so important to him so quickly, and the thought of losing him in any way sickened him. He only hoped that Spock would be able to forgive him enough for them to still have a friendship.

‘Are we leaving, Captain?’

The use of his title in private was a recent novelty, but one that brought him no joy. He nodded, heart heavy, nuzzling into the top of Teddy’s warm head as Spock attempted to gather the girls, who were clearly on a sugar high from their syrup-laden pancakes.

‘Think we should go easy on the sauce next time?’ he asked, forcing a light-hearted tone.

‘The syrup was your decision,’ Spock said blandly, passing Bea her shoes. ‘Perhaps your mother allowed you to have too much as a child, but I do not think it appropriate for our children.’

‘My mother was in space, you spoiled brat,’ Jim hissed, suddenly furious at the snotty implication. ‘I didn’t have any damn pancakes, except the ones I made myself.’

Spock’s expression softened with remorse, and though he made to speak, Jim cut him off with a hand.

‘Besides,’ he said, voice thrumming with hurt. ‘Isn’t it okay that they just have what they want sometimes? I won’t have them wanting for food.’

Like me, came the silent addition, and while devastation cut across Spock’s face, Jim did not want to see it. He turned to the girls, who were bickering in the corner, and held out a hand.

‘Ready, guys?’

The ensuing tantrum when Bea won the race to his hand was wild enough that Jim had to make a quick decision, which led to the girls pettily holding two fingers each as they shuffled towards the turbolift. Spock walked quietly alongside them, gaze fixed upon the floor, but Jim had neither the time nor the will for comfort. Spock had upset him, and he was going to have to live with the guilt for a while.

They entered the briefing room to find most of the group already there, and sent the girls off to play in the corner with the drawing padds they had brought. While they were settling them, Spock attempted to apologise, but Jim cut him off -

‘Not now, Commander. As you are so fond of reminding me, we have a job to do.’

He turned on his heel and strode over to his seat, meeting Chekov’s worried gaze with a smile he hoped was reassuring. He tried to focus his attention on the others before him rather than Spock, but he couldn’t help but remain hyperaware of his movements, tilting his chin up defiantly as Spock settled next to him.

‘Morning, everyone,’ he greeted, tapping his imaginary watch at Bones, who was sliding into the room a few minutes late.

Bones narrowed his eyes in an expression so familiar, the corners of Jim’s lips twitched in an effort not to laugh.

‘Do you perform life-saving surgery?’ he asked witheringly, dropping into a chair beside Scotty. ‘I’ve just been piecing Crusher’s leg back together like a jigsaw.’

Jim winced, wondering what the hell Jacob had got himself into this time.

‘We’ll talk about that later,’ he muttered, before raising his voice to the wide group. ‘Okay, guys, so we got new orders from the Admiralty this morning, and it sounds like a pretty simple one. There’s a new Terran colony on Xyria V, and we’ve been asked to drop off some vaccines for the local children. Looks like our ETA will be around 1500 hours – Chekov, you’ll be taking over from Taylor at 0900 – and as for the away team…’

He forced himself to look in Spock’s direction before he continued, refusing to allow the sight of sad eyes to sway him. They had agreed some time ago that if one of them went planetside, the other would stay on the ship for the sake of the children, and Jim was not up for a debate.

‘That will consist of myself, Giotto, Uhura, Chapel, and Doctor McCoy.’

He caught sight of Bones’ grumpy expression with amusement, knowing that if a medical issue wasn’t involved, he would be expressing his displeasure verbally.

‘Commander Spock will have the conn in my absence. Information regarding Xyria V has already been sent to your padds. Any questions?’

Considering the complexity of the mission, Jim was not surprised when there were none, and dismissed the crew with an easy smile.

‘Spock, can you take the conn after you take the children back? I’m going to go check on the supplies, then I’ll stay with the children while I read over the info we have on Xyria V.’

A crease appeared between Spock’s eyebrows, eyes wide with uncertainty. He shifted Teddy in his arms, and Jim stroked his finger over one chubby little fist, smiling despite himself.

‘Do you not wish for me to-?’

‘I want to be fully prepared for once,’ Jim interrupted, voice firm. ‘If I’m going down there, I shouldn’t be letting you do the work for me.’

‘You do not allow me to do the work for you,’ Spock argued. ‘You accept help when it is offered, as is to be expected in your busy role.’

‘I don’t need help today,’ Jim said quietly, knowing that he was pushing Spock out of his habitual role, but he really didn’t want to be working with him all day.

Spock looked like he wanted to say something else, but Jim was saved by Scotty’s approach, his padd waving in the air like a banner as he came towards them.

‘Have you both got two minutes before you leave? Only, I’ve had a look at the code, and I think I might be able to join a few more lines of it together. Look-’

Jim watched intently as he shifted numbers and symbols about until it vaguely resembled part of their own transporter output – a small part, but a part nonetheless. Scotty was almost vibrating with enthusiasm as he expanded the code until two distinct sections were showing.

‘See, if we can manage to connect these two sections, then maybe, just maybe, we can send something back.’

Something cold settled in Jim’s stomach, but he forced a congratulatory smile, clapping Scotty on the shoulder.

‘Thanks, Scotty, that’s great work. Keep us posted, and hopefully we’ll work it out together soon. Spock, the conn?’

He saw Spock stiffen, and felt a tiny pang of regret as he nodded shortly, and turned on his heel, the confusion and hurt in his eyes the only tell for his feelings.

‘Yes, Captain.’

He gestured towards the girls, and Beatrice waved at Jim as she ran towards him, pulling Linnea alongside her. Scotty lingered as Spock and the girls left, and Jim stared after them, heart heavy.

‘Is… is everything all right, Captain?’

Jim nodded, hiding the anxious twist of his fingers by tucking his hands behind his back like Spock often did.

‘I’m fine,’ he lied, face aching with the force of his smile. ‘I’m just a little tired this morning.’

It was the standard excuse when he was feeling like he was, and although Scotty looked doubtful, he accepted it easily enough.

‘Aye, I can understand that with the wee ones,’ he said sympathetically. ‘You know where me and Leonard are if you need a break.’

Jim flashed him a quick smile, genuinely grateful, but unable to concentrate much on anything but his own rising anxiety.

‘Thanks, Scotty. I’ll see you later, yeah?’

‘Yes, Captain.’

He didn’t wait for the final word to leave Scotty’s lips before he began walking away. He knew it was rude, but he couldn’t help it; he just needed to get out of the room. He felt twitchy, agitated, and even the sound of a group of crewmembers chatting happily as they passed irritated him, grating on his fraying nerves. He needed quiet. He swept past those walking the corridors, fighting the urge to put his hands over his ears as he went, and darted into the turbolift. The moment the doors closed behind him, he closed his eyes and let out a shuddering breath. His hands were clammy, but he was shivering, and his thoughts span round and round in his head like a top. Maybe he had made the wrong decision this morning. Maybe he was a bad father – or would be – anyway, because the kids weren’t really his. Maybe Spock would put in a formal complaint because of what Jim tried to do. Or maybe he would just leave the Enterprise altogether.

The very thought made goosebumps rise on Jim’s clammy skin, nausea churning his stomach as his body reacted violently to the horrific idea of losing him. He coughed and retched, holding the back of a trembling hand over his mouth as his head pounded and vision swam, trying desperately to get himself under control. It was the gentle halt of the turbolift that allowed him a moment’s reprieve, as he realised that, soon enough, he would run into another crewmember that he definitely wouldn’t want to see him like this. He stepped shakily out of the turbolift, and tried to force his breathing under control as footsteps approached, staring down at the ground as if it would steady him.

‘Jimmy?’

Jim’s head snapped up at the sound of Bones’ voice. He knew his eyes were wild, but he didn’t have the strength to pretend that he was okay, and for once, was grateful for the hypo that was depressed gently against his neck.

‘It’s all right, kid – I won’t touch you. You’ve got lots of air down here. Your lungs and windpipe are working just fine.’

The hypo helped, but it was Jim who finally managed to bring himself under control, his breathing settling along with the irrational thoughts that had completely taken over. He knew exactly what had just happened to him, but he was pissed that it had. He thought he’d beaten his anxiety into submission years ago, and he hadn’t had a flare up of similar severity in a long while. He brought his eyes up to Bones’ own, seeing them narrowed with concern.

‘What happened?’

Jim didn’t have the strength to speak quite yet, so he just shrugged, shame – his life-long companion – crawling through him.

‘Is it Spock?’

Jim’s gaze dropped, and he shrugged again, reluctant to admit it.

‘Did you guys have a fight or something?’

‘Maybe.’

Jim knew that if he told Bones, he would go ballistic, and that wasn’t the best idea when on duty. He was grateful for how protective his best friend was, but sometimes it backfired. There was a long pause, and when he looked up, Bones was watching him with compassionate eyes, calm enough that Jim felt able to relax a little.

‘Well, if you want me to give him some unnecessary hypos, just say the word.’

He tapped his hip ominously as he spoke, as if there were a hypo holster hidden beneath his shirt. Maybe there was. Either way, it made Jim smile, and he felt the last traces of panic leave him, affection filling the space it had previously inhabited.

‘What are you doing down here anyway?’ Bones asked, frowning.

‘I’m… just checking on the supplies,’ Jim said innocently, pulling a nearby storage container towards him, which Bones immediately pushed back into place.

‘Hey!’

‘That’s not part of the medical supplies. There’s a few spare replicators in there.’

‘Good to know,’ Jim said, meaning it. ‘Look, I think I just needed to get away for a while, but I do want to have a look at what we’re taking down. Will you show me where the supplies are?’

‘Sure,’ Bones agreed, leading him over to a group of sealed coolboxes, and inputting one of his medical override codes. He stepped back as the trays in the box lifted amid a cloud of freezing air, and shifted upwards and outwards, before clicking into place. Jim tried to repress a shudder at the sight of layer upon layer of hypos, glinting ominously under the harsh lights, but was mostly unsuccessful.

‘This is one of ten,’ Bones explained, lifting one of the frozen hypos out to inspect it. ‘Apparently, there are only around three hundred kids on Xyria V, but we’ve got about ten thousand hypos here. Should last them a while.’

‘Yeah,’ Jim said uneasily, shuddering as he watched him lay the hypo back in its space. ‘Will they last that long?’

‘In cryo, sure. I know I criticise our medical equipment pretty often-’

‘And loudly.’

‘And-’ Jim quailed beneath the force of his glare, though he couldn’t help the way his lips twitched. ‘I’m going to let that go, just this once. Anyway, we’ve gotten pretty good at freezing stuff, as you well know.’

‘Mm,’ Jim agreed distantly, his attention remaining on the case until Bones rolled his eyes and pressed the button to close it.

‘I don’t know how the hell anyone lives on a colony. Living your life hand to mouth, relying on imports until the place is self-sufficient enough.’

Bone shook his head, and Jim flashed him a painful smile, picking at a loose thread that dangled from his sleeve.

‘When supply ships visit often enough, there isn’t too much of a problem,’ he said softly, watching blankly as the thread started to unravel.  ‘The problem comes when those visits stop, and everything else falls to pieces.’

Guilt flickered across Bones’ expression before it settled on sadness, which wasn’t much better, but at least Jim could bear to look at it.

‘Jim, I-’

‘It’s fine,’ Jim reassured him, trying hard to separate himself from his inevitable swell of emotion. ‘You didn’t upset me. And do you know that the ’Fleet have an early warning system for Terran colonies now? That’s the one good thing that came out of Tarsus.’

‘I didn’t,’ Bones replied, eyeing him shrewdly. ‘What’s your plan for the rest of today then? If you’re really wanting to keep off the Bridge, you can always have your annual physical done. It’s nearly due.’

 Jim pulled a face, looking at him with incredulity.

‘No offence, Bones – and not to be dramatic – but I’d rather die.’

‘You’re making that more likely without the physical, dumbass. By the way, if you don’t turn up to your appointment on the 15th, I’ll haul ass up to the Bridge and tranq you like a bear. I’d warn the Bridge crew, but I’m sure they’ve seen you as a drooling mess often enough.’

‘Ahh, fuck you too, Bones.’

Bones’ smirk was infuriating, but luckily, Jim had a little ammo yet.

‘Or should I leave that for Monty?’

He received a withering look in response, but Bones couldn’t seem to prevent a tiny smile pulling at his lips, however unwilling he was to show it.

‘You leave him out of this,’ he warned playfully, wagging his finger.

‘Looks like it’s going well. I’m glad you guys got together.’

Bones’ expression softened, his eyes crinkling in the corners in a way that made Jim smile to see him so happy.

‘Thanks, kid. I’d ask about Spock, but it sounds like you’re not getting on today.’

‘Understatement,’ Jim muttered, shaking his head. ‘I’ll be staying with the kids until we arrive at Xyria V. I’ve got some reports to read, and I’d rather spend time with them while I’m doing it.’

‘Don’t blame you,’ Bones commented, patting the top of the coolbox. ‘There’s not much to see down here, y’know. I’ll check the rest, but you should go and spend some time with the kids. God knows, I wish I saw Jo more.’

‘And Maisie?’ Jim asked, curious about what Bones thought of her. After all, it had been a huge shock for him and Spock when the children appeared, and Maisie, although she existed, was less tangible than their little ones.

Bones blinked, lips curving into a tiny smile as he leant back against the coolboxes.

‘We’ve talked about her a few times. I… it’s early days, but my God, I’ve loved that man for such a long time, it feels like we’ve been together for much longer than we actually have been. I keep pinching myself, ’cause I can hardly believe it’s real. And Maisie… well, she’s already out there somewhere, yknow?’

He fiddled with a padd stylus that he’d pulled out of his pocket, a far-away look in his eyes as he continued.

‘I haven’t been able to get her out of my head since Beatrice mentioned her for the first time. Even though I’ve never met her, or even seen her, she feels like ours already. Jo’s forever asking for a little sister, and I guess that Scotty and I are pretty sure we’ll have kids in the future. I always wanted more than one – so does Monty –  and it feels… it feels somehow like she’s waiting for us. Do you know what I mean?’

‘I do,’ Jim said honestly, a grim feeling of dread churning in his stomach as he considered the possibility that his own children may never exist. ‘I’d feel exactly the same if Maisie had arrived instead of Theo and the girls. I’m so glad we’ve got them, if only for a little while. I just- I hope…’

He trailed off, unable to even verbalise his wishes, as if hearing them out loud would affect the probability of them becoming true. Bones was watching him with far more understanding than was comfortable, and he jumped as a warm hand fell upon his shoulder, his breath shuddering out of him.

‘I know. You don’t have to say it.’

Jim threw him a brief, grateful smile in thanks, but he felt just as troubled as he had before. He couldn’t bear the thought of their little family never existing in their universe, especially now that he knew what it felt like to have one. Given the way the conversation was going, he didn’t feel that talking it out would do him any good, so he straightened up and ran a hand through his hair, stepping back out of Bones’ grip.

‘I’m going to go,’ he said quietly. ‘I’ll see you in the transporter room, yeah?’

Bones nodded; a frown creased his forehead, but thankfully, he didn’t protest.

‘I’ll see you there.’

Jim left without another word, giving him a half-hearted wave as he got back into the turbolift. He was looking forward to seeing the children, and to ignoring the rest of the world for a little while. Soon, he would have to have his game face on, but he could spend a few hours in relative peace before having to perform.

He barely registered his arrival at his quarters, blinking at the sight of the door. Shaking his head in exasperation at himself, he inputted the release code, eager to see the children.

‘Daddy!’ Bea called, her face lighting up as he came into the room. She rushed forward and into his arms, with Linnea not far behind her. Jim lifted his girls with an exaggerated groan of effort, pretending to stagger forward towards where Janice was sitting amongst the toys spread out over the floor.

‘Captain!’ she exclaimed, standing carefully so she didn’t trip over the toys. ‘I wasn’t expecting you back so early.’

‘I’ve got to go on a quick trip down to a planet later,’ Jim explained, helping her up. ‘I thought I could read the relevant reports here with the kids.’

‘Sure. What time do you want me to come back?’

‘Should be around 1500 hours, but I’ll comm you. Spock will be off-shift at 1600, so he can take over then. Thanks, Janice.’

‘No problem!’ she chirped, waving a fond goodbye to the girls. ‘Theo is down for a nap, but he should be waking soon.’

‘Thanks, I’ll go check on him in a minute.’

She left with a smile, and Jim turned back to his daughters, amused by Beatrice’s inquisitive look.

‘You’re going to a planet?’ she checked, and when Jim nodded, she folded her arms and lifted her chin, her serious expression so much like Spock’s that Jim’s breath caught. ‘You have to be careful, daddy. That’s what Sa-mekh always tells you.’

‘I will,’ Jim promised, meaning it. It was one thing to preserve his own life for the sake of the crew, but another to do the same for his children. He wouldn’t be taking any unnecessary risks. ‘I shouldn’t be gone for long.’

She nodded in satisfaction, and wandered off towards the miniature bookshelf that Jim had set up for her, quite happy, it seemed, to read paper books like he did. Linnea was scribbling away on a sketchpad, a veritable mountain of crayons beside her, and as Jim bent to comb her hair back, he spotted the tiny family of pseudo-stick figures that she had drawn on the wall the other night. He knew he could get rid of it without much trouble. He also knew that he wouldn’t.

‘You okay, Linnie?’

‘Uh-huh. Snack?’

‘Do you want an apple or an orange?’ Jim asked, having learned his lesson about not offering a choice of cuisine.

‘Ummmm, apple!’

‘Sure. You want one, Bea?’

‘Yes, please.’

Once he’d replicated two sliced apples, he handed the bowls over to the girls, and went quietly through to their room, where Theo had been put down for his nap. Jim squinted in the dark and found him awake, babbling quietly to himself as he looked up at the faintly glowing stars on the ceiling. Spock had complained that they were hardly accurate in shape, but that didn’t seem to bother Theo. He could learn about the reality of the stars when he was older.

‘Hey, sweetie,’ Jim said softly, grinning as he tickled Theo’s tummy, and his little legs kicked. ‘You want to come through with me?’

Jim wasn’t sure if it was his quarter-Vulcan heritage, or if he was just a naturally quiet baby, but Theo didn’t seem to cry as much as other babies. He burbled at Jim, and Jim echoed him, making a swooping noise as he carried him through to the other room, delighting in his giggles. While the girls were occupied, he sat Theo in his bouncer and loaded up his padd with the necessary reports, determined at least to get through one before someone started crying.

The call from Chekov came through early, and Jim had to scramble to find his communicator, which somehow, he’d managed to sit on.

‘Keptin, we have arrived at Xyria V.’

‘Thanks, Chekov,’ he replied, wincing at the sore spot where the communicator had definitely imprinted on his ass. ‘I’ll call Yeoman Rand back for the children, then I’ll come straight to the transporter room.’

‘Aye, Keptin.’

It was only once he had sent a comm to Janice that he noticed Bea looking up at him with wide, worried eyes, and when he opened his arms to her, both she and Linnea ran to him.

‘I’ll be careful,’ he repeated, squeezing them tight. ‘And sa-mekh will be here soon.’

‘Okay,’ Bea replied, voice small, but she soon forgot her worry as Janice appeared and engaged the girls in a game.

Jim left with assurance that they would be looked after well, and entered the transporter room both hoping and fearing that Spock would be there. He was, all mournful eyes and quickening stride, but Nyota got to him first.

‘Did you get chance to read over the reports?’

‘I did,’ Jim said proudly, his expression souring when he remembered one particular piece. ‘Did you have to give me the one that was co-written by Gary, though?’

‘I know things ended badly, and he’s an arrogant ass, and he probably paid someone to ghostwrite his contribution, but…’ She trailed off, pursing her lips as she shook her head, ponytail falling over her shoulder. ‘You know what, I’m not sure where I was going with that, to be honest.’

‘Me neither,’ Jim agreed, earning a gentle swat to his arm. ‘Hey, I’m agreeing with you!’

‘I know,’ she breezed, eyeing Spock significantly as he approached, and before Jim could say anything, she wandered off to talk to Scotty.

Spock approached with a subtly nervous expression, standing with his back towards the group milling around the transporter. Jim supposed that the others wouldn’t notice him emoting, but they knew each other so well now, he’d learned how to read those beautiful eyes.

‘Jim,’ he said hoarsely, hands tugging at his shirt. ‘I am-’

‘Sorry?’ Jim interrupted, hurt overriding his will to keep calm. ‘Yeah, me too. Sorry that I’m such a shitty father.’

Maybe he was being overdramatic, but Spock had gone way over the line in bringing up his mom. Spock shook his head a little desperately, but Jim held up a hand, employing the tone he used on the Bridge.

‘Look, we’ll sort it out when I come back, okay? This isn’t the place to get into an argument.’

Perhaps he was using duty to escape the conversation, but Spock couldn’t deny the truth of what he’d said. Spock drew back, nodding sharply as he gathered himself, and although Jim felt guilty for cutting his apology short, he wasn’t quite ready to hear it.

He gathered the away team on the transporter pad, exchanging one last lingering look with Spock before ordering Scotty to activate the transporter. When the planet came into view, there was a group of colonists waiting at the meeting point they had arranged, but many of them were looking in a different direction. Jim’s attention was immediately drawn by the sound of shouting, the words of the two men so violently arguing almost incomprehensible as they aggressively pushed and shoved at each other. Jim hesitated, reminding himself that they were only there to provide a medical service, but his mind was made up when he saw the frightened eyes of a little girl clinging to her mother’s leg. He waded in with raised hands, but neither man seemed to take any notice, their voices only gaining volume.

‘Two days!’ one howled, bright red with rage. ‘Two days earlier, and she would have lived!’   

He threw a punch that nearly floored the other, and Jim darted forward to try and keep them apart, a shout of ‘Hey!’ leaving his lips, but quickly melting in to nothing as a searing hot pain took his breath. He heard a scream, but the sound became a buzzing in his ears, as the only thing he could focus on became the piercing agony of every inhalation, and he fell gracelessly to his knees. Nyota’s voice was reed-thin and pitched high with panic when she called out, and a wave of dizziness overtook Jim, steady hands catching upon his shoulders as he gave in to the inescapable urge to let his eyes fall shut.

Chapter Text

The first Spock knew of it was a rushed message from the transporter room, horribly reminiscent of the day Jim had passed before his eyes. He was running before Mister Scott had even finished his sentence, running as if his own life depended upon it, and cursed the slow descent of the turbolift after he swept a befuddled Ensign out of his path. Heart flying in his side, terror crawling through him, he flew blindly from the turbolift, and almost collided with a tearful Nyota.

‘Oh God, Spock,’ she panted, struggling to catch her breath. ‘It’s Jim, he’s-’

‘Where?’ Spock demanded, unwilling to allow her to finish her sentence, lest it end with the word he most feared.

‘In- in there,’ she choked, pointing at the doors to the transporter room, which opened before Spock could even take a step. Doctor McCoy burst through alongside a floating biobed that Chapel and M’Benga were guiding, and Spock could not help the broken noise which escaped him when he saw the blood.

‘Doctor,’ he begged, his stomach full of lead as he ran to keep up. ‘What has happened?’

‘He’s been stabbed,’ McCoy bit out, shoving him forcefully aside as his bloody hands covered the wound. ‘You’ll have to come down in the next turbolift. Move!’

Spock staggered backwards as the doors closed in front of his face, and his James, far far too pale, disappeared from view. He counted the seconds as he waited an adequate length of time for the medical staff to reach the floor of Medbay, then hammered the button hard enough that the protective glass cracked, single-minded in his determination to reach his beloved.

‘He’ll be okay,’ Nyota said nasally, the uncertainty in her voice doing little to console him.

‘What happened?’ he asked bluntly, his mind working furiously as he fought not to be consumed by dread.

‘There was a fight when we arrived between two men, and he tried to break it up. They weren’t listening to him, so, oh-’

The turbolift doors opened, and they both rushed in, Nyota’s shaky re-telling resuming as soon as Spock’s hand slammed down on the correct floor button.

‘So he tried to split them up, but one of them had a knife, and when he went for the other guy, he- he stabbed Jim in the chest instead.’

Spock’s jaw set so tightly that he felt a muscle jump within it, thoughts flying as possibilities, each as grim as the last, passed through his mind. Jim’s wound had been in the left-hand side of his chest – he had seen as much – but there remained the critical question of where exactly the blow had landed. His vulnerable human heart was still a possibility, and one that made bile rise in Spock’s throat. The way that Jim’s blood had poured through Doctor McCoy’s hands flashed repeatedly through his mind, and he blinked hazily through the dizzy wave of grief that overtook him.

‘He’ll be okay, right?’ Nyota whispered, arms folded across her stomach as if she were holding herself together.

He had no reassurance to offer her, but he knew that if something happened to Jim, he would not survive it.

‘He must be.’

There was no further discussion; as soon as the turbolift doors opened, Spock was running once more, bursting through into the foyer and looking wildly around for Jim. He saw the doors of the operating theatre slide shut, and made for them without thought, only to be halted by the strong grip that Nurse Chapel had upon his arm.

‘Commander,’ she barked, ignoring his feeble attempts to wrench free. ‘Spock! You can’t go in there – they need to work on him, and they can’t be distracted while they do that.’

Spock exhaled a shuddering breath, the sudden loss of adrenaline leaving him cold.

‘His heart?’ he asked weakly, his tone pleading with her to reassure him.

She shook her head, and Spock wasn’t certain whether to feel relieved or terrified until she explained.

‘The knife perforated Jim’s lung, but we’re lucky enough that it missed his heart. That doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet, though. The wound is very deep.’

Spock’s expression must have shown the turmoil he was experiencing, because Nurse Chapel’s face softened accordingly.

‘Jim isn’t going to be out of surgery for a few hours,’ she said evenly, reaching out to take hold of Nyota’s arm as she stumbled breathlessly into Medbay. ‘You should go and be with the children, and we’ll call you as soon as we know anything.’

Spock did not wish to leave, not when his ashayam’s life hung in the balance, but he knew that the children must come first. He nodded stiffly, feeling as if he were wading through a strong current as he made his way back towards the turbolift. Nurse Chapel was right that he needed to return to their quarters – the children would likely wonder where he was if he did not return by 1600 hours, and they deserved to know that Jim was in Medbay. And yet, although his presence would have no effect on the outcome of Jim’s surgery, he felt that leaving him was almost a betrayal, however illogical the thought. He did not wish for Jim to feel alone, or that he was not cared for. His actions earlier in the day had undoubtably led to Jim feeling that way, and he never wished him to feel that way again.

That was, of course, if he survived. The very idea that he would not made Spock experience nausea, his stomach churning with anxiety. Jim had survived far too much to be the victim of a fatal mistake. He had experienced serious abuse and trauma, survived a genocidal maniac, and had been brought back from the dead, and Spock would not accept that this was his ending.

When he arrived at the door to their quarters, he paused, hearing Theodore’s faint cries with a rush of dread. How could he tell the children that their father was so unwell? Perhaps the younger two would not understand, but they would certainly miss his presence, and Beatrice… Beatrice was old enough to question his whereabouts. He did not wish to lie to her, but the truth was difficult for an adult to handle, let alone a child. Bracing himself, he pressed the door release, and was immediately rushed by Linnea, who attached herself to his leg like a limpet.

‘Sa-mekh!’ she squeaked crossly. ‘Bea cheating!’

‘Am not!’ Beatrice insisted, pointing at the remnants of an impressively complex jigsaw puzzle. ‘She’s cheating.’

Spock was not certain how one could cheat whilst completing a jigsaw puzzle, but he preferred not to ask. Instead, he bent down and reached out to Beatrice as well, holding her and Linnea close as he looked up at Yeoman Rand, who was carrying a whining Theodore.

‘I have something to tell you both,’ he said softly, smoothing down Linnea’s hair. ‘Daddy is staying with Doctor McCoy right now, because he got hurt down on Xyria V.’

Linnea immediately burst into tears, while Beatrice’s eyes were wide and tearful as she grasped at his arm, little hands pulling anxiously at the material of his shirt.

‘Is daddy going to be okay?’

‘He is receiving treatment now,’ Spock replied honestly, trying his best to provide physical comfort for them both. ‘Nurse Chapel – Christine – will call us with more information later.’

‘Did the bad man get him?’ Beatrice asked fearfully. Spock assumed that she was talking about the entity that brought the children to their universe, and shook his head, noting the unprompted mention of it.

‘He was trying to stop two people from fighting, and accidentally got hurt in the process.’

‘Daddy come home?’ Linnea choked, and Spock held her as best he could with two children clinging to him, noticing the increase in the strength of Theodore’s cries. One by one, he peeled the girls from his sides and sat them upon the bed, taking Theodore from Yeoman Rand’s arms. She watched him anxiously as he rocked the baby, communicating with a glance the questions that could not be answered in front of the children. Unable to adequately respond, Spock dropped his gaze to Theodore, soothing him enough that his ears soon stopped ringing.

‘Do you want me to stay, sir?’

‘No thank you,’ he responded quietly, ‘although I may need you later when Jim wakes, if you are available.’

If Jim wakes, his cruel mind supplied, but he ignored the errant thought, concentrating on laying Linnea down beside him.

‘Sure,’ she agreed, gathering her belongings. ‘Call me at any time.’

The look she cast him was full of pity, and Spock felt unable to return it, bowing his head in gratitude instead.

‘Thank you, Yeoman. Have a pleasant evening.’

Spock was prepared for her habitual response of ‘And you, sir’, but it never came, and for that, he was grateful. His daughters were exhausted from their emotional outbursts, and his son needed feeding, and once Yeoman Rand had left, he dedicated himself solely to their care. He would make certain that their needs were more than adequately met, as Jim always did.

Once the children had finally fallen asleep, more from exhaustion rather than his own efforts to soothe them, Spock attempted to meditate. He got as far as achieving homeostasis, and identifying his conflicting emotions, but his anxieties were too great to truly contain them. Having done the bare minimum to contain himself, he emerged feeling little better than before, eyeing the girls lying haphazardly across the bed. While they were encouraged to sleep in their own bedroom, tonight, Spock had not even tried to settle them there. Both of them were distraught in Jim’s absence, and although Theodore was not conscious of the events of the day, he had evidently picked up on the fraught atmosphere. If Spock had not already been confident in knowing how much the children loved Jim, here was the clearest evidence.

‘Spock?’

At first, Spock thought he had imagined the voice, having only just re-orientated himself, but then he caught sight of the bright screen of his communicator, and snatched it up with such eagerness that he nearly dropped it.

‘Doctor McCoy?’ he replied, his heartrate climbing rapidly.

‘Yeah, it’s me. Jim’s going to be just fine.’

Spock hadn’t realised that he had been holding his breath until it rushed from him all at once, his whole body going limp in dizzying relief.

‘That- that is good,’ he said weakly, barely able to think. He blinked at the chronometer, which read 22:53, and rose to his feet.

‘Can you come down here? He’s not awake yet, but he should be soon.’

‘Yes, of course. I will arrange for someone to watch over the children.’

‘No need,’ came the reply, and Spock frowned in confusion at the communicator. ‘Chrissie’s coming off-shift in the next hour or so, and I’ve asked if she’ll come up now to take care of the kids. No sense waking Janice when the rest of us are already up.’

‘Thank you, Doctor,’ Spock said, meaning it sincerely. ‘For everything.’

For once, McCoy’s response was equally sincere.

‘You’re welcome. I’ll see you soon, yeah?’

‘You will.’

Although Spock knew that Jim was now stable, and that Nurse Chapel would only take a few minutes to arrive, he found himself pacing the room as he waited, impatient now that he had the opportunity to visit. There was so much he wished to say, so much he had to apologise for, and he hoped desperately that Jim would forgive him. All that truly mattered, however, was that he had survived once again. Whatever the outcome of their next conversation, Spock would forever be grateful for that.

Instead of a chime, when Nurse Chapel arrived, there was a gentle knock upon the door, and Spock quietly let her in, showing her where the children were sleeping.

‘There is a bed set up in the children’s room should you require it, though I will try not to be gone too long.’

‘You spend as much time as you like down there,’ Nurse Chapel said kindly, settling herself into one of the chairs by Jim’s desk. ‘I’m used to running on very little sleep, and I’m quite happy to stay here all night if you want me to. I’m not back on shift until tomorrow night.’

‘Thank you,’ Spock replied, overwhelmed by her generosity. ‘I will carry my communicator in case you need to contact me.’

She nodded, switching on the padd she had brought with her.

‘I’ll see you later, Commander.’

‘Indeed.’

His journey back down to Medbay was almost as quick as the one he had made previously, conscious that Jim may soon wake, and did not wish for him to wake up alone. He was accosted by a weary-looking Leonard upon his arrival, who led him into Jim’s temporary room. He did not say a word as Spock approached the biobed and held onto the seat beside it, never taking his eyes from Jim’s face. Jim remained unconscious, his features softened beautifully in sleep, and Spock could not help but reach out and touch his face, drawing two fingers down a warm, soft cheek.

‘Well, if that ain’t the face of a man in love, I’ll eat my hat.’

‘You are not wearing a hat,’ Spock said absently, before processing exactly what Leonard had said. He went rigid once he had, reluctantly pulling his hand back and resting it in his lap. ‘I… I am not certain what you mean.’

‘Oh, c’mon, Spock,’ McCoy scoffed, folding his arms across his chest as he came to stand around the other side of the bed. ‘Don’t treat me like a fool. I know what I saw. What I see.’

Spock let out an almost inaudible sigh, tucking a corner of the bedsheet up around Jim’s chest. He could see the bandage peeking out from beneath, and the sight of it sickened him with what it represented. He had almost lost his ashayam today.

‘He is my superior officer,’ he said quietly, tugging down the hem of his shirt. ‘And, more to the point, he does not have romantic feelings for me.’

Leonard stared at him as if he were mentally unsound, shaking his head in apparent exasperation.

‘Spock, are you blind?’

‘Evidently not.’

‘Don’t pretend you don’t understand what I mean,’ Leonard chastised, eyes boring into him. ‘Jim’s clearly head over heels for you, though God only knows why.’

Spock blinked, unable to form any words, let alone the right ones to say. Leonard must be mistaken. Of course, he knew Jim very well, and were perhaps one another’s closest confidantes, but Spock had seen Jim approach those he found attractive, and that was not how he approached Spock.

‘Jim is most talented in seduction,’ he argued, unwilling to hope and be disappointed. ‘He has not pursued me in that manner, nor has he expressed any desire towards me.’

‘And have you done any of that either? Spock – number one, you’re in a professional setting where sexual harassment is a very real occurrence, and number two, you’re his friend. Jim is as gregarious as they come, but I’m sure you’ve realised that he only lets very few people into his inner world. I’m lucky enough to be one of them, but so are you. He’s scared of losing that in case you don’t reciprocate. I think you both are.’

Spock conceded the point with a tiny nod, looking down at his shoes. He wished to believe McCoy so badly, but why, out of all the desirable beings in the universe, would Jim choose him?

‘Look,’ Leonard continued, softer than before. ‘Honestly, it’s painful watching you both, and seeing as Jim helped get me and Scotty together, I think it’s fair enough that I’ve told you how he feels. Just put yourselves and all the rest of us out of our miseries and give him a kiss, for God’s sake.’

Spock’s heart fluttered as he considered the possibility that Jim did reciprocate his affections, finally allowing himself to have some hope. The sensation soon passed, however, when he recalled how they had parted, his own thoughtless and cruel words having hurt Jim so badly.

‘We argued,’ he said quietly, ashamed of his actions.

Leonard’s eyes narrowed, recognition in his face.

‘What about?’

‘I… I told him that he should not have given the children syrup with their breakfast,’ Spock murmured, avoiding his gaze. ‘And then I made a comment regarding the way I assumed he ate as a child, and how I did not feel it was appropriate for the children.'

There was a pause, then an angry sigh, and Spock found himself suppressing a flinch as Leonard opened his mouth to speak, knowing that he deserved his ire.

‘Given the information he’s trusted you with, you should have known better than to berate Jim about food. And to criticise his parenting skills. And to bring up his mom as well – Jesus – that’s kickin’ him to the kerb and spittin’ in his face too.’

Shame crawled through Spock, and he felt his face begin to burn before he could take control of his blood flow.

As he struggled for words, unable to defend his actions, he saw Leonard’s face grow more grim, his frown deepening.

‘I found him having an anxiety attack before he beamed down, y’know. That’ll have been what it was about.’

Spock felt ill at the thought that he had upset Jim so much, casting despairing eyes down at the prone, pale body of the man he loved so dearly, and feeling guilt choke him.

‘I did not know,’ he said softly, wanting desperately to reach out and touch him, but not daring to do so. ‘I deeply regret my ill-chosen words, and that I caused Jim such pain. That was not my intention.’

‘Well, what was your intention?’ McCoy snapped, eyes hard.

Under normal circumstances, Spock might not have divulged the events of the previous evening, but given his trust in Leonard, and the fact that he knew of his feelings for Jim, he decided to forgo caution.

‘I was attempting to distance myself from him. Last night, I forgot myself, and almost physically expressed my affection towards him.’

‘Gross,’ McCoy commented, pulling a face.

‘Do not be so vulgar, Doctor,’ Spock muttered, flushing somewhat. ‘It was a human kiss – or would have been, had Theodore not begun crying. When I heard him, I realised what I had nearly done, and left before I could put Jim in further discomfort.’

‘Did he seem uncomfortable to you?’ Leonard asked, expression full of doubt.

‘I did not return to the bedroom until he was sleeping again, but the next morning he did appear to be so. By that time, however, I had decided that it was best to ignore the situation and remain as professional as possible.'

‘Yeah, no wonder he was uncomfortable,’ Leonard snorted. ‘He almost kissed you – which I guarantee he’ll have wanted – and the next thing he knew, you were treating him like shit. He was probably wondering what the hell was going on.’

Spock nodded glumly, his nausea returning. If Leonard was right, and Jim did reciprocate his feelings, he had inadvertently rejected him in the effort to conceal his own. His silence was heavy with shame, and it appeared that Leonard had taken pity on him, because the questioning ended with a heavy clap to his shoulder and a raised eyebrow rather than a threat.

‘It shouldn’t be too long before the anaesthetic wears off,’ he explained, nodding over at the bed, ‘and I know that Christine’s happy to stay with the kids as long as you want. You should stay until he wakes up.’

‘Of course. That was my intention.’

Leonard gave him a long stare, then nodded, as if he had come to a decision.

‘Make it right with him, Spock. And for God’s sake, tell him how you feel. Kid’s had enough crap in his life to be rejected again.’

Spock could not bring himself to argue. Jim deserved far more than he had given him, and he did not want him to experience any more distress.

‘I will speak with him when he wakes, and until then… I will watch over him.’

‘Good,’ Leonard replied. ‘Let me know if he needs anything. I’m watching his vitals.’

He raised his padd to show the dynamic scales, all thankfully appearing within normal range, and walked out without another word, leaving Spock standing beside the biobed. As soon as the doors closed behind him, Spock let out a shaky sigh, finding the chair beside the biobed mostly by touch and sinking straight into it. Only then did he allow himself to look over at Jim, who lay as silent and unmoving as he had after Khan’s attack. Then, as now, Spock had sat beside him and waited for him to wake, hoping that when he did, he would still be neurologically intact. He was thankful that this time, he did not need to worry about that, but the sight of him so still and pale brought back traumatic memories.

Reaching out with a trembling hand, he swept a lock of golden hair away from Jim’s forehead, following the line from his temple to his jawline with paired fingers. On other occasions where he had to wait, he accepted the situation as it was, but given everything that had happened that day, there was a sense of anxiety that had him impatient to see those electric eyes once more. He had been a coward. In attempting to conceal his own feelings, he had hurt Jim’s, and even if the outcome was negative, he was going to tell him everything. The costs of concealment now seemed to outweigh the benefits, and although the thought of rejection made Spock feel ill, he felt as if they had reached a precipice from which neither could return. He only hoped that Leonard was right, and Jim did have romantic feelings for him.

Whatever the outcome, Spock wished to remain by his side in whatever capacity he would allow. He did not know who he would be without Jim, particularly after the destruction of his planet and the death of his mother. Jim had persisted with him when he had shown no interest in companionship, and had been by his side as he came to terms with the hugest possible loss. He had shown Spock no judgement, apart from that which was justified after their first meeting, and had welcomed him into his world as if he had always been there. He was dynamic and utterly mesmerising, and Spock loved him beyond measure. This man, this brash, emotive, brilliant human, had ignited a fire within that would burn forevermore, and despite his misgivings, Spock ached to tell him so. No more wasted time. No more concealment. He would bare himself to Jim, and face the consequences.

However, in spite of his attentions, it was not logical to believe that Jim would wake on command. Once more, he tucked Jim under the bedsheet – he knew that he did not like to be cold – and sat upright once more, waiting with no deadline in sight. Twenty one minutes passed in silence apart from the muted beeping of outside machinery, and so when Jim began to stir, Spock’s attention was immediately drawn to him.

‘Jim?’

He leant in as Jim’s nose scrunched, and a groan left his lips, a hand twitching towards his covered wound.

‘Jim, are you in pain?’

Electric blue eyes fluttered open and took a moment to focus on him, a mouth curving in a crooked smile that took Spock’s breath away.

‘Hey.’ His eyes darkened in concern as he reached out for Spock’s wrist. ‘Spock, you’re shaking.’

He had not realised, but Jim was right. He stared at his own hand for a moment, before sliding his arm out of Jim’s grip just enough that they were holding hands, a movement that made both of them gasp.

‘Jim,’ he choked, rejoicing in the strong grip he felt returned. ‘I-I could have lost you again.’

Jim’s concern melted into something far softer that Spock struggled to identify, though there was certainly a fondness there.

‘I’m here,’ he said gently, then paused. He appeared to be struggling with indecision, but Spock went willingly as Jim pressed his hand against his bandaged chest, the strong heartbeat beneath soothing him. ‘I’m not going anywhere.’

Spock bowed his head in gratitude, drawing strength from the steady pulse of life beneath his hand as he took a deep breath.

‘Jim, there is something I must tell you.’

He looked up to find Jim blinking back at him, and when he slid his hand down Jim’s arm to re-take his hand, there was bewilderment in his expression. Spock swallowed in a very human tell of nervousness, but held Jim’s gaze as he spoke.

‘I am not certain how you will receive this, but I can no longer remain silent.’

‘Spock-’

Spock held out a finger as if to silence him with a touch to the lips, but thought better of it, and turned his hand to tentatively cradle his cheek instead. Jim, eyes wide and quiet once more, leant into his touch.

‘Jim, ashayam, when you entered my world, you brought joy into it. I had never experienced joy, nor such affection… or attraction.’

Jim’s mouth opened once more, his expression somewhat desperate, but a stroke of Spock’s thumb pulled a shaky sigh from him, and Spock continued in its wake.

At first, I feared the emotions that you ignited in me, but then I feared your reaction. You are my greatest friend, and the Captain I will serve under for the rest of my Starfleet career. I never wish to be parted from you. And yet, I can no longer pretend that I hold no affection for you. Taluhk nash-veh k’dular. I love you, Jim.’

There was a moment of awestruck silence, Jim’s mouth hanging open as his face coloured and shock alone painted his expression. The longer he waited, the more Spock felt hope ebb away to be replaced by cold fear, creeping up from his core. He had exposed the most vulnerable part of himself, stripped bare before Jim, and it seemed like his nightmare might come to fruition. He began to slide his hand away from Jim’s cheek, but his wrist was caught in a strong grip, and a slow, sweet smile crept across Jim’s face.

‘You love me?’ he echoed shakily, his eyes glittering. When Spock nodded, breath quickening, he let out a choked, joyful laugh, tears spilling over. Before Spock could stop him, he sat upright with a wince and a pained exhalation, sliding his hand up over Spock’s in a way that made him shudder.

‘You mean, you love me, love me?’

‘Jim.’

‘Like a romantic kind of love, or-’

‘Ashayam.’ Spock leant in far enough that their lips were almost touching, and in the quiet that ensued, gently brushed a kiss over Jim’s lips. He was relieved when he responded, and when he pulled away, just enough that they could breathe, Jim’s hand mirrored his own by sliding over his cheek.

‘I love you too,’ Jim whispered, his smile blinding. ‘I love you so much.’

For the first time in a very long time, Spock allowed himself to smile openly, leaning into the hand that smoothed over his cheek and carded through his hair. He shivered as a finger travelled over the point of his ear, and knew that Jim had noticed when the smile became somewhat mischievous.

‘What… what does ashayam mean?’ he asked, sliding his finger down the curve of his ear.

‘It means ‘beloved’.’

‘Oh God,’ Jim breathed, kissing him clumsily. ‘I can’t believe this. I can’t believe you want me.’

His hand caught Spock’s, and Spock could not suppress a moan as he squeezed it, flushing as Jim laughed delightedly.

‘I heard a rumour that Vulcan hands are sensitive,’ he grinned. ‘Guess I was right.’

‘Indeed,’ Spock said softly, overwhelmed by the joy of knowing that Jim loved him. ‘Vulcans kiss with their fingers.’

He allowed Jim to lavish attention on his hand and fingers, shivering at the sensation, and swept his eyes over the man that he could now call his own. Jim was beautiful – absolutely beyond compare – and Spock struggled to believe that this was now reality. In the quiet, he saw a shadow of melancholy over Jim’s expression, but before he could ask about it, Jim had already spoken.

‘How can you want me? I’m… I’m damaged goods, Spock. So much shit has happened to me, and I’m going to live the rest of my life with the effects of it all.’

Spock shook his head, horrified that this was what Jim thought of himself.

‘You possess a strength that I can hardly imagine. You have endured so much, and yet have become so successful. I am honoured to be able to stand by your side.’

Jim’s lips quirked, but his expression remained doubtful.

‘I can show you, if you wish?’

Jim shifted, eyeing his hand speculatively as he held it up.

‘It was a little uncomfortable when Selek did it. Mind you, I didn’t get any warning.’

‘He melded with you without your permission?’ Spock clarified, appalled. ‘That is disgraceful. I shall be having words.’

‘There wasn’t much time,’ Jim replied, nerves disappearing from his expression as he tilted his chin up. ‘I-I want to.’

‘I will not hurt you, taluhk-veh. I promise you.’

‘I know,’ Jim smiled, lifting Spock’s hand to his face.

Spock leant in to press a slow, soft kiss against his lips before arranging his fingers over Jim’s meld points, waiting for his nod of consent before slipping into the meld. He had expected a dynamic mind, but he had not expected the warmth and light there, nor the meadow in which he found himself. He saw a contained storm in the distance battering against a barrier that Jim seemed to have erected himself, and as he took Jim’s hand within the meld, he turned him away from it to gently flood him with the memories he wished to show.

As he did so, he was distracted by the light glinting off something barely visible close by, and when he reached a hand out to touch, he felt a forceful tugging from his own mind, and a golden thread revealed itself beneath his hand. That thread, so strongly entwined and glowing ever brighter, took him to his knees. The physical form of their connection was almost blinding, and Spock felt the barriers within his own mind tumble into dust as it recognised their absolute compatibility in the form of this ancient bond.

T’hy’la.

Chapter Text

‘You love me,’ Jim repeated, awed by what he had seen in the meld. He saw tears glitter in Spock’s eyes, and spill over his cheeks, and took his face between his hands with a gasp, searching for the source of his distress.

‘Yes, t’hy’la,’ Spock replied, voice quivering with emotion.

‘T’hy’la?’ Jim echoed, clumsily repeating the word as best he could. His breath caught at the clear display of emotion, hoping beyond all else that they were happy tears.

‘Yes,’ Spock said roughly, composing himself enough to speak. ‘When we melded, I saw that there is a bond already between us. There are numerous types of Vulcan bonds, but the most ancient and revered in our culture is the t’hy’la bond, forged spontaneously between the most compatible beings. It is exceedingly rare, and has more legal standing than even a marriage bond. There is no direct translation of the word from Vulcan into standard, but the closest estimation is ‘friend, brother, lover’. Soulmate.’

Jim’s heart was pounding out of his chest. He couldn’t believe that this was real. Just this morning, he’d doubted that Spock even wanted to be his friend, let alone partner, and now he was being told that they were essentially fated to be with one another.

‘Soulmate?’ he repeated faintly, feeling a little light-headed.

Spock nodded, anxiety in his eyes.

‘If that frightens you…’

‘No, God, Spock, I want everything with you. Marriage, a family – the whole lot. We seem to have done it ass backwards, what with the kids being here, but I want to be with you for the rest of my life, if you’ll have me. And if that means I’m your- your t’hy’la, then cool.’

Spock’s eyes darkened, and for a split second, Jim worried that he’d said something wrong, but then he was pushed gently back onto the bed and Spock kissed him fiercely. Jim slid his fingers through silk-soft hair as he fought to keep up, yielding to lips that pressed passionately against his own, and opening his mouth easily for an insistent tongue. He felt a moan rise in his throat as Spock sucked his lower lip into his mouth, and felt the rumble of an answering growl with a shudder of desire. The kiss was intoxicating, and filled with such unexpected passion that Jim found himself rocking his hips up, overwhelmed by how aroused he was by a single kiss. It made him wonder what Spock would be like in bed, and then realised with a rush of heat that he’d hopefully be getting the chance to find out.

He took in a well-needed lungful of air as Spock pulled back to feather kisses over his jawline, seeing stars. He was a little disappointed that the ravishing had ended, but he also knew that Bones would barge in soon enough, and if he saw them, they’d never hear the end of it. Spock’s eyes were soft as he drew back, and Jim couldn’t help but stare, still somewhat worried that he would wake up from this dream. Spock smiled that gorgeous little half-smile, pressing two fingers against Jim’s in a way that made him think that this must be a Vulcan kiss.

‘I love you, Jim.’

‘I love you too,’ Jim smiled, giddy with happiness. ‘How do you say it in Vulcan again?’

‘Taluhk nash-veh k’dular,’ Spock replied, and Jim repeated it as best he could, earning a kiss to the forehead.

‘So, what are we exactly?’ he asked hesitantly. ‘I mean, this bond, is it...?’

‘It is the most powerfully regarded bond amongst Vulcans,’ Spock explained. ‘It can be left as it is, or a marriage bond may be completed alongside it, as I would like to have with you.’

Jim’s heart fluttered, and he squeezed Spock’s hand in a reflexive movement as he leant in to him.

‘Is that- is that a proposal?’ The final word was a choked whisper, hope and fear warring in him.

‘You may regard it as such if you wish,’ Spock said softly, stroking his palm with two fingers. ‘I do not want to put any pressure on you, but to be bonded with you in that way is something I fervently desire.’

Jim let out a quiet, incredulous laugh, feeling a swell of joy that brought with it sudden confidence.

‘Like I said, I want everything with you. Hell, I’ll bond with you right now if you want.’

Spock shook his head, lips quirked, but before Jim could feel rejected, he explained, ‘A marriage bond is usually formed during… during intercourse.’

Oh.

‘Probably not a good idea in Medbay then,’ he agreed, feeling his face heat. ‘Bones would have a complete meltdown.’

‘Indeed.’

When he shifted, pain shot through him, and he couldn’t suppress a wince. Concern in his eyes, Spock gently laid him down against the biobed and pulled the sheet over him, smoothing down his almost-definitely-ruffled hair.

Jim basked in the affection for a moment, sharing a comfortable, warm silence, but then he had a horrible moment of realisation. He jolted, causing another spike of pain that he promptly ignored despite Spock’s protests.

‘Oh God, where are the kids? I’m a terrible father.’

Spock pressed him firmly back down, remonstration in his eyes.

‘The children are sleeping, Nurse Chapel has them in her care, and no you are not.’

The giddiness of before appeared to have sobered a little, and a tiny crease appeared between Spock’s eyebrows. Jim had an odd urge to trace it with his finger, but Spock looked so serious that he didn’t dare ruin the moment.

‘I should never had said what I did this morning,’ he said quietly. ‘There is no harm in the children having some syrup with breakfast. And I certainly should not have mentioned your mother. I made unfounded assumptions and hurt you in the process.’

His voice cracked on the last word, and Jim reached out to stroke his cheek, the ire of before forgotten, even if Spock’s words were not.

‘It’s okay. Yeah, you shouldn’t have said it, but I don’t think you knew it would upset me. Why did you say it, though?’

Spock dropped his gaze, swallowing audibly.

‘After I attempted to kiss you last night, I realised how close I had come to impressing what I believed to be unwanted desires upon you. I therefore felt that distancing myself would be safer, so that you would not notice my inappropriate feelings.’

‘I thought you were mad at me for nearly kissing you!’ Jim exclaimed, wilting in relief. ‘You were acting so snippy all of a sudden, I thought you’d realised that how I felt and were disgusted with me.’

Spock shook his head, forehead crumpled in distress.

‘There are many things I should apologise for, aside from my behaviour this morning,’ he said hoarsely, shame colouring his face. ‘My initial judgement of you at the hearing at Starfleet Academy, my abandonment of you upon Delta Vega, and by far my most heinous crime – my vicious assault upon you after the death of my mother.’

By the time he finished speaking, he was almost whispering, and Jim took his hand once more, feeling an unexpected pulse of grief through their connection.

‘My apologies,’ Spock murmured, making to draw back, but Jim wouldn’t let him.

‘It’s okay, sweetheart. If you’re feeling it, I want to feel it too.  As for what you think you have to apologise for – yeah, you were arrogant at the Academy, but so was I. We didn’t know each other then, and you didn’t know the reasons behind why I wanted to take the test again. It was important to me that I did, though.’

‘I know,’ Spock replied softly, soothing a thumb over the side of his hand. ‘You did so because, due to your experiences, you do not believe in no-win scenarios.’

Jim nodded, shrugging.

‘And yeah, Delta Vega was a pretty dick move. It was freezing, and a tentacle monster came after me. But if I hadn’t ended up there, I wouldn’t have met Selek, and so many things would have been different. But what I said after your mom’s death? That was cruel, and intentionally so.’

‘You were coerced into saying such things on Selek’s instruction,’ Spock argued stubbornly. ‘You would not have done so under your own volition. And I attacked you with repulsive violence in front of the crew and my father.’

‘You were out of control, and rightfully so,’ Jim said gently, stroking his fingertips over the heel of Spock’s hand as he held it. ‘You’d just lost your mother along with your whole planet. The plan was to emotionally compromise you, and it worked. I don’t blame you for what you did. I’d have a problem if you did it now, though.’

‘I would never,’ Spock said vehemently. ‘I will never lay a hand on you again, nor should I ever have done.’

‘I know you won’t. But please, don’t beat yourself up about what happened. I only hope you can forgive me for what I said about your mom.’

‘Of course. You were guided by my counterpart, who knew exactly how to compromise me in a vulnerable moment. The blame lies with him.’

They could argue about this forever, Jim realised, and in the end, all he wanted was for them both to be able to move on. He gave Spock a tiny smile, turning gingerly over onto his side as a wave of exhaustion came over him.

‘I’m sorry I called you spoiled this morning,’ he murmured, regretting his own choice of words.

‘I was,’ Spock admitted, letting go of his hand and pulling the sheet up over him, ‘for my mother’s love, at least. I am sorry that you did not have anyone to love you as they should have done.’

It was old pain, but God, validation still hurt like a bitch. Jim nodded, trying valiantly to keep himself together, but he couldn’t help the way his hand trembled as he clutched at the pillow beside his head.

‘You know, for the longest time, I just thought it was me,’ he admitted, his voice barely above a whisper. ‘Everyone left, and I was the common denominator. Dad, mom, Sam… my family on Tarsus IV. I started thinking that maybe there was just something so repulsive about my personality, about me, that drove everyone away. So I started pretending not to care. I was young and angry, and I got into more bar fights than I should have, but signing up to Starfleet saved me. You, Bones, the whole crew – you’re my family now, and I couldn’t ask for a better one.’

He was startled when Spock leant in for a kiss, but eagerly returned it anyway, his breath leaving him in a happy sigh as Spock drew back.

‘I will never leave you,’ Spock promised, and Jim beamed at him adoringly, still not quite believing what had happened tonight.

‘I’ll hold you to that.’

Spock smoothed a hand over his hair, and Jim settled into the pillow, feeling warm and safe and happy for once.

‘You should go and be with the babies,’ he said drowsily. ‘If they wake up and you’re not there, they’ll be scared.’

‘All right,’ Spock agreed, pressing a gentle kiss to his temple. ‘I hope that soon you will be able to return to our bed.’

Jim could not repress the little shiver of anticipation that came along with his words, and he smiled into the pillow, knowing that the children would be well looked after in his absence.

‘Rest, taluhk-veh.’

The words were whisper-soft, and Jim heard the doors open once, then twice. He reluctantly pried his eyes open to see Bones sweep in, hypo held aloft like a tiny sword.

‘Lea’me alone,’ he slurred, shutting his eyes

‘Charming. I was just checkin’ if you wanted a sleeping pill, but apparently you don’t need one.’

Jim made a vague sound of agreement, snuggling into the warmth of the bed.

‘Night, brat ‘

‘Go home to Scotty,’ Jim muttered, earning a quiet huff – whether of laughter or of annoyance, he didn’t know.

‘Maybe I will!’

He smiled as he heard the doors open and close once more, hoping that there would be no more interruptions. He was exhausted, and for once, he didn’t think that insomnia or nightmares would be troubling him. He drew the sheets right up to his nose and the gentle light that remained in the room lulled him to sleep in a matter of minutes.

--------------------

When he woke, it was to a weight upon the good side of his chest, something tickling his nose, and a muted giggle coming from the side of the biobed. His nose wrinkled, just in time for sharp little nails to skim along it, and his eyes opened to see Spock lift Teddy off him, big blue eyes staring adoringly down at him.

‘Hey, Teddy Bear,’ Jim cooed,‘ stroking a finger over his rosy, chubby cheek, before looking up at Spock. ‘And hello to you too.’

Spock’s eyes were alight with affection, the secret of last night’s revelations between themselves alone – at least for now.

‘Good morning, Jim.’

‘I’m here, daddy!’ Beatrice piped up, clambering onto the bed, closely followed by Linnea.

‘Hey, honey, I didn’t see you or your sister there,’ Jim greeted, glad for Spock’s supervising hand keeping them from getting too close to his sore chest. ‘How are you both doing?’

‘Good!’ Linnea peeped, wriggling forward for a hug.

‘Other side, ko-fu,’ Spock gently reminded her, guiding her over to Jim’s right side.

Jim gladly cuddled her against his side, pressing his nose into her crown, and thanking whatever deity was listening that he’d been able to come back to his children. No matter how temporary their stay, they had experienced so much trauma already, and Jim didn’t want them to have lost him twice.

‘Sleep well, baby?’ he asked, and Linnea nodded, accidentally kneeing him in the ribs as she snuggled in to him.

‘Daddy, I want a cuddle too!’ Bea complained, her bottom lip jutting out in a sulky pout.

‘Can you squeeze in next to your sister?’

‘Uh-huh,’ she nodded, clambering over the bed as Jim shifted over to accommodate them, finding that they could both fit with a lot of whinging involved. As Spock sat beside the bed with Teddy, feeding him a bottle, Jim held his girls tightly, hoping that he might be able to keep them for a while longer. They deserved their real parents, yes, but he knew it would hurt like hell when they left.

‘What time is it, Spock?’

‘It is 0730.’

‘And you’re on Alpha, aren’t you?’ Jim sighed, knowing that they would all have to go soon. ‘Bea, Linnie, it’s time to get up now. I need to wind your brother before you all go to stay with Janice.’

Ever sensible, Beatrice did as she was told straight away, and Linnea followed reluctantly, allowing Jim to shift carefully upright to take Teddy into his arms. He found himself beaming as he took hold of him, matching the toothless grin on their little boy’s face.

‘Hi, buddy,’ he crooned, shifting him up against his shoulder. ‘You going to burp for me?’

He patted the little warm back as he locked eyes with Spock, smiling sweetly.

‘Thanks for bringing them down, honey. I needed this.’

A soft green flush appeared over Spock’s cheeks as he nodded quickly, and Jim’s smile widened, adoring the idea that a pet name had caused that flush.

‘You are welcome, ashal-veh.’

That was a new one, and one which Jim intended to interrogate him about later. Now, though, he had three little ones to say goodbye to, and once Teddy had been winded, he kissed each of them in turn.

‘One for you too?’ he asked innocently of Spock, who leant down obligingly, pressing their lips and their fingers together as one.

‘Perhaps two,’ he murmured against Jim’s mouth, earning a quick third.

‘When are you coming home, daddy?’ Beatrice asked, leaning her head against Spock’s leg.

‘I’m going to ask Uncle Bones it he’ll let me come home today, and we’ll see what he says.’

‘Tell him to let you,’ Linnea suggested, which made Jim grin.

‘I’ll try,’ he promised, sliding back down against the pillows. ‘I’ll see you all soon, all right?’

The girls nodded, as did Spock, who cradled Teddy lovingly against his chest.

‘Keep me updated. I will see you later, t’hy’la.’

Jim waved them off and turned immediately to the call button beside his bed. It wasn’t long before one of the junior nurses, a Vulcan named T’Rhea, came into the room, her hands tucked behind her back in a similar fashion to Spock.  

‘You called, Captain?’

‘Hi, yes I did,’ he smiled, unaffected by her blank expression. ‘I was just wondering whether someone could assess me to see if I can get out of this place.’

She nodded shortly, lifting her padd to tap and swipe through a few pages.

‘I will retrieve Doctor M’Benga,’ she told him, leaving with as little fanfare as she had come in with.

After a check-up from M’Benga, who had a far more easy-going personality than Bones, Jim was finally, blessedly released. He went straight to Bones’ quarters, pounding happily on the door, and was delighted by the disgruntlement on his face when he came into view.

‘What’re you doing out of Medbay?’

‘M’Benga let me go,’ Jim boasted. ‘Two days off-duty with the kids.’

‘M’Benga’s too soft with you,’ Bones snapped, running a hand through his already dishevelled hair. ‘And you do know what off-duty means, right? Janice will still have to help out, at least with the baby.’

‘I know, I’m not stupid.’

Bones made a sound of disbelief, earning an offended look from Jim.

‘Are you coming in, or what? Scotty’s on-shift, and I was only trying to sleep after being awake for twenty seven hours.’

‘I’ll be gone soon, I promise,’ Jim said, moving past him as he shifted out of the way. ‘I just wanted you to be the first to know.’

At that, Bones expression changed, and Jim grinned - the old gossip.

‘The first to know what?’

‘Wouldn’t you like to know?’ he teased, holding his hand up as Bones’ hand hovered back over the door release. ‘Okay, okay. Last night, Spock told me he loves me.’

‘Finally!’

The complete lack of surprise in Bones’ expression floored Jim, and he stared at his best friend, confused by his reaction.

‘Well, it’s not as if the rest of us haven’t been waiting for it for years, Jim. It’s obvious you’ve been head over heels for each other for a very long time. I did give him a little nudge, though.’

‘How d’you mean?’ Jim asked suspiciously, praying that Bones hadn’t put words in his mouth.

‘I just gave him a kick up the ass and told him to get on with it, like you did with Monty. What you did kickstarted our relationship when we were both too scared to admit how we felt, and I wanted to do the same for you two. As much as I like to argue with Spock, I don’t like seeing either of you miserable.’

Without much conscious thought, Jim threw himself forward and pulled Bones into a squeezing embrace, glad that instead of hearing the usual protests, arms went around him in return.

‘Thank you,’ he mumbled, letting go with a sigh. ‘I mean it, Leo. Thank you.’

‘You’ve already done the same for me,’ Bones said quietly, eyes warm as he grasped his shoulder. ‘I just want you to be happy, kid.’

‘Oh, I am. I’d have everything I want if the kids didn’t have to go back.’

Bones’ expression dimmed, and he nodded sadly.

‘I know. But you’ve got them for now, and who knows? You might have them again someday as your own.’

‘I hope so,’ Jim nodded, a bittersweet smile on his face. ‘Anyway, speaking of the kids, I’d better head back.’

‘Make sure Janice knows to stay,’ Bones warned, pulling a tricorder from seemingly nowhere and scanning over his chest. ‘And stay in bed, for God’s sake.’

‘I will,’ Jim promised, hugging him one last time for good measure before turning to leave. ‘Try and get some sleep.’

‘I already was.’

Out in the corridor, Jim drew out his padd as he walked, and tapped out a message to Spock.

Capt. Kirk: Hey, just to let you know, I’ve been released from Medbay. I’m off-duty for two days – meant to stay in bed - and Janice will still be helping out while I’m recovering.

It felt a little dry to be writing to Spock like that, considering the circumstances, but he knew it was never a good idea to send love letters over internal comms channels. Nor was it a good idea to talk about their little bundles of joy. The quiet bleep of an answering message came as quickly as expected.

Cmdr. Spock: I will rearrange the duty roster accordingly. Please do heed medical advice and remain in bed, Captain.

Capt. Kirk: Oh, I will. Bones is a force to be reckoned with when disobeyed.

Cmdr. Spock: Indeed. I will return during the lunch hour. Until then, Captain, sleep well.

Capt. Kirk: Thanks, Spock. I’ll try.

He tucked the padd under his arm as he reached the door of their quarters and opened it quietly, hearing sounds of play from the children’s room. He walked through the fresher and waved at Janice, who was poring over a page of algebra that Bea seemed to have filled in, judging by the scribbles.

‘Oh, Captain!’

Bea looked up from where she was tapping on another padd, and ran to him with a beaming smile, closely followed by Linnea, whose hands were uncomfortably sticky.

‘She’s been playing potions,’ Janice guiltily explained, and Jim grimaced, reaching blindly behind him for a wipe.

‘Hands, please,’ he requested, wiping purplish-blue residue from them. ‘You pleased I got out of Medbay, huh?’

She nodded enthusiastically, and Bea swung from his hand, pointing back at the padd.

‘Daddy, will you help me with my algebra?’ she asked sweetly.

‘I can, sweetie, but you’ll have to come into my room for that. Doctor M’Benga and Uncle Bones have told me that I have to stay in bed for the next two days.’

‘Do you want me to stay then, sir?’ Janice queried, handing the padd over to him.

‘If you wouldn’t mind. Chekov’s coming to help out in a few days, though?’

‘He is! He’s very excited.’

‘Yeah, I bet,’ Jim smiled, gesturing to Beatrice. ‘Come on, Bea. Linnie, you want to stay and make more potions with Janice?’

‘Yeah!’ she shrieked, making Jim wince, and look over to where the baby lay. Luckily, he didn’t seem to be stirring, which was a blessing.

‘Great’ Janice deadpanned, and Jim smirked, leading Bea by the hand through to his room.

‘What happened, daddy?’

‘Two people were fighting and I got in the way,’ he explained, kicking his shoes off and gingerly getting into bed. ‘It hurt my chest, but it should get better soon. Anyway, let’s have a look at your algebra.’

True to her parentage, Beatrice whizzed through the problems with relative ease, and Jim had just handed the padd back to her when Janice walked through with Teddy.

‘I think it’s bottle time,’ she breezed, moving out of the way as Linnea ran round her to the bed. ‘Want to feed him?’

‘Absolutely,’ Jim agreed, allowing Linnea to scramble up before taking Teddy from Janice, his heart melting at his gorgeous smile.

‘Hey, cutie pie. You’re so beautiful, aren’t you? Yes, you are! You take after your sa-mekh, huh? Yes, you do!’

He blew a raspberry on Teddy’s tummy and revelled in his giggling, thanking Janice for bringing him through.

‘No problem,’ she smiled, handing him a bottle. ‘I’ll start tidying up a little, and I’ll come and take him back once he’s eaten.’

‘Thanks, Janice. You’re a star.’

As soon as he presented the nipple of the bottle to Teddy’s mouth, he was sucking down the milk hungrily, and Jim smiled fondly as he watched. He smoothed back the tufts of golden hair and eyed the girls as they played doctors at the end of the bed, wondering how the hell he’d got so lucky. Having them in his life, even if only for a while, was a blessing that he’d never expected, and would never forget. As Teddy fed, Jim heard the faint sound of a padd bleeping, and when he dug it out from underneath him, he saw an incoming call from Sam. Panic and excitement briefly warred, but he knew that Sam wouldn’t be a threat. It had taken a hell of a long time to rebuild their relationship, but Jim finally felt able to trust his big brother again.

With an impulsive swipe, he answered the call to see Sam, hair dark but eyes as blue as his own, and baby Peter, who at ten weeks was only just younger than his cousin.

‘Hi, Sammy. And hi, Petey. How you all doing?’

‘Oh, you know, same old,’ Sam shrugged, shifting Peter into his other arm. ‘Got puked on this morning. Twice. But he’s the love of my life and I’d die for him, so y’know. How about you?’

Jim’s eyes flickered over the where the girls were still playing, mostly oblivious, and he smiled.

‘Well, I’ve got a surprise for you, but you’ve got to listen to the story first.’

He recounted how the children had arrived on the Enterprise, frightened and alone, and how he and Spock had taken care of them ever since. By the time he’d finished speaking, Sam’s eyes were nearly popping out of his head, and Teddy had finished his bottle. His chest ached as he began rocking him to sleep, but he didn’t care. He’d take the pain for a few more moments with his baby.

‘That’s insane. Can I see them?’

Jim angled the padd down to show Teddy first, then turned it towards the girls. Bea caught sight of the screen and waved, and her sister copied her clumsily, a gorgeous smile on her face as she scooted forwards.

‘Hi!’

‘Hi,’ Sam said weakly, waving back. ‘What are you two playing?’

‘Doctors!’ Bea announced, enthusiastically looping a piece of gauze round Linnea’s outstretched arm.

‘Awesome job, cutie!’

There was a long beat of silence, and when Janice popped her head into the room, Jim mouthed ‘Can you take them back through?’

The girls didn’t need much encouragement, and as Teddy was falling asleep, there wasn’t any trouble from him either. Jim felt sick and shaky as they left, dreading the day they left for good. Sam’s eyes were full of pity as he looked back at the screen, and for once, Jim decided against getting angry about it.

‘How on Terra are you going to give those babies back?’

‘I don’t know,’ Jim whispered mournfully, ‘but they deserve to go home. And their parents deserve to have them back. It looks like Scotty worked out another piece of the puzzle today too.’

He pulled up the code again and stared at its incomprehensible order. It was like nothing he’d ever seen before; like nothing any of them had ever seen before. Still, he had the best of the best on his ship, and with all those bright minds put together, he was sure that the code would be unscrambled soon enough.

‘And you? Are you helping?’

Jim nodded, mouth pulling sourly down at the corners.

‘I am, much as it feels like I’m building my own guillotine. They’re not ours to keep, Sam. I wish they were, but they’re not.’