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Across Every Universe

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The chronometer beeped at Kirk persistently, rousing him from sleep and chasing away dreams of undiscovered worlds. He resisted the pull to reality, and gripped his pillow tighter, as though burying his face deeper into the fabric would do away with his responsibilities. It worked for a moment until he remembered what exactly was at stake if he were to stay in bed: the fate of an entire planet's ecosystem.With that thought he bolted upright and staggered blearily to his feet. "Fuck," he cursed. Despite his reluctance he still managed to change into his science blues and throw on his boots in record time, rushing out the door of his quarters before realizing he was still partially blind. With another curse, he turned back and snatched his glasses off the table beside his bed.

He then made his way quickly towards the turbolift and headed in the direction of the science labs. Kirk assumed Sulu would already be working; he was nearly as bad Kirk when it came to depriving himself of sleep when they had a job to do. Kirk himself had been so wrapped up in their project the night before that he hadn't paid attention to the time. He had only thought to look at the clock when he caught his head starting to nod off, and was shocked to discover that it was 0200 in the morning, way past the end of his shift and only four hours until the beginning of his next one.

When the lift reached his floor, he walked quickly down the hall and entered the labs, spotting Sulu working diligently at their station. Sulu gave him a knowing smile when Kirk immediately headed towards the replicator in the room, ordering coffee with an unreasonable amount of espresso and watching impatiently as the screen processed his request and spat out a steaming cup of caffeine. Afterwards, he reached their station, strewn with various instruments and vials with varying colored liquids. A baby-pink, star-shaped flower with a royal blue stem erupted from a pot in the middle of the mess on the table. It would have been a beautiful sight had the leaves not been withered and brittle, the decay of death creeping down from the edges of the petals and effectively eating away at the remaining stem. Sulu looked frustrated despite the smile he was still giving Kirk.

"Lose track of time again last night Kirk?" Sulu teased. At Kirk's sheepish grin, he laughed. "How much sleep did you manage to get this time? Five hours? Four?"

"More like three and a half," Kirk shrugged, and ignored the exasperated head shake Sulu sent his way. He attempted to organize his surrounding materials and took out his PADD to look over the notes he had taken from the past few days.

"You're worse than I am, and I thought I was bad. You know Dr. McCoy is going to kill you, right? You'll be dead."

"That's normally what 'killing' means, Sulu, and Bones couldn't kill me if he tried. He'd miss my pretty face too much," Kirk smirked. "Besides, what Bones doesn't know won't hurt him."

"You say that like he won't take one look at your face and know exactly what you've been up to." Sulu pointed out, using his tricorder to scan the plant in front of them. He frowned at the unchanged results.

"I'll tell him I went to bed on time like a good little boy. It'll be fine." Kirk waved his hand dismissively, measuring out two different chemicals and mixing them together in a beaker. He watched with satisfaction as the mixture turned from a forest green color to aquamarine as he suspected it would.

"He'll see right through you. The bags under your eyes are darker than a black hole, buddy."

"He's not my mother, he can't give me a curfew," Kirk said defensively.

"Good luck telling him that. He could relieve you of duty."

"He wouldn't dare."

Sulu chuckled then fell silent as they both turned their focus fully to the task at hand. About a week ago the Enterprise had come across a distress signal from the planet Ceryleia, requesting immediate help with an emergency situation. The Enterprise flew to their aid, and when they arrived, it was planet-wide chaos. A nearby star had exploded and sent a wave of radiation into the atmosphere and across the surface that was slowly but effectively killing off all plant-life on the planet. Within days a numerous amount of crops and foliage had withered away, and mass panic was starting to spread among the planet's inhabitants as they realized that if something wasn't done soon, they would have to leave their plant or die.

Kirk and Sulu were attempting to reverse the damaging effects of the radiation but were having little success. It was to the point where Kirk needed to pull a miracle out of his ass but he wasn't Scotty, and he was nearing his wit's end. He refused to accept that there wasn't a solution to this problem; failure simply wasn't an option. He had spent most of the last week in the labs, spending sleepless nights obsessing over what would happen if he didn't succeed, if he couldn't rise to the occasion. He didn't believe in no-win scenarios, and he would be damned if this was to be the first time that philosophy would fail him.

He picked up the compound he had just mixed and took a deep breath, steeling himself for the likelihood that it wasn't going to work. It was, after all, a mixture he had made purely out of instinct, a hunch that itched at the back of his mind until he had finally decided to scratch it. There was no factual evidence that it should work, but his gut told him otherwise, and they were running out of time. No harm would come from trying another experiment that might yet again fail when they were no closer to solving their problem than when they had started a week ago. "What the hell," he muttered, and dumped half of the mixture onto the plant and into the surrounding soil.

Sulu looked at him curiously while Kirk held his breath. He vaguely registered the door to the labs opening and closing but didn't look to see who had joined them. At first, nothing happened, and Kirk's shoulders sagged in what was almost defeat. He adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose and sighed, turning away and was startled to see Captain Spock standing just behind them, watching with an impassive expression. Their eyes met and Kirk opened his mouth to address his captain when Sulu let out a loud whoop behind them, and Kirk spun back around in surprise.

He saw Sulu looking down at his tricorder in amazement, scanning the flower with an incredulous smile as the readings beeped positively. Kirk gaped, his mouth dropping open as he glimpsed with his own eyes the flower miraculously healing itself, petals growing bigger and brighter, the stem elongating. It began to give off a sweet aroma that Kirk found he enjoyed, and he reached out to inspect the plant with his hands, fingers running over the healthy leaves and petals in awe. He could no longer find any signs of decay. He glanced at Sulu disbelievingly, and Sulu returned his look. "I can't believe that worked," Kirk laughed.

"You did it," Sulu responded wonderingly. "Holy shit, you did it!" He clapped Kirk on the back hard, and Kirk staggered a bit but was still grinning ear to ear.

"Well done, Lieutenants," a voice said over their shoulders, and Kirk looked back to see the captain once more. He was still standing with his hands clasped behind his back, face expressionless, though Jim liked to think he could see a hint of approval in the way his slanted eyebrows were set.

Kirk willed his face not to flush at the praise. "Thank you, sir. We tried our best."

"Lt. Kirk especially. He's been working non-stop on this project, sir," Sulu told the captain, nudging Kirk in the side when Kirk glared at him. Normally he would jump at the chance to playfully boast about his achievements, but not in front of the captain, who he wanted to impress, and be respected by in return. He was already known for his smart mouth, and while he and the captain were not on bad terms, he certainly didn't want to be. They weren't on any terms, really, and Kirk usually knew when he could press his luck, and when he should keep his mouth shut. The fate of a planet seemed important enough to skip the antics.

"It was a joint effort," Kirk corrected. "I couldn't have done it all by myself."

"You basically did. Nothing I tried was even close to working." Sulu insisted. Kirk gave him a long look, not able to figure out why Sulu was shoving him into the spotlight.

"It was just a hunch," Kirk shrugged, looking anywhere but at the captain.

"Regardless of how you reached your conclusion, the outcome is most favorable. I am sure the inhabitants of Ceryleia will be immeasurably gratified to know of your role in the proceedings, Lt. Kirk, as will Starfleet Command."

"No, no," Kirk shook his head. "That's really not necessary. My discovery was made out of sheer dumb luck. No reason to blow things out of proportion."

"It is illogical to reject praise when it is earned," Captain Spock stated curiously, lifting an eyebrow in Kirk's direction.

"I stumbled across the answer by accident."

"Kirk, you've exhausted yourself all week in order to fix things, and you did. Be content with that." Sulu clapped his hand on Kirk's shoulder.

"Your logic is sound, Lt. Sulu. I suggest you bring the cure to Dr. McCoy and begin mass production of the serum. We must provide samples to the surface of the planet as soon as possible."

"Aye, aye, Captain," Sulu said, saluting the captain. He picked up the vial with the remaining serum and Kirk watched him leave the lab, the automatic door swishing shut behind him.

His absence left Kirk alone with the captain, which should have been intimidating but surprisingly wasn't. He turned to look at the Vulcan and was unsettled to find him already scrutinizing Kirk. He cleared his throat. "Is there anything else I can help you with, Captain?"

If Kirk didn't know any better about Vulcans, he would swear he saw the captain's eyes drag up and down his body in half a second before he responded. "No, lieutenant. You are to report to the mess hall for nourishment, then retreat to your quarters for some much needed rest. It is evident that you have been neglecting your personal health, and I expect all of my officers to preform at peak efficiency, which you cannot do without adequate care for your body." He must have seen Kirk open his mouth, ready to argue, because he continued speaking without pause. "That is an order, lieutenant."

Kirk abruptly closed his mouth and sighed. He hadn't eaten anything yet today, or yesterday if he remembered correctly. The thought of food made his stomach growl audibly, and the captain raised his eyebrow in response. Kirk laughed at his expression, causing the captain to look taken aback and, if Kirk looked closely enough, slightly pleased. "Yes, sir," he acknowledged, copying Sulu's gesture of a salute. He began to clean up his work station and was confused to see the captain still standing there when he was finished. "Captain?" Kirk asked.

"I will accompany you to the mess hall. I have been informed by Dr. McCoy multiple times of your tendency to ignore orders you deem irrelevant or unimportant, especially when concerning yourself."

Kirk did flush at that statement. Being so directly called out by the captain himself should have been humbling, but Kirk simply shrugged and said, "The rules should apply to other people sometimes."

He expected a lecture in response. Instead, the captain just fixed him with another scrutinizing look and gestured for Kirk to lead the way. Kirk sighed under his breath and started out the door. The captain fell into step easily beside him, and they walked in companionable silence for a few moments. Kirk wondered at how little effort it took to interact with the captain despite not having much experience in doing so. He was assigned to the Enterprise as second head of the science division, and he spent most of his time down in the labs. Due to his responsibilities there, he didn't have much interaction with the bridge crew. Lt. Commander Burken, head of the science department, dealt with the captain directly for the projects that demanded his attention, and tended to the scientific responsibilities on the bridge.

It didn't bother Kirk that he wasn't technically in charge, though he had a history of butting heads with authority figures. He preferred to be hands on with his work anyway. Although, ever since being assigned to the Enterprise, Kirk had admired the captain. Captain Spock was not only the first and only Vulcan officer in Starfleet, but also became the youngest captain of the Federation's best flagship. It was nothing short of remarkable, and it was impossible not to respect his achievements. Kirk didn't always agree with the decisions the captain made, sometimes acting too logically for Kirk's very humanly impulsive nature to approve of, but it wasn't his place to question the captain's authority. Besides, it seemed like the ship's chief medical officer gave the captain enough grief for his rational nature that Kirk didn't think his input was necessary. What would Kirk have to say that would interest the captain, anyways?

Kirk was so lost in thought that he tripped over his own feet, stumbling sideways and throwing out a random arm to catch his balance. The captain grabbed his arm firmly and steadied him, bringing them into close contact, making Kirk's eyes open wide in astonishment. He knew Vulcans liked their personal space. Captain Spock let go of his arm as soon as Kirk regained his equilibrium and acted as though nothing had happened, ignoring Kirk's clumsiness and his own tactile response. Kirk straightened his glasses and tried not to stare as they continued on their way silently.

They entered the mess hall and Kirk made his way over to the replicators, choosing a meal at random and grabbing the proffered tray. He watched in amazement as the captain selected a salad and followed Kirk over to a table. They sat down together and Kirk didn't miss the stares thrown their way by the other people in the mess. They ate silently together for a few moments before the captain broke the silence. "You have been silent the majority of our time spent together. Are you bothered by the fact that I accompanied you?"

"What?" Kirk gaped, taken aback. "No! I'm just... surprised, I guess. I would think you'd have better things to do than sit here with me, especially considering the crisis on the planet below us."

"Dr. McCoy and Lt. Sulu are more than capable of handling the serum's distribution to the planet's surface. As first officer, Commander Uhura will supervise any additional tasks until either Starfleet or the planetary council requests my presence. Until that moment arrives, I thought best to oversee your nutritional intake and escort you back to your quarters."

"Bones asked you to babysit me, didn't he?"

"Bones?" The captain asked, his eyebrows almost disappearing behind his bangs.

"Dr. McCoy. That's what I call him: old sawbones."

"Fascinating," the captain remarked. "He did request I see to your well-being while he is otherwise occupied. He made various unique threats that I will choose not to repeat."

Kirk laughed. "Of course he did. With all due respect, Captain, I think I can manage a bite to eat and trip to my quarters by myself. You know, if you have other responsibilities to attend to."

"As I have just stated, lieutenant, I do not."

"Alright then." Kirk went back to eating his food, which looked like some sort of sandwich filled with vegetables. He internally cursed Bones and his stupid medical override - he never let Kirk eat anything fun. Bones was constantly harping on him about what food he was eating, and when Kirk had initially ignored his medical advice, Bones had taken to programming the replicators with a diet regime specific to what he thought Kirk should be eating. Kirk could get around the programming, of course, and normally did, but with the captain keeping him company for this meal he thought it would be better to stay on the safe side of things and choke down a healthy selection. "Do you think the serum will be ready in time to fix things on the planet's surface?"

The captain gave one quick nod. "Indeed. I believe there will be ample time to administer the serum and remedy the adverse effects that radiation has caused the plant-life. There should be no need for planetary evacuation."

Kirk let out a sigh of relief. He had been fretting endlessly over the fate of the Ceryleian population for days. It was one of the reasons he hadn't been sleeping, plagued by thoughts of another planet's worth of civilizations starving, suffocating, dying, slowly dwindling into extinction. He was grateful for the small part he could play in preventing another devastating situation not unlike what happened on Tarsus IV. He shook his head to dispel the thoughts of that horrible place.

Captain Spock must have caught a glimpse of his dark expression however, because his slanted eyebrows dipped in slightly on his forehead, a small wrinkle of skin appearing between them. The captain looked ready to question his reaction, so Kirk launched into a ramble of facts concerning quadro-triticale and it's effects on tribbles in order to distract him. It seemed to work, and the captain contributed willingly to the discussion, despite neither of them saying anything of much importance. They finished their food and disposed of their trays, and took their leave.

Kirk wasn't really expecting the captain to escort him all the way back to the entrance of his quarters, but that's exactly what he did. They continued their comfortable conversation until they were standing in front of Kirk's cabin, and he realized with a jolt that he inexplicably didn't want to leave the captain's company. They stood outside Kirk's quarters awkwardly for a moment, conversation dying down as they both realized it was time for them to part ways. Interestingly enough, the captain made no move to walk away either, simply stood and stared at Kirk, waiting expectantly for him to say something. Kirk fumbled around in his head for something to say but was coming up empty, so instead he settled on a genuine smile. Exhaustion was starting to creep up on him, and he reached up to rub the back of his neck. "I guess this is my stop," he said.

"Indeed," the captain replied. "Get some rest, lieutenant. I will alert Dr. McCoy of your compliance and assure him of your well-being."

"Thank you, sir. Let me know if there's anything else I can help with."

The captain nodded in agreement, and Kirk opened the door to his cabin. He glanced over his shoulder as the door shut behind him, watching as the captain turned and walked back towards the turbolift. Kirk kicked off his boots and laid down on his bed, turning over the events of the day in his mind. He couldn't wrap his head around why the captain had taken an interest in him, but he wasn't complaining. He was still pondering those thoughts when his dreams overtook him, and he fell into a deep, desperately needed sleep.

Chapter Text


When Kirk eventually woke up, it was approximately fourteen hours later. At first, he went into a frenzy, thinking that he had surely missed something important in the time he was unconscious. But after a glance to his PADD, he saw everything was under control. The planet had made a miraculous recovery, and he felt a small swell of pride bloom in his chest at the small part he had played. Scrolling through his messages, he saw one from Bones and frowned.

--You're on medical leave for the next 24 hours, kid. Get some rest.---

And another:

--I mean it, Jim. Or I'll tie your ass to a bed in my sickbay.--

Kirk cursed. Of course Bones would put him on medical leave. Apparently whatever the captain had relayed back to him wasn't good enough for the old doctor's standards. He dressed quickly and left his cabin. Kirk stopped by the mess for a small bite to eat before heading down the labs anyways, despite Bones' orders. When he got there, however, he was practically barred from entering, all of the other science officers on duty assuring him everything was under control and that there was no need for him to be there. He ought to get some rest, they suggested, and he knew straight away that Bones had talked to them. Probably gave them a heated warning if any of them let Kirk step foot in the labs. He stood in the hallway outside, frowning, unsure of what to do with himself. Kirk supposed he could go back to his quarters and do some paperwork - there was always paperwork to be done, reports to be made, but that was the last thing he wanted to do at the moment. At any given moment, really.

Kirk wandered down to Engineering instead, knowing full well that Scotty shouldn't be on duty but most likely was. Scotty would give him something to do, Bones be damned. Kirk wasn't good at sitting idle when there were better things to occupy his time. Bones seemed determined to drive him to insanity, Kirk decided, as he finally found the man he was looking for, feet stuck out from beneath a giant piece of machinery.

So that's how Kirk managed to be stuck in a Jeffries tube not much later, inspecting all of the nooks and crannies, making sure everything was in proper working order. He might have been a scientist, but his mom was a talented engineer, and taught Kirk a fair amount when he was growing up. It helped that he was basically a genius - give him a few moments with any project and he could find his way around it as though he had helped develop the concept.

After his last round of inspections, he returned to Scotty's side. "Anything else you need, Scotty? I'm happy to get my hands dirty." He took his glasses off and polished them with the bottom of his shirt, squinting at Scotty. Kirk was allergic to Retinox, making his glasses an annoying necessity. It also prevented him from wearing safety goggles, which meant every time he helped Scotty, it was a direct violation of the ship's safety rules. He had yet to be caught, even by Bones, so Kirk wasn't too worried about it. Scotty never seemed to mind, either.

Scotty let out a few curses that Kirk barely understood and crawled out of the space he was occupying. He got to his feet and gave Kirk a toothy grin, maneuvering around different odds-and-ends in order to clap Kirk on the shoulder. "I appreciate the help, lad. You're about as handy with a wrench as I am - not quite, though, of course." He pointed out a fixture a few feet to their left that needed fastening, and Kirk willingly obliged as Scotty disappeared once more. Kirk grabbed a wrench and reached up above his head to secure the fixture. He was slightly too short, however, and had to go up on his toes to reach it. He stretched his arms high above his head and got to work, the bottom of his shirt tickling his belly as it was hiked halfway up his stomach. He was concentrating enough on the task at hand that he startled when a new voice spoke out into the silence.

"Lt. Kirk, I was under the impression that Dr. McCoy had placed you on temporary medical leave. I do not think that is a request that can be ignored."

Kirk looked over his shoulder to see the captain standing beside him, a few feet of distance between them. He thought for a moment that he saw the captain's eyes linger on the stretch of skin showing on his abdomen, but the moment passed too soon for Kirk to be sure. He dropped his arms and adjusted his uniform, turning to address the captain. "I am on medical leave, sir, but I'm not doing any of my assigned duties, as promised. I'm simply...helping out a friend."

"Aye, sir. He was only doing me a wee favor." Scotty interjected, coming to stand beside Kirk and the captain.

"I see," said the captain. "That proves to be interesting, Mr. Scott, as the ship's computer informed me that Kirk arrived in your company approximately two earth hours ago. I high doubt a 'wee favor', as you claim, takes that amount of time to complete."

Scotty sputtered for a moment before Kirk spoke up. "I came looking for work, sir. I was going to go stir-crazy being cooped up in my quarters for the next 24 hours. If you feel disciplinary action is needed, then go ahead and give it to me. Scotty had nothing to do with this."

"Follow me then, Mr. Kirk," the captain responded, expressionless, and turned on his heel. Kirk gave Scotty a reassuring smile before following his captain out of Engineering. They walked in silence, Kirk following a step behind. He wondered where he was being led to until they turned the corridor and headed into the recreation center. Kirk stared at the captain in confusion. The ship only loosely adhered to Earth time standards, since the majority of crew members were human, so it was technically the middle of third shift, and the rec room was empty except for them.

The captain simply looked at Kirk and began to undress. Kirk averted his eyes as the captain changed into a black t-shirt with red workout pants and gestured for Kirk to do the same, and he complied, though he left his chest bare. Dark hair scattered the captain's chest above his collar, and when his shirt rode up Kirk could see a dark patch also led down past his waistband. The red pants hugged the captain's legs in nearly criminal ways. Kirk's mouth went bone-dry thinking about what exactly was left to his imagination. He took off his glasses for good measure, and that made it easier to avoid staring at the captain's sculpted physique.

Even without his glasses on, he could feel the captain staring at him. Kirk cleared his throat awkwardly and rocked back and forth on his heels. He tried not to squirm under the captain's gaze. "If I may ask, sir, why have you brought us here?" To spar, obviously, but why?

The captain raised an eyebrow and folded his arms behind his back. "It has come to my attention that while you have received standard combat training, it was not pursued further in your career due to your focus on scientific studies. I brought you here to offer my services as a tutor. You must acquire the skills necessary to defend yourself before it is allowed that you accompany away teams."

Kirk tried not to be offended. "I work out," he said defensively. "I can hold my own when it comes down to it. I survived a lot in my younger days."

"That I do not doubt. However, there is always room for improvement."

"Wait a second," Kirk said, back tracking a bit. "I thought I was in trouble. Who said anything about away teams?"

"I believe I just did, lieutenant," the captain replied, looking as amused as a Vulcan captain was allowed.

"I normally work in the labs," Kirk continued, not comprehending.

"Then you have been promoted, Mr. Kirk. I was very impressed by the work you have done of late and reviewed several other cases you have worked on in the past. You do thorough and efficient work. Your future presence on missions could be an asset to the ship."

"Wow, uh... thank you, sir. I'll try my best not to let you down." Kirk squinted at him in awe. He had always wanted to be apart of an away team, but it never seemed to be the right time or place, and he had contented himself with staying in the labs indefinitely. The fact that he now would have the opportunity to explore a foreign alien planet gave him chills of excitement.

"You seem to have a habit of exceeding expectations, Mr. Kirk. I should see no reason for this to be an exception." The captain said effortlessly, carelessly, as though his words didn't send a thrill of pleasure through Kirk. He wished he still had his glasses on so that he could see the captain's face. As though reading his thoughts, Captain Spock moved closer into Kirk's range of clear vision. They began to circle each other slowly, arms bent and raised at their waists.

"Thank you, sir. That's a pretty high praise, coming from the captain," Kirk remarked, watching him warily for signs of attack.

"I simply stated my observations and came to the logical conclusion," the captain replied, and struck out at Kirk.

Kirk was able to dodge the blow but what followed, a sweep of the captain's legs that knocked Kirk right on his ass. He hit the mat hard, his breath forced out of him, and he laid there for a second, stunned. Kirk rose up on his elbows and huffed at the captain, who held out a hand to help him to his feet. His face flushed slightly in embarrassment but he took the proffered hand. Kirk thought perhaps the captain's hand hesitated on his own for a second longer than necessary before letting go and stepping backwards out of his personal space.

The captain raised an eyebrow. "It appears there is more work to be done than I thought," he commented, and to his surprise Kirk laughed.

"I think you might be in over your head, sir," Kirk chuckled, and lunged at his captain. They went round after round, the captain winning the majority of their matches but Kirk holding his own against him fairly well. As much as Kirk hated getting his ass handed to him over and over, he had to admit he learned quite a lot from the captain. He moved gracefully, confidently, and - there was no other word for it - beautifully. Kirk lost more than once simply because he was distracted by watching the captain move.

Kirk could have swore he wasn't imagining the way the captain sometimes looked at him, the way they sometimes lingered for a moment too long, almost rubbing together suggestively. But it was impossible. He was the captain's subordinate, after all. There could be nothing between them, and the captain would not - could not - want anything more than a working relationship. Even friendship was something that seemed out of reach, and yet he longed for it. Kirk's crush was beginning to get out of hand. He had to be more careful about his thoughts, he scolded himself. Vulcans were touch telepaths, and although the captain's mental shields had to be impeccable, it was entirely possible that he would overhear Kirk's inappropriate thoughts if he thought them loud enough.

He threw himself into their sparring in order to quiet his mind. He even managed to beat the captain a few times, once he realized the more illogically he acted, the harder it was for the Vulcan to predict his moves. Kirk caught a few glimpses of frustration cross his captain's face each time Kirk managed to land a blow. By the last round, they were both sweating and exhausted. Their muscles burned splendidly and adrenaline pumped through their veins.

Kirk launched himself at the captain and knocked them both to the floor. Instead of using any real technique, he merely held the captain in a bear hug and used his weight in order to pin them to the floor. The captain struggled for a moment but stopped when Kirk started laughing, releasing him and rolling over. They laid next to each other, side by side on the wrestling mat. The captain turned his head to look at Kirk, eyebrow raised. "I believe that is considered cheating, Mr. Kirk," he commented, and didn't sound the least bit angry about it.

Kirk gave him a soft smile and shrugged. "What can I say? I don't like to lose."

"You have improved significantly during out first session. You are a fast learner."

"Thank you, sir," Kirk said quietly. The captain paid him compliments like it was effortless, and said them with such steady confidence that Kirk couldn't help but accept them. Kirk rolled to his feet and extended a hand to the captain, helping him off the ground and giving him another small smile.

They each got changed and walked out into the hallway. Kirk was about to dismiss himself when his stomach growled loudly. He placed his hand over his belly as though it would muffle the sound.

The captain looked at him quizzically. "Do you require sustenance, Mr. Kirk? I was going to prepare something to eat for myself. If it is agreeable to you, you are welcome to join me in my quarters for dinner. Lt. Sulu spoke to me of your talent for chess. I would like to test your abilities against my own in this matter as well. I have never lost a game."

"I'm a lot better at chess than I am at sparing, Captain. I might give you a run for your money."

The captain raised both of his eyebrows. "Indeed? I...look forward to a challenge."

Kirk adjusted his glasses on his nose and peered at the captain, still not understand why he had suddenly taken an interest in him. He was glad for it, however. As much as he enjoyed Bones' company, it was nice to have someone else to interact with, and so differently. "I'm going to head to my quarters to change and then I can meet you at yours?"

The captain nodded, and they parted ways, Kirk wondering what in the universe he had done to deserve the captain's seemingly undivided attention.

Kirk took the quickest, most thorough shower of his life. He absolutely did not think any dirty thoughts while he did so. After throwing on some grey sweatpants and a black t-shirt, he spared two seconds to brush through his hair - not that it mattered, the same wavy honey colored lock fell into his eyes no matter what he did - and headed out the door. Kirk had to restrain himself from running to the captain's quarters.

Once he was standing outside his door, however, Kirk suddenly felt nervous. He raised one hand to ring the bell but hesitated. What was he doing? Surely he wasn't interesting enough to satisfy the captain's attention for the evening. And it wasn't as though Vulcans were known for making friends. So why had the captain invited him to dinner? He paced back and forth for a moment before strengthening his resolve and facing the door once more. Before he could change his mind, he requested entry into the captain's quarters. No turning back now.

The door slid open into a low lit room, a warm glow emitting from the entryway, enticing Kirk to take a step inside. The room was surprising personalized; ornamental towels and rugs decorated the space, and there were spice scented candles lit. Little figurine statues of what Kirk guessed were Vulcan leaders lined shelves along with meditation crystals and so very many books. Kirk supposed he was expecting the captain's quarters to be minimalistic - after all, sentimental attachments to objects was illogical, right? Or so Kirk thought, but looking around the room told him otherwise. His eyes eventually came to rest on the captain, who was seated at the desk in the corner, eyes watching Kirk take in his surroundings thoughtfully. An elegant chess board sat on the desktop beside him. The captain was dressed in a casual brown Vulcan robe and what looked like black Starfleet pants. He stood to greet Kirk and gestured to his personal replicator set into the bulkhead.

"Welcome, Mr. Kirk. I shall prepare our meals now that you have arrived. Feel free to sit at the table. Do you have a preference of what you would enjoy eating?"

Kirk shrugged, and took a seat. "I'll have whatever you're having. And since we're off duty, you ought to call me Jim."

The captain raised an eyebrow. Kirk was starting to find that endearing. "I planned to order plomeek soup, however I have found most humans do not consider it appetizing."

"Well now I have to try it."

"It is an acquired taste to those unfamiliar with Vulcan cuisine."

Kirk waved his hand. "I'll eat anything." At the captain's continued dubious look, he rolled his eyes. "Literally anything. I'm sure it's delicious. I want to try it."

The captain inclined his head and turned towards the replicator. "If you insist, Mr. Kirk."

"Seriously, Captain, call me Jim. Being so formal all the time is exhausting."

The captain tilted his head but didn't turn around. "Very well...Jim." Kirk's first name on the Vulcan's lips sent a shiver through him and he was suddenly very grateful that the captain couldn't see the blush on his face. "If we are forgoing formalities, you may refer to me as simply Spock."

Pleased, Jim nodded, straightening his glasses. After a moment Spock turned towards him, two large bowls of soup in his hands, and took the seat opposite Jim, passing him a steaming dish and spoon. Jim inspected the food in front of him. It smelled amazing, spices and vegetables he wasn't familiar with assaulting his senses and he closed his eyes, taking a contented deep breath. When he opened them, he saw Spock staring as he took a bite. Jim brought his own spoon to his lips and sampled his dinner. It tasted as good as it smelled, and soon Jim was nearly inhaling it, slowing down only enough to not make a mess of himself. Spock watched with fascination as Jim finished his meal, Spock's bowl still half full.

It was Jim's turn to raise an eyebrow. "You really didn't think I would like it, did you?"

"It has been my experience that most humans are not as opened-minded to my culture as you seem to be."

Jim frowned. "Most humans are idiots, Spock. Try not to take it personally."

"Indeed. I consider plomeek soup to be my favorite Vulcan dish. It is something that reminds me distinctly of home, and my mother," Spock said quietly, looking almost ashamed to have admitted something so personal out loud.

Jim felt honored that Spock has chosen to share this little bit of himself. "I can see why. I thought it was delicious. You know, when I have access to a real kitchen, I can make a pretty mean veggie stir-fry. Next shore leave I'll whip some up for you to try."

"That would be acceptable."

"Cool. I'm a decent cook when I put my mind to it."

"I doubt there is much you do not excel at once you have 'put your mind to it', Jim."

Jim ducked his head and flushed, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck while giving Spock a small smile. He chattered idly while Spock finished his food, and got up to dispose of their plates. Spock nodded his thanks to Jim for clearing the dishes and began to set up the chess board. "Black or white?" Spock asked Jim.

Jim reclaimed his seat across from Spock, and replied immediately. "Black."

Spock raised his eyebrows. "You seem quite confident."

"Well, if I put my mind to it..." Jim teased.

"I believe this may be one instance where that will not apply."

"I guess we'll just have to see. Bring it on, Captain."

They played in silence for most of the game, both concentrating too much on their own strategies to make friendly conversation. Jim hadn't realized how warm the room temperature was until he began to sweat under the pressure of the match, and wanting to impress the Vulcan. The game was long, but Jim found that time spent in Spock's presence seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. It was nearly two hours later when Spock finally tipped his king in defeat, signifying the end of the match and Jim's victory.

Jim beamed at him over the board, relishing the astonished expression that seemed permanently etched into the captain's face. Jim didn't say anything, just waited patiently for Spock to process his defeat. The Vulcan finally met Jim's eyes with a look that he couldn't quite decipher. "I find I am at a loss for words."

Jim smirked. "Good game, Spock. Want to play another?"

"Indeed. I find i desire a rematch."

"You got it, mister," Jim said, pleased, and reset the board.

They played well into the night, until Jim yawned several matches later and Spock insisted he retire to get some rest.

"You're starting to sound like Bones," Jim groaned dramatically. He was surprised at how easy it was to joke around with Spock, as though they had been friends their whole lives, an easy camaraderie settling between them immediately. He couldn't deny that they had a natural chemistry. He could tease and poke fun at the Vulcan and for whatever reason, Spock allowed it. Hell, he had even thrown in some well phrased retorts of his own during their matches. He enjoyed their easy conversation, and it seemed like Spock somehow miraculously enjoyed it as well.

"I would prefer you not insult me," Spock protested, making Jim laugh heartily.

"Thank you for this evening. I had a really good time. We should do it again soon."

"I too found it enjoyable. Perhaps we can make weekly appointments to continue our matches."

"I'd like that," Jim smiled softly. He stood up from the table and stretched his arms above his head, shoulders and back popping after sitting for so long. Spock rose from his seat as well and walked Jim to the door. Jim gave him another smile -what must have been the hundredth smile Spock had elicited from him this evening - as the door opened and he stepped outside. "Goodnight, Captain."

"Farewell, Jim," Spock responded, and the door to his quarters closed between them. Jim stood there for a moment longer, a dumb smile on his face, before he turned abruptly to head towards his own quarters.

As he rounded the corner, he collided with someone smaller than him, and despite trying to stay upright he went sprawling onto the floor, whoever he collided with landing on top of him. Jim disentangled himself from what seemed to be another crewman, looking the other person over to see who it happened to be.

It was Chekov, the youngest helmsman in the fleet, who had come bustling around the corner with far too many PADDs in his arms. They had scattered across the floor when he had collide with Jim, and Jim rolled to his feet to help the younger man pick them up. Jim chuckled the whole time, and Chekov shoved him playfully. "You seem to be in a good mood, Jim."

Jim ruffled the younger man's hair in return. "Dinner was just really good tonight. And hey, when am I ever in a bad mood?"

"Before you've had your coffee," Chekov deadpanned, taking the collected pile of PADDs out of Jim's arms.

"That is offensive. I'm offended." Jim said in mock-outrage.

Chekov shrugged, not looking the least bit sorry. He patted Jim on the shoulder and continued his quick departure down the hallway.

Jim resumed his path back to his quarters, debating in his head whether he should tell Bones about the events of the past two days. He knew the doctor wasn't the captain's biggest fan. He also knew Bones would have a heyday if he knew how Jim was feeding into his crush on the captain. Bones would tell him it was unhealthy, it was impossible, it was stupid. All things Jim already knew and didn't particularly want to think too deeply about. He knew Bones was just looking out for him, like an older brother, but sometimes he could be overbearing. Jim never planned on speaking about his feelings for the captain aloud to anyone other than Bones. He certainly never planned on acting on his feelings. He figured he would take that secret to the grave - with his luck, the likelihood of his death was sooner rather than later, anyways. Bones would get himself worked up over nothing, so Jim decided to keep his thoughts to himself for the time-being.

He arrived at his quarters and sat on the bed, suddenly realizing the extent of his exhaustion. He stripped down to his boxers and laid back, replaying the day's events over in his mind. Part of him still couldn't believe it was real. Was he actually becoming friends with his Vulcan captain? Not friends, he reminded himself, only acquaintances. They were establishing a working relationship. He was sure Spock spent time off-duty with all of his senior officers. It meant nothing special. But as he drifted off to sleep, he let himself pretend just for a second that he had made a new pointy-eared companion.

Chapter Text

Hands grabbed at him, pushing and pulling and taking what they shouldn't. Kirk tasted blood in his mouth, and spat, heard it connect with skin and felt a vicious slap in response. Children cried and screamed in the background, screamed his name. His heart shattered into pieces. Ashes dusted his hair and face. Hunger clawed at his belly, pain drowned his body. Phaser fire assaulted his eardrums and the smell of scorched skin burned its way into his nostrils. Fire burned behind his eyelids, the ground rumbled beneath his feet. His mouth was dry. He didn't know where he was. No, he knew exactly where he was; he couldn't be anywhere else. He couldn't breath - he needed air - needed to get out, get away - laughter ghosted across his skin, hands grappled at his throat -----

 

Jim sat up with a gasp, sweat cooling the air against his forehead and his heartbeat pounding in his ears. "Lights, fifty percent," he gasped out, and the room dimly lit up around him. Running a hand down his face, he took a few deep breaths, trying to calm his mind and his body. Jim wasn't sure if the moisture on his face was merely perspiration or tears, assumed it was a mixture of both. It had been a while since his last nightmare, and this one unsettled him more than he liked to admit. He glanced at the chronometer and sighed. There was still a few hours until his next shift in the labs, and he sure as hell wasn't going back to sleep now.

Jim got up and paced his room for a minute, restless and unsure what to do about it. He was almost halfway to Bones' cabin before he even really realized it, distraught as he was. He rang the bell to Bones' quarters and was relieved when the doctor answered a moment later, grumpy expression streaked with fondness. Bones took one look at Jim's faced and stepped aside silently, indicating Jim should come in. Jim entered and threw himself down in the desk chair immediately, slumping down in the seat and crossing his arms over his chest.

"What the fuck happened to you, kid?" Bones asked gruffly, who sat on his bed and leaned his arms on his knees. He looked at Jim seriously. "You look like death."

"Gee, Bones. You always know how to make a guy feel special."

Bones sat up straight and looked him right in the eye. "Cut the shit, Jim. I can't help you if you don't tell me what's wrong."

Jim looked away from him, biting his lip. He reached up to fiddle with his glasses and was surprised to find he wasn't wearing them. The room was suddenly obviously blurry to him. He had to strain to bring Bones' face into focus. He hadn't noticed before. Jim rubbed his fist against his eyes and sighed. "Nightmares," Jim said quietly. "It's always nightmares."

Bones waited for some elaboration but received none. He was silent for a moment before he asked cautiously, "About your childhood?"

"More like my teenage years."

"What happened?"

Jim hesitated. He knew he could trust Bones - he was the best friend that Jim had ever had. Bones already knew he had nightmares but still didn't know what about. Jim was reluctant to put this burden on him. Once Bones knew the truth he would look at Jim differently, think differently of him. The doctor would worry about him, and Jim would see the pity he was so desperately trying to avoid. "I don't even know where to start," he said truthfully.

"The beginning is normally a good place."

Jim laughed weakly, still not looking at his friend. "I guess that's true. Well, I suppose it started when I was fourteen. I had already started taking advance classes at the academy in preparation for the science track. I had a research opportunity that required me to relocate to a distant colony for a year of study. I was so excited to go. I thought it would be the first of many adventures." Jim's face twisted into a dark, wry smirk.

"I suppose in a way, it was. Adventures, as it turns out, are not always fun and games. Fucked up shit happens along the way too. I went on the study abroad trip and ended up on a paradise planet. Or so I thought. Four months after my arrival, an exotic fungus wiped out the majority of the colonies food supply. People started to starve. A man named General Kodos stood up and decided to try and take control of the situation by simultaneously killing half the colony's population in a second. Only those who he deemed worthy were the ones to survive. After the genocide, riots and rebellion broke out, the survivors fighting back against Kodos' rule. More people were slaughtered and in the end only nine people survived. I was unlucky enough to be one of them."

Bones's mouth had fallen open at some point during Jim's story. Jim saw him put his face in his hands for a long moment before looking back up at Jim. "You were on Tarsus IV. You...survived...Tarsus IV?"

"I had the facts removed from my medical history and my name redacted from public records. Only a handful of people know I was there."

Bones fell silent again, then stood up abruptly, walking over to rummage in a cupboard for something. He came back with two short glasses in one hand and a bottle of Romulan ale in the other. "For emergencies," he explained, "And I would say this sure as hell counts as one."

"Why doctor, that's illegal," Jim smirked.

Bones ignored him, pouring two shots and offering one to Jim. They knocked them back together and Jim winced as he wiped the corners of his mouth. Bones, the damn alcoholic, gulped it down effortlessly. Jim gestured for another and Bones obliged, Jim throwing it down his throat despite the burn. He shook his head and sat up in the desk chair, turning to face Bones and growing serious again.

"I saw some terrible things, Bones. I did and endured unspeakable things in order to survive. I had banded together a group of children, my age and younger mostly, and put their lives before my own the majority of the time. I lost most of those kids. I made a lot of mistakes, ones I'll have to live with for the rest of my life. I still have trouble coming to terms with the fact that I survived when most everyone else didn't. We weren't rescued for another six months after everything started, and when the extraction teams got there, I almost didn't want to go with them. Part of me wanted to just lay down and die with the others - it would have been easier than living with the guilt for the rest of my life. But I heard my parents' voices and I couldn't put them through what I had just gone through."

Jim swallowed. "They tried to put me through counselling in order to deal with the trauma I'd faced, mentally... and physically." Jim looked away uncomfortably, and he heard Bones grit his teeth. "I refused to talk about it. I didn't want to relive it. I shut down and threw myself into my schoolwork. I started bar-tending at Lew's Bar when I was sixteen, and was drinking before that, and getting into fights before that. I fucked my way around. I worked out at the local gym to the point of obsession - I needed to be prepared for any attack that could possibly happen. I used to exhaust myself to the point where I would pass out just so I wouldn't dream."

"Used to, as if you stopped," Bones muttered.

"I was a wreck even after I joined Starfleet full time," Jim continued. "Then I met you, pulled myself together, and ran away to a starship. I can't escape from the dreams, though."

"Jesus, kid. I figured you had seen some shit from how shady you acted sometimes, but damn, I never expected this. No wonder you're a walking trash can for food." Bones shook his head slowly. "You've got to be the bravest man I've ever met."

"I'm not brave," Jim denied. "I only did what I had to do."

"That's pretty fucking brave, Jim. Only a strong person could have done what you did. I know you think you should be ashamed of what happened to you, but you can't let it rule you. You have to own it, make it your own. Let it make you stronger."

"Easier said than done," Jim muttered.

"Say 'Fuck you!' to the universe and live, dammit. Make it mean something. Live for the people who couldn't. Make it count." Bones looked at him intently, then got up and embraced Jim in a tight hug. Jim returned the embrace just as fiercely, clutching Bones like a lifeline. They stayed like that a long time before Bones pulled back, swiping discretely at his eyes.

Jim was grateful to have a such a good friend by his side, and Bones wasn't looking at him like Jim had expected him to. He looked heartbroken but - proud? There was definitely admiration hidden in his gaze. Jim couldn't understand it but was grateful all the same. "Thanks, Bones. For everything."

"Anytime, kid. Whatever you need. Want to camp out here until your shift?"

Jim shook his head. "I think I need to burn off some steam. I'll catch up with you later, though."

"Alright. Don't do anything stupid." Bones warned, shaking a finger at him.

"No promises, Mom," Jim called as he walked out into the hallway and left Bones cursing after him as he headed towards the weight room.

He spent the next couple of hours mindlessly beating a punching bag until his hands were sore, keeping an eye on the clock so he wouldn't be late. His arms and abdomen burned pleasantly with exertion by the time he left and headed back to his quarters to get ready for his shift. He showered mindlessly and changed into his blue uniform. Jim attempted to tame his hair and gave up like usual. He put on his glasses and boots and left for the mess hall, grabbing a breakfast sandwich on his way to the science department.

He absentmindedly flipped through his PADD to look over what projects he would be overseeing that day. Nothing of importance caught his eye, and once he arrived in the labs he greeted the assembled teams, and began his rounds. Nothing required his direct or immediate attention, and he found himself bored, allowing time for his thoughts to wander where they shouldn't. He wished he was up on the bridge, with the captain. He would relish the time to observe Spock in his role as Captain up close and personal.

It had been almost a week since their chess match, and Jim had heard nothing from Spock about the next one. If there was going to be a next one. Jim had thought briefly about inviting the captain to a game in his quarters. After all, he had his own chess set - it had been his father's. But he couldn't make himself even type out the message. Jim just didn't feel comfortable pushing for something he didn't know if Spock would want. Vulcans had perfect memory - he knew when their next match should be, and Jim would let him decide where to go from here. He told himself not to get his hopes up but it was impossible. He wanted to see Spock so badly it hurt.

The communicator on the wall whistled for his attention, interrupting his train of thought. He walked over to the wall and pressed the button to reply. "Kirk here."

"Lt. Kirk, Captain Spock has requested your presence in Conference Room One. We have arrived in orbit of the planet CV-19883. You have been assigned to the landing party beaming down to the surface. Please report for a mission debrief - I've sent some details to your PADD." He recognized First Officer Uhura's voice on the other end of the comm, and the news she relayed excited him. His heart thumped in his chest in anticipation.

He cleared his throat and pressed the button once more. "Yes ma'am. I'm on my way."

Jim handed over his project PADDs to a trusted fellow officer and explained the basics of his projects briefly. Keeping his personal PADD, he scrolled through the mission details briefly. Jim then hurried out of the labs and up a few levels to Conference Room One, where a handful of other crew members were assembling. He spotted Bones, Uhura, and Scotty among them. Jim also recognized a few others, including Chief Science Officer Burken. He looked around for Captain Spock and finally found him seated at the table already, looking intently at a computer screen. As though sensing eyes on him, Spock looked up and caught Jim's gaze. Jim thought his eyes softened slightly as they focused on him and Jim smiled, raising his hand in a half-wave.

Spock stood from his seat and cleared his throat, indicating that they should take their seats around the table. Jim chose the spot between Bones and Scotty, and across from the captain. Everyone else sat down and leaned forward, ready to hear their mission details.

"We are currently in orbit around CV-19883. This planet has ample amounts of foliage and wildlife but scanners show no signs of any intelligent life forms. This should be a routine scouting mission for data recovery. We shall transport down to the planet, collect enough samples for informational data to be logged into the ships computers, and report back to Starfleet with any significant findings. We are on strict orders not to disturb any wild-life on the planet's surface. Stay as discreet as possible. Dr. McCoy, prepare a first aid station in the sickbay in case any landing party members are injured."

"Don't tell me how to do my job," Bones muttered under his breath, only loud enough for Jim to hear. Although, with Spock's superior Vulcan hearing, he wondered if maybe the captain could hear Bones' quiet snide remarks.

"Mr. Scott, you will be manning the transporter. First Officer Uhura will have control of the conn. Lt. Commander Burken will monitor sensor readings from the bridge. Ensign Briggs, Lt. Jackson, and Lt. Kirk will accompany me to the planet's surface. Are there any questions?"

Everyone around the table shook their heads. "Gather in the transporter room in 15 minutes." Spock stood up and dismissed them.

Bones clapped Jim on the back and motioned for him to lead the way. Jim looked over his shoulder and caught Spock's eye, who was watching Bones steer him from the room. Jim gave him a small grin and let Bones drag him along, following the doctor to sickbay in order to prepare for beam down.

"You're first away mission, how exciting," Bones grumbled. "I should be going down there to keep an eye on you."

"I'll be fine, Bones. The captain wont let anything happen to the landing party."

"The hobgoblin can't control everything. Especially you and your knack for getting yourself into trouble."

Jim rolled his eyes. "I'm a saint. I don't go looking for trouble."

Bones stabbed a finger into the center of Jim's chest. "Maybe not, but trouble sure as hell knows how to find you, kid."

Jim shrugged. "That might be true, but I'm not really sure what you want me to do about it."

"Just be careful," Bones insisted. "And keep your eyes open."

The arrived in sickbay and Bones prepared three hyposprays to administer to Jim.
Jim watched him with a wary expression, his eyes widening when he realized they were meant for him. "Whoa, whoa, what are those for?" He tried to bat the doctors hands away but Bones fixed him with a glare and Jim stopped with a sigh. He winced as Bones injected him for reasons Jim didn't dare question. He trusted Bones enough to know what he was doing anyways, despite the constant grief Jim liked to give him. He rubbed the side of his neck petulantly.

Bones handed him a tricorder and a phaser. "You're a giant baby. Here, you'll need these. Now I mean it, Jim. Don't do anything stupid."

"You keep saying that," Jim remarked, strapping the phaser to his belt and slinging the tricorder strap over his shoulder.

"Don't do stupid things and I wouldn't have to," Bones retorted back, and cuffed the back of Jim's head lightly. "Now go on. You don't want to be late."

Jim squeezed his shoulder before leaving the medbay. He made his way towards the transporter room and was surprise when the captain fell into step beside him.

"I trust you are adequately prepared for the mission?" Spock asked him, hands clasped behind his back as they walked.

Jim gripped the tricorder strap crossing his chest with both hands and smiled up at Spock through his glasses. "Are you kidding? I've been waiting for this forever." He shook his head slightly to get the hair out of his eyes and wasn't entirely successful. "Thank you for giving me the opportunity."

Spock inclined his head. "You were a logical addition the the landing party."

Jim wasn't sure how to respond to that, and they both fell silent as they entered the transporter room, the rest of the landing party already there waiting for them. Lt. Jackson and Ensign Briggs were standing together in the center of the room, red and blue shirts clashing together. Scotty stood behind the console and was messing with the controls.

Spock led them all onto the pad, Jim taking the spot on the captain's left. "Are we ready for transport?"

"Aye, Cap'n. The transporter's purring like a kitten for ya, sir."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "That is impossible. Energize, Mr. Scott."

Jim stifled a laugh, his stomach fluttering with excitement and nerves as his molecules were dissolved and put back together on the planet's surface. They re-materialized in dense undergrowth. Wind whipped around his face and he squinted around, taking in his surroundings. He had read the description of the planet in the document Uhura had sent him, but nothing compared to actually seeing it in person. The foliage around them was a deep forest green, not unlike Earth but unruly, grown without the hindrance of intelligent life, nature left to do as it pleased. The four of them forced their way through the underbrush and regrouped a moment later when they stumbled across a clearing.

"We will cover more ground more efficiently if we split into pairs. Jackson, Briggs, start cataloging in that direction," Spock instructed, pointing to the right. "Stay within range of communication. Lt. Kirk, you are with me." Jackson and Briggs replied in the affirmative and meandered away, using their tricorders to scan various forms of plant life along their way. The captain turned on his heel and started in the opposite direction, motioning for Jim to follow him.

They took their time meticulously detailing the specifics of the planet's surface. At first, Jim lost himself in the work, grateful for a distraction from the captain working diligently next to him. After a while, however, they still hadn't found anything of importance and Jim was starting to become bored. A bored Jim was a dangerous Jim, and he wandered a little farther from his Captain than he should have. His search for something fascinating became a little to eager, and before long he heard the deep tones of Spock calling for him. "Lt. Kirk?"

"Here, Captain," he called back, suddenly realizing just how far into the underbrush he had gotten, and turned to look sheepishly at the captain as he approached, ducking under some large leaves to stand at Jim's side.

Spock was wearing a stern expression. "It is unwise to venture far from your fellow crew members when visiting an unexplored planet, Mr. Kirk."

"I'm sorry, Captain. I hadn't realized how far away I'd gotten. It won't happen again."

Spock's expression softened the slightest amount. "It would be unfortunate if something were to happen to you."

Jim nodded. "I understand. I won't be a liability."

Spock opened his mouth to respond, but paused before he spoke, his eyebrows furrowing as he fixated on something over Jim's shoulder. Jim turned to look at what had captured Spock's attention. A flower had bloomed behind them, standing tall and fairly large a few feet in front of them. Round purple petals curled from a golden center, with four large stamen protruding from the middle, anthers large and pointed. Spock moved forward to inspect it, tricorder out and already in the process of logging data. Jim watched as the sunlight turned Spock's hair from black to a deep brown and he forced himself to tear his eyes away, back to the flower. He did an abrupt double take, looking hard at the center of it's bloom. He had thought he saw the flower twitch, and he moved closer to get a better look.

His eyes widened as he watched the filaments of the flower's stamen harden, anthers pointed directly at the Captain. Jim cried out to Spock and dove sideways in his direction as the flower launched its anthers like spikes, ready to impale the captain where he stood. Except Jim had gotten to him first, arm's wrapping around Spock's middle and pulling them both to the ground hard. They both laid there for a moment, stunned, before rolling to the side to look back at the flower. They watched as it curled back into itself and retreated into the underbrush.

Jim and Spock looked at each other as they rose to their feet. "I believe you just saved my life, Lieutenant." Spock said to Jim, one eyebrow raised characteristically.

"Well, technically, sir, it was my fault we were this far deep into the plant-life in the first place."

Spock cocked his head, "We do not know that this would not have happened regardless. We should send warning to Jackson and Briggs."

"That's a good idea. You know what would be an even better idea? If we ran. Now." Jim grabbed the captain's arm and pointed over his shoulder. Spock turned to see what Jim had spotted seconds before: a whole hoard of flowers rising from the bushes around them, turning to bloom and point in their direction. Jim tugged on Spock's arm and they sprinted back the direction they came, projectiles flying at them from every direction as more flowers sprouted to follow their path. Spock's communicator chirped and he flipped it open as they tried to escape.

"Captain! We're being attacked by the plant-life!" Jackson's voice cried out over the speaker, panic evident in his voice. "They're everywhere!"

"Are either of you injured?"

"No, sir, not yet anyways!"

"Meet us back at the clearing and prepare for transport," Spock replied loudly, ducking and pushing his way through the foliage beside Jim as they ran for their lives. Spock adjusted the communicator's frequency and hailed the Enterprise. "Spock to Enterprise. Prepare for immediate landing party extraction, Mr. Scott. This is an emergency. No known injuries at the moment."

"Aye, sir. Ready for transport on your signal."

Spock kept his communicator in hand as he and Jim burst back into the clearing, panting and out of breath. A few moments later, Jackson and Briggs came stumbling out of the underbrush as well, looking frazzled and dirty but unharmed. They gathered in a circle and Spock flipped his communicator open once more. "Energize, Mr. Scott."

A moment later they had materialized back aboard the ship. Scotty looked at them in alarm, taking in their haggard appearances. "What happened down there?"

"We were attacked by giant flowers," Jim said plainly, shaking some bits of leaves out of his hair. Spock reached over and picked something off of Jim's shirt, holding it close to his face for inspection. At Jim's quizzical look, Spock held it out for Jim to take. Jim studied it for a moment before realizing it was a loose anther from one of the killer flowers. "Do you mind if I take this down to the labs for a closer look?"

Spock nodded his assent. "That would be wise, Lieutenant. Inform me of any information you divulge."

"Yes, sir. I'll send you my report when I'm finished," Jim assured him. Spock nodded once more and turned to speak with Jackson and Briggs about what had happened to them. Jim smiled at Scotty and left the transporter room, knowing he should check in with Bones but heading straight to the lab instead. Bones would be mad but couldn't be furious, seeing as Jim had not been injured.

He entered the labs and went to a private station, immediately pulling out a microscope and some slides. He sat down on the stool and leaned over the table, placing the anther on a slide. Some pollen brushed off on his fingers, and he rubbed them together to dispel it. Jim loaded the slide onto the microscope stage and sat up, taking his glasses off and putting them on the table. He leaned forward again to look through the eyepieces and took a deep breath.

A sudden sharp pain erupted in his side. Frowning in confusion, he put his hand down to his side and felt something sharp along his rib cage. He looked down and pulled an anther-spike out of his skin, wincing as he saw it had gone deep, blood coating its sharp end. Jim put his fingers back to his wound and they instantly became sticky with blood. His vision started to swim and he swaying on his stool, trying to throw a hand out to steady himself but missing the table. He fell from the stool and crumpled to the ground, limbs refusing to respond to anything he told them to do. He started to seize as his field of vision went dark. The last thing he saw was a pair of boots rushing closer to his face before he faded into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Jim woke up to the bright lights of sickbay. He was disoriented, didn't remember how he got there, but was relieved to see Bones' familiar face swim into a blurry focus as his eyes adjusted to the light. Bones reached out and put Jim's glasses on his face, and Jim put a hand up weakly to adjust them. "What happened?" Jim rasped out, mouth drier than it had ever been. His throat ached for something to drink.

As though he'd read Jim's thoughts, Bones held out a cup and helped him take a sip of water. "You had been hit by one of those projectiles on the planet's surface, and instead of coming straight here for me to look you over, you went to the labs and collapsed. A few other officers saw you fall out of your chair and brought you to me. You've been unconscious for three days, Jim."

Jim coughed on the water he was sipping. "Three days?!"

"Three days. The flower's pollen was poisonous. I'm thinking you got hit when you tackled the captain, seeing as how by the time they got you down here it was already in most of your bloodstream. It was touch and go for a while there, Jim. Most of the nurses didn't think you would make it. A few minutes later and you probably wouldn't have, but I'll be damned if you are going to die on my watch. You should have checked in with me as soon as you transported back aboard the ship, you fucking idiot." Bones looked at him furiously, but Jim saw past the anger, knowing his friend had been extremely worried and possibly even genuinely scared.

"I didn't know I had been hurt or I would have." Jim tried to sit up and winced as his bandages pulled tight against his side. "Ow."

Bones shoved him gently back down against his pillows. "Quit moving around, you brat. You almost just died, I think you can bear to lie still a while longer."

"That would definitely kill me," Jim argued.

Bones only rolled his eyes and snorted. "If you re-open that wound, Jim, I'll kill you myself."

"I don't think threatening your patients qualifies as good bedside manners, Doctor. Besides, you'd miss me too much. Who else would annoy you to no end?"

"Maybe I'd finally get some peace and quiet," Bones grumbled back, checking Jim's vitals. "You seem to have a fairly clean bill of health by now, thanks to yours truly. I'm keeping you here overnight just to be safe, and so I can keep an eye on you." Jim started to protest - he hated staying in sickbay - but Bones cut him off before he could complain. "You're not going back to work for a few days either, and I don't want to hear it, Jim!" He pointed a stern finger in Jim's face and then poked him in the chest with it. "Doctor's orders."

Jim groaned and slumped against the biobed. "I hate you," he mumbled petulantly.

Bones rolled his eyes again. "You're welcome for saving your life, asshole."

"Isn't that kind of your job though? Wouldn't be a very good doctor if you just let me die."

"Don't tempt me," Bones warned, waving a hypospray at him and viciously stabbing Jim in the neck with it. Jim yelped as it made contact and Bones smiled.

"You're a sadist," Jim whined, rubbing the side of his neck.

Bones ignored him and moved to leave the room. He stopped in the doorway and turned to face Jim with an annoyed glance. "Oh, and by the way, you've got a certain pointy-eared visitor. He's been lurking around and scaring my nurses." Bones stepped aside to reveal the captain, arms crossed behind his back and his face blank. Bones gave him a thinly veiled look of disapproval before making his exit.

Spock entered the room and came close to Jim's side, looking down at him with what Jim thought was a soft expression. Jim's heart pounded in his ears and he severely hoped it wasn't evident on the monitors keeping track of his vitals. "It is fortunate that you are finally conscious," Spock told him seriously. "Dr. McCoy told me he was uncertain at first that you would regain consciousness at all."

Jim looked up at him and shrugged. "You can't get rid of me that easily."

Spock frowned. "You saved my life, nearly at the cost of your own."

Picking at a stray thread on his blankets, Jim looked down at his fingers and away from Spock. "What's your point?"

"It was illogical."

Jim scoffed and waved his hand dismissively. "No it wasn't, you're the captain: the single most important person aboard the ship. I just did what crew member would do."

"No, you did not," Spock said quietly, and his tone made Jim look back up at him sharply. "Despite my captaincy, there are not many aboard this vessel that think I am worthy enough to save. The few that hold me in that regard may not have had the bravery to sacrifice themselves in order to do so. Nor would I expect them to. What you did was..." He fell silent, for the first time at a loss for words.

Jim stared in confusion. How could anyone aboard the ship not be willing to die for their captain in times of crisis? He couldn't imagine not feeling an overwhelming sense of loyalty towards the Vulcan - certainly Jim would not be able to stand idly by while Spock was killed. He felt more than a little anger that there were apparently some crew members who would do exactly that.

At Jim's silence, Spock took a step forward, bringing him closer to Jim's bedside, close enough to touch if Jim simply were to reach a hand out. "I came to express my gratitude. Thank you, Jim." Spock glanced down at him with such intensity that Jim felt his cheeks flush. He forced himself to not look away, to hold the captain's gaze steadily.

"Anytime, Spock." Jim said with a small smile, and Spock's brow furrowed at that response. Jim backtracked hastily, "I mean you're welcome."

Spock nodded at that and raised an eyebrow. "It has come to my attention that the unfortunate events of our last mission delayed our weekly chess match. If you are amenable to the idea, perhaps once you are discharged we can engage in a game?"

Jim smiled broadly. "Sure, that would be great. I won't be discharged until tomorrow, though. You could always grab a board and we could play here? If you're not too busy, I mean."

"I am off duty, but I do not wish to disturb you when you should be resting."

Jim rolled his eyes. "It's just chess, Spock. I won't even have to leave this bed. I think I can handle it."

Spock inclined his head. "Very well, I will gather the necessary materials and return shortly." He turned on his heel and exited the sickbay, Jim grinning at his back as he left.

Spock was back shortly, a fold-able chess set from the rec room held in one hand and a tray full of food in the other. Jim's stomach growled at the sight of it. Spock handed Jim the tray as he located a small side table and chair across the room, and he dragged them over next to Jim's biobed. Spock set up the board as Jim wolfed down the food on the tray, not bothering to inspect what exactly it was that he was eating - it tasted good and that was all that mattered. They made easy conversation and played quite a few matches, almost taking turns claiming victory, up until Jim started to yawn and rub at his eyes beneath his glasses. Spock won their last match and began to pack up the chess board, despite Jim's weak protests.

"I'm not even tired," Jim insisted, and yawned, causing Spock to raise an eyebrow in his direction. "I'm a little tired," Jim amended, but still didn't want Spock to leave just yet. He was enjoying their time together. "But let's play one more match."

"I would not be averse to continuing our matches tomorrow, once you have been discharged," said Spock. Jim leaned wearily back against his pillows and nodded. "I shall have Dr. McCoy inform me when he has released you, and I will meet you at your quarters when I am finished on the bridge."

A thought crossed Jim's mind and he frowned. "Thanks for keeping me company, Spock. I hope you know you don't have to just because I saved your life. I'm sure I can find something to keep me occupied if you're too busy or have better things to do."

Spock paused for a long moment, and Jim was genuinely worried that he was going to rescind his offer. Jim's heart was beating in his throat by the time Spock responded. "I consider our matches to be a rewarding pastime. It is not often I find an equal opponent that I may pit my intellect and strategy against, and I would not offer if I did not enjoy our time together, Jim."

Jim beamed at the captain. "If you say so," he replied, trying to sound more nonchalant than he felt.

Spock raised an eyebrow at him is response. "I believe I just did."

Jim laughed, and he thought he saw the tiniest smile twitch at the corner of Spock's lips. "You should rest," Spock told him gently as he made his way to the door.

"Alright, alright. See you tomorrow, Spock. Have a good rest of your day - night - whatever time it is."

Spock nodded his head in assent. "You as well, Jim," and rounded the corner out of sickbay.

Jim smiled to himself and nestled back into the biobed comfortably. He took his glasses off and placed the on the table next to his bed. He looked at the chair next to his bed, now glaringly empty, and his mind whirled with thoughts of the captain - the way he moved; the proper way he spoke, his careful choice of words; the glint of gold in his dark brown eyes; especially the way the tips of his ears went green when Jim said something that affected him, though he tried not to show it. Jim's eyelids drifted shut and he breathing began to even out as he drifted off. Lastly, he thought of the way Spock's lips twitched when Jim amused him, and as he fell asleep he vowed to himself that he would make Spock smile if it was the last thing he ever did.

---

"So what's up with you and the hobgoblin?" Bones asked while Jim changed into some fresh clothes and prepared to leave sickbay.

He tugged his shirt over his head and stared at Bones. "What?"

"The captain," Bones said impatiently, leaning against the doorway and crossing his arms over his chest. He frowned at Jim and furrowed his eyebrows. "There's obviously something going on, and I want to know what."

"Who said there's anything going on?"

"I did, considering he basically stood vigil here while you were unconscious, not to mention he asked me to inform him when you've been discharged."

Jim shook his head. "Nothing's going on, Bones," he replied, but he felt himself blush at the idea that Bones thought there might be. "We play chess."

Bones' eyebrows shot up. "Since when do you know the captain well enough to play chess?"

"Since CV-19883."

"You wanna elaborate on that?" Bones asked incredulously.

"Not really."

"You like him, don't you?" Bones accused.

Jim sighed, and sat on the edge of his biobed. "Yes, I like him. So?"

"So? He's completely inhuman, Jim. Practically a computer."

"No he isn't, Bones, and this is exactly why I didn't tell you about it." Jim looked at him irately. "I still don't understand how you can be an alien doctor and a xenophobe."

"I'm not a xenophobe!" Bones exclaimed. "I just can't trust someone who doesn't feel any emotions. It's like talking to a brick wall, but more annoying because it talks back in logic and mathematical figures."

Jim pinched the bridge of his nose. "Vulcans feel emotions, they just don't let them show because they don't act on them."

Bones threw his hands up. "Might as well be emotionless then, if no one else ever knows what you're feeling."

"Just because you disagree or can't understand, doesn't mean it's wrong," Jim told him, rolling his eyes. "It's their culture."

"Well I don't have to like it," Bones huffed, crossing his arms again. "Wait a second," he said, and leaned forward to peer at Jim's face for a long moment. Bones scowled. "You have feelings for him, don't you? More than just friendly feelings."

Jim leaned forward with hands on his knees, face in his hands, and groaned.

"I knew it!" Bones shouted. "I knew something was going on!"

"NOTHING IS GOING ON." Jim yelled, dropping his hands and looking up at Bones. "I'm serious, Bones. We just play chess, that's all. Sometimes we eat dinner and talk a bit. We sparred once. That's it."

Bones just gawked at him.

"What?" Jim asked.

"He never hangs out with anyone," Bones replied slowly. "In fact, you've probably seen him more in the past week an a half than anyone else has this whole space venture. Off duty, I mean."

Jim took a minute to ponder that, but shook his head dismissively. "So? That doesn't mean anything. Maybe he's shy."

"He's the captain," Bones pointed out. "And a Vulcan. I don't think they can be shy - wouldn't that be illogical? You two are friends!"

Jim looked blankly at the ceiling. "I don't know, Bones. Can I leave yet?"

"Oh no. We need to talk about how you plan on being his friend while you're secretly pining after him. And why you think that's even a remotely good idea. He's a Vulcan, Jim. What do are you expecting to get out of this?"

"NOTHING. I just like his company. I don't expect anything from him." Jim stood up. "Can I leave yet?"

Bones opened his mouth to argue some more but Jim decided he'd had enough and cut him off. "What about you, Bones? What's going on with Carol?"

Bones choked on whatever he was about to say, his face turning red. "Carol?" The doctor asked dumbly, brought up short.

Jim grinned at the sight. "Dr. Carol Marcus? You know, my fellow scientist and personal friend that seems to catch your eye every time she enters a room? Achingly beautiful and makes you drool? When are you gonna ask her out like you've been meaning to do for months now?"

Bones floundered for a moment and then stepped out of the doorway, pointing behind him "Just get out of my sickbay."

Jim took his opportunity to slip by the doctor and out into the hallway. "'Bye, Bones," he called gleefully, hurrying as far away from sickbay as possible.

When he got to his quarters, Jim immediately jumped in the shower to rinse the smell of hospital off him. Feeling better afterward, he glanced at the chronometer and realized he still had about an hour or so before Spock would be off duty. He went over to his shelf full of antique books and picked out a familiar title, Great Expectations, edges worn from years of use. He settled into the chair at his desk and dove into the story, getting lost in the pages from centuries prior.

Some time later his door chimed and it startled Jim out of his story. He laid the book down on his desk and rushed to open the door. On the other side was Spock, holding a tray of food in his hands. "Spock! Come in," Jim said as he moved to allow Spock entry to his quarters. He always had food with him, Jim noticed, as though he'd heard Jim's stomach growl twice before and was resolved never to hear it again. Spock set the tray down on the desk and Jim saw what looked like two bowls of plomeek soup on top of it, much to his surprise. Grinning, Jim said, "Why, Mr. Spock, you spoil me." Spock inclined his head but did not reply.

Jim went over to grab his chess board out of his closet. When he turned back around he saw Spock glancing over the collection of antiques that Jim had scattered around his room. There were various little trinkets that Jim had acquired from over the years, dating centuries back, and he loved to think of the history behind each one. Even his glasses could almost be considered ancient. His old books were his favorite, though, because unlike most of his other collectibles, the books were actually useful, and by far the most interesting. Someone had poured their heart and soul onto those pages and Jim loved keeping the memory alive.

Jim set the board down and walked over to stand next to Spock as he picked up a 1950's record disk and examined it carefully. "I've always loved old, forgotten things." Jim said in a quiet voice.

"Why?" Spock inquired, honest curiosity written on his face.

"I'm not sure," Jim admitted. "I suppose they remind me of the past, and it's important to remember where we came from, how we got here, and what came before us."

"Quite logical," Spock agreed, running his fingers along the spines of books, and Jim smiled.

"I'm glad you think so."

Spock gestured to the stack of microtapes on the shelf next to his books. "What is recorded on these?"

"Earth movies from the 21st century. I like to watch them when I get bored."

"I have never seen a 'movie'," Spock informed him, and Jim reacted with mock-horror, though he wasn't surprised.

"We'll just have to fix that, then," Jim muttered, rifling through his stack of tapes until he found the one he was looking for. "I'll just put this on to watch while we eat and play."

"That is amenable," Spock replied, moving to sit at one side of the desk, and began setting up the chess board. Jim walked around to the other side and placed the tape into his computer. He projected the screen onto the opposite wall and took his place at the table across from Spock.

They ate in silence as the title credits began to roll across the screen, the movie's logo WALL-E flashing briefly before starting in on the story. Jim watched Spock more than he watched the actual screen. He had already seen the movie a million times, and watching Spock's micro-expressions as he experienced it for the first time was far more interesting. Jim cleared the bowls after they finished eating and made the first move on the chessboard. He was pleased to note that each turn it took Spock a moment longer to decide his moves than it normally would; Jim surmised Spock was intrigued and distracted by the motion picture playing, and Jim considered that a success. He watched Spock out of the corner of his eye and suppressed a smile whenever Spock reacted minutely to certain parts of the movie. When Wall-e and Eve held hands for the first time, Spock's eyebrows furrowed in confusion, and Jim had to resist the urge to grab Spock's hand with his own, just to see his reaction. Jim's hand actually twitched in Spock's direction, but luckily the Vulcan was too preoccupied to notice.

It took the whole movie to finish one match, and Jim declared checkmate by a slight margin, though he too had been distracted the entire game, just not by the movie. Jim powered down the computer as the end credits began to roll onscreen. He turned to face Spock and looked at him expectantly. "Well, what's your verdict?"

"There were many moments that seemed unlikely and irrational, but despite those factors I found it quite entertaining."

Jim laughed. "I thought you might."

"However, there was one aspect I did not understand as I found it extremely unrealistic."

"Which part?"

"The relationship between the two main robots. They were not living and should not be sentient and yet behaved as such. I have not been able to conclude why they would desire a romantic relationship as it is illogical."

"It's just a movie, it's not supposed to be real or logical. It's for entertainment. Besides, how many planets have we visited that had inhabitants we wouldn't technically qualify as 'living'? They could still feel and expression emotions and desires." Jim raised his eyebrows at him, and Spock looked surprised he had not thought of it himself.

"I see," Spock replied. "I...had not considered it that way." He tipped his king over on the board, signifying his defeat.

"Want to play another round?"

Spock tipped his head in acknowledgement and together they reset the board. They played through the rest of the afternoon and it was well into the night before Spock left Jim's quarters. When he finally departed, Jim was feeling happy and more than a little longing for something he couldn't quite put his finger on. Jim picked his up his book off the desk and sat cross-legged on his bed. He read for a little while, until his eyelids grew heavy. He set aside his book and his glasses, turned off the lights, and laid his head on the pillow. As he closed his eyes and drifted away, he wondered how his heart could feel both light and heavy at the same time.

 

Jim returned to duty in the labs the next day and his shift passed uneventfully. He knew they were still a few days time away from the next planet they were visiting. The likelihood that Jim would see Spock while on duty was slim, but he still glanced towards the door periodically, as though the captain would come strutting through it, one eyebrow raised. He checked his PADD frequently as well - despite the fact that Spock had never messaged him on it - just in case. Jim was anxious in spite of himself, and he was restless in a way that he couldn't shake. However, Spock neither showed up 'unexpectedly' nor did he message Jim. And why should he? Jim thought to himself, disappointed though he knew he shouldn't be.

Jim sulked from the labs when his shift ended, his mood sullen. By some stroke of luck, he ran into one of the few people that could always make his day better. The familiar blonde bob of hair bumped intentionally into his shoulder when he wasn't paying attention, and he automatically reached out a hand to steady the person next to him, beaming when he saw who it was. "Carol!"

"Heya, Jimmy," She smiled up at him affectionately. "Free for a drink back at my quarters? We haven't caught up in a while."

"Absolutely," Jim agreed, Carol linked her arm through his, steering them both in the direction of her quarters.

Carol playfully nudged him in the ribs with her elbow as they walked side by side. "So you've saved a whole planet, had a near - death experience... you're basically a different person now. What's next, you become Captain?" She teased.

Jim laughed and pretended to scoff. "Don't be ridiculous. I look much better in blue. It brings out my eyes," He told her seriously, adjusting his glasses for emphasis.

She considered that for a moment and shrugged. "Can't argue that logic. Speaking of logic, rumor has it that the captain has been spending an awful lot of time in the presence of a certain blue-eyed, handsomely bespectacled science officer." They arrived at her cabin and after they entered she continued, "Now, you wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"

Jim inspected his cuticles. "I might know something about that. Who's spreading these rumors?"

Carol jumped up and clapped her hands excitedly. "Not rumors, exactly, but Chris told me that the captain nearly paced a path into the sickbay's floor after what happened on CV-19883. I'm really glad that you're okay, by the way."

Jim snorted. "Nurse Chapel, huh? I'll make a mental note to be more careful about what I do down in sickbay."

Carol waved off his comment and motioned for him to sit down, and Jim complied. She got out two short glasses, as well as a bottle of Saurian brandy, and filled them both. She took the seat next to him and offered Jim a drink. He accepted it and raised the glass to his lips to take a gulp. "She's not normally one for gossip, but I think she's got a major crush on the Captain."

Jim choked on the brandy. He coughed harshly for a moment and Carol patted him on the back sympathetically. When he recovered, he rasped out, "What do you mean, she's got a crush?"

"Oh, she talks about him all the time. She's oddly defensive of him, doesn't like when people criticize him. Chris gets so mad at Dr. McCoy sometimes because of it." She was smiled softly, then glanced at Jim and frowned. "What are you making that face for?"

Jim realized he was scowling. He tried to mask his expression into something more neutral but was doubtful he succeeded. By the strange look Carol was giving him, he suspected he was right.

"Now you just look constipated," she told him. "Is it possible that you're jealous?"

"Jealous?!" Jim asked incredulously. "Why would I be jealous?"

"You tell me. You never did explain why Captain Spock came to see you in sickbay..." Carol leaned forward and looked at him over their glasses.

"I saved his life," Jim said. "I suppose he wanted to thank me."

"Tell me everything."

So he took another shot and told her. Jim tried his hardest not to romanticize every encounter but couldn't help himself. He told her about every single interaction that he had had with the captain in the last two weeks. He told her about the way Spock's body moved when they sparred. He told her about the panic and desperation that drove him to dive in between Spock and that deadly flower. He told her about Spock's endearing reaction to the movie Jim had shown him. He told her about the chess matches, the easy conversation that accompanied them, and he told her about the way his heart annoyingly ached for it all.

By the end of it she was grinning at him with all her teeth. "You're totally infatuated with the captain!"

Jim hushed her even though there was no one else around to hear. "Don't say things like that," he said, scandalized. "I don't want to even think about it."

"Too late, honey. What's he like? Off-duty, I mean."

"He's not nearly as reserved as I expected. Not that he's emotional necessarily, but he's...thoughtful. Kind, even. Different than how I thought he would be. Warmer, somehow."

"Sounds to me like maybe he's similarly interested in you."

"No, no," Jim shook his head immediately. "He's the captain, and I'm just a science officer. Not to mention a Vulcan. There's no reason for him to be interested in me."

Carol clucked her tongue and touched his hand. "Don't sell yourself so short, Jim. You're an amazing person, and anyone would be lucky to have you."

"Thanks, Carol, but... its just not logical. We both know that." She gave him an empathetic look that he shrugged off, his face set in bittersweet acceptance.

"Don't lose all hope; you never know what miracles could happen in space. So," she hedged, obviously changing the subject for his benefit. "how much do you love me?"

"A lot," he said cautiously. "Why?"

"Enough to set me up with a grumpy old country doctor?" She asked hopefully, her eyebrows lifting up in a pleading expression. "You know I've had my eye on him for a while. Do you think he'd want to go out with me?"

Jim barked out a laugh. "Would he?"

"Is that a yes?"

"That's a 'Hell, yes'. I've been telling him to ask you out for ages. I didn't want to say anything to you and spoil it."

"Really?" When Jim nodded, she beamed. "Well, maybe I'll just have to make the first move myself, then." Carol tapped a finger to her chin thoughtfully.

"That might be a better idea," Jim agreed. "Bones can be pretty stubborn when he wants to be."

Carol laughed. "I have a thing for hard-headed men, just take a look at my dating record."

Jim raised and eyebrow and nodded. "You might be in over your head with this one. But if anyone can handle Bones, its you."

"Thanks," She grinned, and poured two more drinks for them both.

Jim groaned. "Are you trying to get me drunk?" He brushed the stray curl of hair out of his eyes. "I do have to work tomorrow, you know."

"Just one more won't hurt anything, I promise." Carol held her glass out to clink against Jim's and they tilted the liquid down their throats.

Jim was feeling pleasantly buzzed and happy, face flushed and cheeks a little sore from smiling. He loved Carol's company, and they had gotten along instantly when they first met at the beginning of the five-year mission. There was a brief period when they considered dating but ultimately decided they were too good of friends, and that the romantic relationship wouldn't last long term, so why risk it? It turned out to be a good decision, and Jim was happy at the idea of getting Carol and Bones together. They would be good for each other.

They chit-chatted for a while longer until he realized he was getting decently late. Jim rubbed at his face and sighed, feeling pretty content and yet still missing something. He tucked that thought away and stood up, stretching his back and shoulders. "I had better get going, Care. It was really nice to catch up with you. I'm sure you'll be hearing from me again soon."

She smiled up at him, cheeks rosy. "I better, or I'll be hunting your ass down, mister. Take care of yourself."

"You too," Jim bent down to hug her, squeezing tightly. He released her after a moment and kissed the top of her head before turning around and exiting her quarters.

He stood in the hallway for a moment and debated on whether or not to go back to his quarters. He decided not to, and headed in the direction of Bones' instead. The doctor would likely be awake still and he just couldn't wait to meddle in his love life. Bones admitted Jim into his quarters with little resistance as always, despite the grumbling comments he made.

Jim grinned at him wildly, and Bones rolled his eyes but smirked. "Drinking with the Scottsman again, Jim? That's never good."

"Oh, I wasn't with Scotty." Jim gave him his best shit-eating grin. "I was with Carol."

Bones' smirk dropped into a scowl and he looked at Jim suspiciously. "What do you look so happy for?" Bones asked slowly, then pointed a finger at Jim. "Stop it," he demanded. "I don't like it."

"You're such a grump. You should be thanking me."

"For what again, exactly?"

"Being a nosy, meddlesome bastard who happened to get you a date." Jim reached out and clapped Bones hard on the shoulder. "You technically still have to ask her, but she'll say yes. Turns out she's been after you for a while. You're welcome, by the way. Might want to keep a close eye on Nurse Chapel from now on, though - she might betray your secrets in the name of girl-talk if she hasn't already." Jim paused for a beat and then added offhandedly, "Did you know Chris apparently has a thing for the captain?"

Bones ignored that last comment and stood there for a moment in shock, mouth moving but no words coming out. Jim waited until Bones blinked and collected himself a minute later. He huffed and crossed his arms but looked pleased. "I was gonna ask her out eventually. I was...working up to it. Tryin' to be a gentleman, you know."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Sure you were, Bones. Just don't wait much longer or you'll be dead."

"Keep your nose out of it," Bones grumbled back. "Shouldn't you be getting ready for bed? You have work tomorrow and still need to be taking it easy for the next few days."

"I'm fine, Mom," Jim whined. "I'd much rather talk about your date."

"Get out," Bones said exasperatedly, jerking a thumb towards the door.

Jim stuck his tongue out at him but walked towards the door. "You're no fun," Jim said, and ducked around the corner before Bones could throw something at him.

"GET SOME REST," Bones hollered after him.

Jim chuckled all the way back to his cabin, his head and body buzzing nicely, bouncing on his toes, excited to see what trouble the next few days would bring.

Chapter Text

Jim reported back to the labs for his shift the next day, resigned to a long day of finishing the enormous amount of reports that had accumulated due to his procrastination and unfortunate injury. He sat diligently at his desk and got to work, spending the majority of his shift powering through the various case studies and projects. By the time he had made a sizable dent in his workload, his shoulders were sore from being hunched over his desk and his eyes were tired.

He sat up and rolled his shoulders, took his glasses off and rubbed up his face with his hands. His shift was almost over but he still needed Lt. Commander Burken's signature before he could submit his reports to Starfleet. He was tempted to wait until his next shift to hunt down Burken before he realized that the chief science officer was likely to be on the bridge at this time. Going up to the bridge meant possibly seeing the captain. Jim organized the files he needed signatures for on his PADD and stood hurriedly, heading for the bridge.

He entered the turbolift and pressed the button that would take him up to the bridge, and took a deep breath to try and settle the butterflies in his stomach. He futilely tried to brush his hair out of his eyes for a moment, then tugged his shirt down nervously. He had only went onto the bridge a couple times in the past, always without incident, but this time felt different. This time, he was trying to catch the captain's eye and he wanted to make a good impression. The lift ding-ed, signaling his arrival, and he adjusted his glasses with one hand, clutching the PADD tighter to his chest with the other as the doors opened.

Stepping onto the bridge never failed to give him a rush. He took a moment to process all the new lights and sounds, the beautiful symphony of it all. Sulu and Chekov were seated at the helm, Sulu chattering about a planet made of iron - silica that seemed to disappear. He stared wonderingly at the viewscreen, stars whizzing past in clusters of sparkles, before locating Burken's station to the right of him, his red hair standing out like a beacon, and he started in that direction.

He was so achingly aware of the captain sitting not too far away from him as he walked by. Spock caught his eye immediately, had clearly already been watching him before Jim turned to face him. Jim's breath caught in his throat but he returned Spock's gaze steadily. He adjusted his glasses, gave Spock a small smile and winked for good measure, trying to hide the nervous excitement he felt. Spock's expression was neutral and didn't change, but he did raise one eyebrow slightly, just enough for Jim to notice. Jim's smile widened. He tried to focus himself on the task at hand as he came to a stop behind Burken's chair, and he cleared his throat quietly.

"Lt. Commander Burken, I have some documents for you to sign off on before submission. If you don't mind..." He held out his PADD and stylus as Burken turned to address him.

Burken took the proffered items and scribbled his signature, not even bothering to look over the reports beforehand. He knew Jim was good at his job, too experienced for dumb mistakes. "Thank you, Kirk. I--" The PADD and stylus hit the floor loudly as Burken simply...disappeared, winked out of existence as though he'd never existed at all.

Jim cautiously waved a hand through the air where Burken had just been sitting. He turned to stare at the captain, who was already watching him with both eyebrows raised. "Captain...Burken's just vanished into thin air," Jim told him incredulously.

Spock leaned forward and looked at Jim intently, glancing behind him to take in Burken's now-empty chair as well. "Clarify, Lieutenant."

Jim waved his hand erratically. "He was sitting here a moment ago and now he's just gone. I... don't know how else to explain it, sir. There was no flash of light, nothing to indicate what happened."

Spock furrowed his eyebrows in thought and stood up from the captain's chair. He moved in Jim's direction and then--

 

Jim blinked rapidly and stumbled forward, felt hands grip his arms to steady him. Sulu had grabbed ahold of him and Bones was scanning him quickly with his tricorder. Burken and Chekov stood a few feet away, talking. Jim looked around in confusion - they were no longer on the bridge, and instead were in some strange place decorated like a medieval castle. Large drapes in rich colors hung from the ceiling and candelabras adorned the walls. Huge paintings were on display around the room depicting love and war, and a fireplace took up most of the east wall. A table set for ten was laid out in front of them, a grand piano set up a few feet away underneath a massive ornate mirror. In alcoves along the room's edges were various creatures frozen, positioned like trophies to be adored. Jim realized was standing in the arch of his own alcove and felt sick.

"What happened?" Jim demanded. "Where are we?"

"Right before you came onto the bridge, our sensors had shown an iron-silica planet nearby that wasn't supposed to be there. Burken disappeared, and then so did you a few moments later. We scanned the planet for any signs of life but found none, and then Uhura picked up a strange message coming from the planet. 'Greetings and felicitations! Hip hip hoorah, tallyho!' Spock rationalized that there had to be life on the planet and sent us three to beam down with hazard suits on. We stumbled across this huge circular area that sensors showed to have Earth-like conditions. We followed a path up to this castle and found you two, frozen. Bones injected you with something to wake you up and here we are. You've been gone for four hours," Sulu spoke fast, words nearly tumbling over each other.

"I tried to contact the ship but there's too much radio interference," Chekov said frustratedly. "I do not know how we are going to transport back."

"Salutations, gentlemen! Welcome to Gothos!"

The five of them jumped and whirled to face the center of the room, where a dark-haired man had suddenly appeared, wearing a blue waistcoat and jacket with far too many white frills at the cuffs. Sulu and Chekov drew their phasers, and Chekov tossed a spare one to Burken, who tried to take control of the situation.

"Who are you and why have you brought us here?" He demanded, raising his phaser to level it at the stranger.

The man merely laughed joyfully and sauntered forward, gesturing at the decor around him, "To show you my island of peace on this stormy little planet, of course. It has been so long since I've had visitors. Please excuse my unusual way of bringing you here, but I saw you passing by and simply couldn't help myself. Squire Trelane, at your service." He bowed low in front of them before nearly leaping upright once more and grinning at them wildly. "I can't tell you how pleased I am to be in your company! I've kept my eye on your planet, and I didn't think you were capable of such ventures! Did I get the decorations right, at least?"

"You're about 900 years too late," Jim observed, ignoring Bones' look of warning.

Trelane's expression fell in disappointment. "I've gotten it all wrong? How dreadful! I was so proud of the details, too. No bother - we'll still have just as much fun!" He was smiling gleefully again.

"What have you kidnapped us for?" Burken snapped impatiently, agitation clear on his face, cheeks almost the same shade as his hair.

Trelane frowned at him. "Kidnapped? No no, I've brought you here as guests! I want to know everything there is to know about your battles and conquests, you're missions and campaigns. Spare no gory details - I want to hear them all!"

"Our missions are peaceful," Jim explained. "We avoid battle unless absolutely necessary for survival."

"Is that the official story, then?" Trelane asked conspiratorially, winking in Jim's direction.

"We're explorers, not soldiers," Jim insisted, intrigued despite himself. "We don't seek to kill and destroy, but to learn and aid when needed."

"Ah, but we are all military men at heart, are we not? Do you not bear the ranks of soldiers?" Trelane turned to admire himself in the large mirror, straightening his jacket and adjusting his ruffles. "Do we not love our uniforms?"

"He's mad," Bones exclaimed exasperatedly.

"Enough of this," Burken barked, and fired his phaser at the squire. The gun whirred and lit up but nothing shot out of the barrel, and Burken looked at it in confusion. He tried to fire again and when still nothing happened, he banged the butt of the phaser against the palm of his other hand in frustration.

Trelane walked forward and plucked the phaser out of Burken's hands. He studied it for a moment before gesturing to a small switch on the side. "What does this do?" When no one responded, he flipped it, and watched as the phaser set itself to kill. "Ah yes, so you can choose to kill or not to." He aimed the phaser at one of his displays and fired, and this time the phaser did not malfunction. It obliterated the display in a second, and Trelane whooped happily. He aimed at a second one and fired again.

"Stop this ridiculous show of power!" Burken shouted angrily. "Take us back to our ship!"

Trelane looked him over for a moment, silent for longer than he had been since they arrived, and seemed to toy with the idea of sending them back. Jim held his breath, waiting for the pin to drop. After a minute Trelane seemed to come to a decision and shrugged. With a sigh he pointed his phaser at Burken quickly and fired. None of them had time to react before Burken disappeared from existence.

"No!" Bones cried out, lurching forward but unable to do anything to stop Burken's molecules from dissipating. Shock, sadness, and dread made a home in Jim's chest. "Damn it," Bones muttered furiously, turning to glare at their captor. Hatred burned in the doctor's eyes but he didn't dare speak out.

Trelane walked over to stand beside Jim and joined them in staring at the spot where Burken once stood. He handed the phaser he was holding over to Jim carelessly, apparently losing interest in its workings. Jim took it from him immediately, and asked calmly, "What did you do that for?"

"I didn't like him," Trelane said easily. Bones gave him a disgusted look. "You carry quite formidable weapons for claiming to be explorers. You could conquer millions of civilizations with those at your disposal!"

"Are you going to kill us next?" Bones demanded.

Trelane clapped delightedly. "Oh, how typical: you fear me because you don't understand me. You're probably dying to know how I'm managing all of this, aren't you?" He swept his arms out and gestured to the room. "Let's just say, my people have long since discovered how to transfer matter from place to place and also alter its shape at will."

"Let me get this straight," Jim said slowly, "You can manipulate matter however you want to? Into whatever you want?"

"Now you're getting it!" Trelane grinned. "Isn't this fun?!"

"Not exactly the word I'd use," Bones grumbled under his breath, and Jim gave him a warning glance.

"Careful what you say, Bones," Jim cautioned under his breath, "Try not to piss him off. We need to stay on his good side until we can figure out a way back to the ship."

"Now, then! Why don't we all sit down for a nice meal?" Trelane suggested, trying to herd them over to the dining table. Sulu, Chekov, Bones, and Jim huddled together and approached the table, which looked far too empty to enjoy a meal at. They stayed standing and resisted sitting down like Trelane so clearly wanted. Their host frowned, obviously displeased at their hesitant. "Go on, take your seats!" He encouraged, and when they still did not move, he drummed his fingers on the table impatiently. "I don't like to be kept waiting."

Their communicators all beeped once, and Chekov whispered under his breath, "Transporter signal."

"Sorry, Squire, but we're not that hungry. Besides, its past our curfew." Jim quipped as he felt the familiar tug of the transporter beam. He gave a sarcastic salute, and they began to dematerialize. The last thing he saw was Trelane stomping around in a childish fit, promising to bring down his wraith on them if they left.

They rematerialized in the transporter room, and Jim was grateful to see the familiar technology of the ship again. They all rushed off the pad to report back to the captain. A few moments later the four of the burst onto the bridge, panting slightly. Jim noticed they were speeding away at warp speed, as far from the planet as possible. Sulu and Chekov went to man their stations at the helm, while Jim and Bones walked up to flank either side of the captain's chair, staring intently at the viewscreen.

"Glad to have you back, Lt. Kirk," Spock greeted him with a nod. "Where is
Lt. Commander Burken?"

Jim felt despair briefly in his chest before he shoved it down ruthlessly. "Our captor shot him with his own phaser, sir. He didn't survive."

Spock's expression didn't change but his eyes softened. "That is unfortunate," he said quietly. "Tell me about your captor."

Bones and Jim relayed what had happened on Gothos, and described their unusual host. Spock's brow furrowed deeper and deeper as they continued, and he lined his fingers together under his chin as he thought. "We had tried to contact the ship without success until you found us. How did you find us, by the way?" Jim asked.

"I did not. I deducted that there had to be life somewhere on the planet, and instructed the transporter room to beam up all life forms in a given area."

"Consider me impressed, sir."

Spock tilted his head at Jim and gave him a long look. Jim felt his cheeks burn hot as their eyes met.

"Trelane's not here," Bones pointed out, and Spock broke eye contact to face the doctor. "Which means he's not alive - not by our standards, anyways. I scanned him discreetly while we were on the planet's surface and there was nothing to indicate who - or what - he was, except for the fact that he is not human."

"Fascinating." Spock raised an eyebrow.

Jim, for all that he was trying to pay attention, wondered if Spock had felt the intensity of their shared glance. Probably not, Jim surmised. He figured Spock would likely go mad if he experienced what Jim felt when they were near each other. Jim could barely stand it, and he wasn't Vulcan. It hadn't been long since he had started talking to the captain and yet Jim felt a sort of tugging on his soul in Spock's direction that he couldn't ignore. He certainly didn't want to ignore it, anyway.

"No weapons on display? How boring," a voice drawled, and Jim jumped, turning to find Trelane beside him.

The Squire of Gothos strolled to the center of the bridge, and came to a stop in front of the captain's chair. Spock regarded him carefully, and Trelane seemed to be sizing Spock up as well. "Well you definitely aren't human. The captain, no doubt?"

"Indeed. I am Captain Spock," Spock said levelly, rising to stand before Trelane. "You must be Trelane. For what purpose have you assaulted my crew?"

"They've told you about me, have they? How marvelous!" Trelane glowed, then glowered. "I merely borrowed your crewman for some good fun. I did not appreciate you taking my guests from me."

"They are not your guests, they are crucial operating personnel. You cannot--"

"I can do anything I please," Trelane interrupted menacingly. "I don't like your tone - it sounds like you are challenging me. Is that what you're doing, Captain?"

Spock fixed him with a steely glare. "I object to intellect without discipline, and to power without constructive purpose. I object to you toying with my crewman like game pieces. I object to you, Mr. Trelane, and everything you stand for."

Trelane chuckled goodheartedly, but his eyes were cold and without mercy. The look he gave the captain sent chills down Jim's spine. "I may need to punish you for you're insolence, Captain."

"No!" Jim exclaimed, and as Trelane looked at him curiously, amended, "I mean, what exactly do you want with us, anyway?"

"Entertainment, my dear fellow. Its so boring living by myself. I wanted to have a party, and your captain here ruined it. Oh!" He cried, clapping his hands to his chest, and his eyes zeroing in on Commander Uhura. "You have women aboard your ship! How quaint! This will make for a splendid time." Trelane bounded across the bridge to kneel at Uhura's side. "Greetings, Princess. Would you like to see a castle?" Uhura said nothing and simply stared at him. Jim saw impatience flash across the Squire's face and he stood, looking around with annoyance at the rest of the bridge crew. "Fine then. You don't want to play willingly? Then I shall just have to force you," he said, and snapped his fingers.

Jim found himself back inside the castle drawing room, staring at himself in the ornate mirror. He saw in the reflection that Bones, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura had been transported there with him. He turned to face them, each of them trading similar expressions of despair. Trelane stood at the head of the table, gripping the back of a chair, and held out a hand towards the empty seats. "Sit." It wasn't a suggestion, and yet still no one moved. Trelane's upper lip twisted into the briefest snarl before smoothing out into a calm expression. "Well, if you're going to be disobedient, then I suppose I'll have to show you who's in charge here." He snapped his fingers again, and Jim disappeared.

Jim was suddenly kneeling on the dead, barren ground of the planet outside of the Earth-like atmosphere. There was no oxygen in the air for his lungs to breath, and his hands automatically flew up to cup his throat as he choked on nothing. He tried to inhale and couldn't, coughing and gasping for a breath that he couldn't catch. Jim became dizzy as his lungs burned and constricted. He was on the verge of passing out when he suddenly reappeared inside the castle. Jim sputtered and his chest heaved as he gulped in the precious air. Bones dropped to his knees beside him and gripped his arm as Jim composed himself. He coughed a few more times and cleared his throat, staggering to his feet with Bones help.

"Hopefully now you'll be a bit more compliant," Trelane said cheerfully, and Jim glared at him but motioned for everyone to take their seats at the table. He didn't want anyone else going through the agony he had just experienced. They all sat down warily, unsure of what to expect next. A five course meal appeared abruptly before them, steaming and looking delicious despite Jim's lack of appetite. Trelane stayed standing. "Please, help yourselves. Forget about your foul moods and manners. Let us be merry and jovial! Let us share our stories of wit and cunning, adventure and victory!"

When no one touched the food or drink in front of them, Trelane slammed a hand down onto the table, the loud bang that followed causing Lt. Chekov to startle in his seat. Sulu laid a hand on his knee to steady him. "I insist," Trelane snarled, and they all piled their plates high with steaming food. Trelane watched triumphantly as Sulu lifted his fork to his mouth to take a bite.

They all watched with trepidation as Sulu chewed and swallowed. The look on his face was unpleasant but he seemed to be alright. Sulu leaned forward to whisper quietly over the table, "It's cold, and tastes like...nothing." They looked at each other in confusion for a moment before Jim picked up a piece of what seemed to be chicken and took a bite. Sulu was right - it had no taste whatsoever, and it was cold in spite of the steam rising from the plate. He chewed it quickly and swallowed, wanting the flavorless texture out of his mouth. Jim fought the urge to scrape his tongue off with his fingers.

Trelane walked around the table to stand in front of his grand mirror once more, adjusting his coat and surveying them in the reflection. "Now, introduce yourselves." They took turns muttering their names aloud in a circle. His eyes lingered on Commander Uhura for a moment and he turned around to face her. "Care to have a dance, milady?" He asked her grandly, holding out his hand with a flourish. She hesitated briefly before accepting his invitation, and let him sweep her up onto her feet. Trelane snapped his fingers and suddenly Uhura was wearing a beautiful ball gown, complete with dancing shoes, and drew her close to him before twirling them both around the room. The grand piano played itself, an upbeat waltz pouring from the instrument. Jim took the opportunity to lean forward and quietly address the table.

"He claims to have all this knowledge of Earth but they're only half-truths, right? So he's not all-powerful, which means he has to have some sort of weakness. He probably has a device helping him make his transformations - a computer of some sort. We just have to figure out what that is."

"It could be anything," Sulu pointed out. "Like looking for a needle in a haystack."

"Well, we have to do something," Bones argued. "We can't just wait for the captain to save us again. It won't be that easy this time around."

Jim watched Trelane and Uhura spin around the room, Uhura giggling and gasping delightedly to occupy their captor's attention. Trelane gave most of his attention to the lady but never took his eyes off of that damn mirror, seemingly obsessed with watching himself in it's reflection. "That mirror...there's something strange about it..." A plan started to form in the back of Jim's head.

"What are you thinking, Jim?" Sulu asked.

"Just follow my lead - I think I might have an idea."

"Care to explain?" Bones huffed, crossing his arms over his chest.

Jim shook his head. "No time, you'll just have to trust me."

He stood up and strode over to where Trelane was still dancing with Commander Uhura. He stepped into their path and grabbed Trelane's upper arm, forcing them to halt their dance. "I don't like the way you're treating the lady," Jim said loudly, narrowing his eyes and sneering at the Squire. "She isn't here for your amusement."

"I dare say she is enjoying herself, mister. Perhaps you're merely jealous of what I can do for her that you cannot." Trelane's eyes glittered mischievously and he did not relinquish his hold on Uhura.

She looked at Jim inquisitively over Trelane's shoulder and he looked back at her hard, trying to convey that she should stay silent. He focused back on Trelane and laughed cruelly, as though Jim had found his proposal preposterous. "Jealous of you? Why should I be? You're just an immature, unbalanced child."

"Watch what you say, or pay the consequence."

"I don't care what you threaten me with, just take your hands off her!"

Trelane stared at Jim unhappily, irritation beginning to line the edges of his face. "Why do you insist on fighting me now? We were having such a splendid time."

"I'll give you a fight, Trelane," Jim said. He shoved Uhura gently out of the way, breaking Trelane's grip on her, and punched the Squire squarely in the jaw. They both reeled from the impact, Trelane stumbling a few steps away and Jim's hand aching but ready to land another blow.

Trelane looked at him in amazement and grinned widely, as Jim expected. "A duel? This is even better than what I had in mind! I won't shrink away from a battle of honor!" He walked over to the mantle-piece and picked up a box from the shelf. From within the box he withdrew two dueling pistols. "A matching set," Trelane declared proudly. "Just like in your tales of old." He handed one of the two guns out to Jim, who accepted it.

"A shooting match?" Jim clarified, turning the pistol over in his hands and inspecting the chamber.

"Indeed, Mr. Kirk. But be warned: I'm an excellent shot. I never miss." Trelane walked to the other side of the room and gestured for Jim to move in the opposite direction. Jim did so and watched with satisfaction as Trelane settled himself directly beside his beloved mirror. "Are you ready?"

Jim looked at his fellow crew members and tried to give them a reassuring smile. Bones looked especially dissatisfied with the current situation. They gathered in a group a few paces away from where Jim and the squire were squaring off, and watched anxiously as Jim aimed and leveled his pistol at Trelane. "As ready as I'll ever be."

"On the count of three," Trelane declared, and shuffled his feet. Jim drew in a steady breath and focused on his target. "One, two..."

Jim fired at the mirror, and it shattered into pieces beside Trelane, sprinkling broken glass shards down around the Squire and onto the floor. Trelane shouted in shock and flung himself out of the way, brushing glass from his jacket and staring devastatingly at his now-broken artifact. Wires and circuit boards were evident in the broken gaps on the wall and Jim smirked.

"NO, NO, NO!" Trelane wailed, hands gripping the sides of his face and eyes bulging in their sockets. "YOU'VE RUINED EVERYTHING!"

"Subspace interference clearing. We'll be able to contact the ship in a moment," Chekov announced.

Trelane snarled in response and lunged toward the young crewman. Jim saw it coming and intercepted the Squire, hands coming up to grab his arms and shove him back against the wall. Trelane's fingers scrabbled for purchase on the front of Jim's uniform. "You will pay for this," Trelane spat, his hands finally managing to grab a fist-full of Jim's science blues, tearing his collar a bit at the seams.

"Jim, we're beaming up!" Sulu shouted at him from across the room. Jim tried to twist out of Trelane's grasp but was unsuccessful at prying the squire off of him. He glanced over his shoulder to see his four fellow officers waiting for him, and he shook his head.

"Just go!" He yelled, still wrestling with Trelane against the wall.

"Not without you," Bones argued, resisting the hands that Sulu and Chekov were laying on him.

"GO!" Jim bellowed, and he heard the familiar sound of the transporter take hold of the bodies behind him. He closed his eyes at the sound of Bones' last protest being cut off as they disappeared off the planet's surface, leaving Jim alone with the Squire.

He was eventually able to throw Trelane away from him, stumbling back to put distance between them. "Its just you and me," Jim gasped. "No fancy device to help you now."

"That's where you're wrong, Kirk. You'll be sorry for the mistakes you've made today," Trelane sneered, hair a mess on his head, clothes torn and dirty. He drew himself up to full height and snapped, disappearing from the room.

"Shit," Jim cursed, spinning around to catch a glimpse of the Squire and failing. He hadn't been planning on Trelane being able to use his powers without that computer. Now that Jim knew he could...well, he was fucked. There was no other way to put it. Jim put a hand to his forehead and sighed, trying to figure out what he could possibly do next. He tried to signal the ship again to no avail. He was now trapped, with no back-up, on a hostile planet with a very pissed off, matter-manipulating alien life-form.

One second he was standing by himself in the midst of the ruined drawing room, and the next he was in an old-fashioned, darkened courtroom, standing trial for whatever crimes Trelane thought he had committed. Trelane stood before him as judge, jury, and executioner. A long rope hung from the ceiling with the end tied into a noose, and Jim knew he was doomed.

"Trelane," Jim started, knowing it was futile but needing to try anyways.

Trelane held up a hand to stop him. "The accused may approach the bench but anything you might say has already been weighed against you."

"So I am to have no real defense?" Jim asked furiously, though not surprised.

"You had your chance, Kirk. Now you must face the consequences of your actions. I did warn you I would be angry if you didn't listen to my instructions."

"Do what you want with me, but let the Enterprise go free. Her missions are of more import than my life and I was the one who ruined your game. Take out your anger on me, as it is deserved, but they have done nothing to you. There are innocent lives aboard that ship. Let them go," Jim pleaded.

"Then you do admit to the guilty charges?" Trelane pressed, leaning over the bench to leer at Jim.

"Yes, anything!" Jim agreed impatiently.

"Then according to your own laws, your admission causes to court to find you guilty on all accounts!" Trelane shouted. "You shall be hanged by the neck for your crimes, Mr. Kirk, until you are dead, dead, DEAD!" He banged the gavel and rose from his seat, walking down to stare Jim in the face. "Do you have any last requests?"

Jim laughed a bit maniacally. "If you think I'm going to willingly stick my head in that noose, then you are sadly mistaken."

Trelane sighed and rolled his eyes. "This is getting tiresome, Kirk. You still fail to understand that you have no choice in the matter. It's all too easy to bend you to my will."

"That's your problem right there. Everything is so easy for you that you're missing the opportunity to feel the struggle of things. You're about to commit murder and yet you think it's a tiresome inconvenience. Where's the anger, the heat, the intrigue of it all? You felt it just a minute ago because of me. You're so bored, Trelane? Then have some fun, make a sport of it." Jim felt sweat at his temples and fought the urge to wipe it off. He knew it was a gamble but couldn't see any other way out of his situation. He hoped he could outsmart the squire long enough for a miracle to happen.

"Sport? I don't understand." Trelane narrowed his eyes in confusion.

Jim sighed dramatically. "You're right, hanging me is too easy. Why not let me have a fighting chance? That way, your victory is all the more real and satisfying. You truly will have bested me by the end of it."

Excitement was obvious on the Squire's face. "What exactly are you suggesting?"

"Give me a head start and set me loose on the Earth-like portion of your planet. Let us see who the better man is. You can hunt me down and I'll give you a contest to remember, but only if you let my ship fly free of your influence."

"I don't care about your ship any longer - I have you now. In fact, I bet your ship is long gone away from here." Trelane waved his hand dismissively. "I agree to your terms. You'll die either way - no use wasting the perfect opportunity to study the ways of you humans. Predator against predator." Trelane smiled hungrily. "Did you know that humans are one of the only species that makes a habit of preying on itself? Now I shall know the compulsion behind it."

"I'm glad this is all a game to you - that lost lives mean nothing." Jim spat, wearing a repulsed expression. "Life is supposed to be precious, not wasted for your amusement."

"And yet your kind kill frequently without a second thought. You should not be lecturing me about the morals of life, Kirk, when you're barely advanced enough to even know what true life is."

"True life?" Jim asked incredulously, a laugh on his lips. "You mean like you? If 'truly living' means toying with people just for the sake of it, just because you can, without rhyme or reason to the madness, then I guess you might as well just kill me now. That isn't a life worth living, Trelane."

Trelane gritted his teeth and snapped his fingers. The courtroom fell away, dissolving around them and suddenly they were outside in the Terran foliage as though they always had been. Jim blinked but forced himself not to react otherwise to the sudden change of scenery. He didn't want to give Trelane the satisfaction of Jim showing surprise at his display of power. Trelane took a few steps forward until they were nearly nose to nose, and wagged a finger in Jim's face. "Now remember, Kirk. You promised me a hunt to remember - you musn't let me find you too quickly."

Jim opened his mouth to respond scathingly, but Trelane had already disappeared. He took in his surroundings quickly before heading into the trees for cover. Flipping open his communicator, Jim tried to signal the Enterprise but got no answer, and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. He took off further into the greenery and heard Trelane's laughter echo through the trees. His heart was beating in his throat, and he crouched down behind a bush to survey his surroundings and perhaps formulate some sort of plan.

Jim glanced around and saw no trace of Trelane. Suddenly a thin, razor-sharp sword was plunged through the branches beside him, inches from his face. He lurched backwards immediately, getting to his feet. Trelane stood on the other side of the underbrush, an insane smile plastered across his face.

"Too easy, Kirk," he cackled. "Oh, but this is fun, isn't it!"

Though was not proud of it, Jim turned and ran in the opposite direction, hearing Trelane's crazy laughter follow him. Trelane suddenly appeared out of thin air in front of him, and Jim only just dodged the blow Trelane attempted to deliver with his rapier by throwing himself forward into a somersault. Jim rolled and came up on his feet just in time to dodge another swipe of the Squire's sword. Spotting a spare broken branch lying a few feet away from him, Jim lunged towards it and scooped it up into his hands right as Trelane brought the sword down from over his head towards him. Jim braced the branch with both hands and blocked the blow, managing enough leverage to knock the rapier out of Trelane's hands. Jim dove forward and hit the ground hard, scrabbling to catch it and succeeding. He rolled over onto his back, rose up on one elbow and pointed the sword at Trelane with his other arm as Trelane took a few steps towards Jim at a leisurely pace.

Jim was panting and winded, dirty hair hanging in his face and glasses askew. Trelane looked about as rumpled as if he'd taken a stroll around the block on a sunny day. Jim wasn't sure how long he could keep their game of cat-and-mouse going. He was going to exhaust himself at some point. Part of him, the small dark part of him, whispered that it would just be easier to die here and now. Why bother fighting any more when it was hopeless? It was going to happen eventually, and it was beginning to be a lot of work, staying alive. Perhaps he could finally rest.

The larger part of him steadied the rapier in Trelane's direction, and he cleared his throat loudly. "Is that all you've got?"

Trelane smiled, sighed, and snapped his fingers. The sword's reassuring weight disappeared from Jim's hand and he watched as it popped into existence in Trelane's, who waved it tauntingly towards Jim still propping himself up on the ground.

The Squire lowered the tip of rapier until it came to a stop against Jim's chest. He could barely feel the blade's sharp point through the fabric of his science blues. Trelane clucked his tongue and sighed disappointingly. "I told you," he crooned. "Far too easy. I always win. Get on your knees so that I may chop off your head for a trophy."

Jim gritted his teeth. "No."

Trelane pressed the sword forward enough to prick Jim's skin and he felt the stinging pain of it at the center of his sternum. "ON YOUR KNEES, KIRK."

Instead, Jim dropped from his elbows to lay flat on the ground. He kicked out with one foot and felt it connect with Trelane's arm. The sword was forced away from him, the tip slicing shallowly across his chest as he scrambled to his feet, arms out and ready to keep fighting for his life. Small beads of blood welled up at the wound on his chest as he waited for Trelane's next move. Jim steeled himself for another struggle as Trelane moved towards him menacingly when a bright green light blinded them both.

Jim staggered back and put up a hand to shield his eyes. Trelane cried out as though he someone had kicked his puppy. As the light dimmed to a slight glow, Jim cautiously looked up to see two lights hovering in the air above Trelane, no shape or corporeal form to either of them, and Jim was shocked to the core when the lights began to speak.

"Come now, Trelane," one of them said. "It's time to end your game."

"No!" Trelane whined, and to Jim's utter astonishment, impetuously stomped his foot. "I wasn't done playing yet!"

"This has gone on long enough," the other one said, it's voice deeper than the first. The lights dimmed and brighted, flickering in accordance to their words, winking at Jim from their place in the air. Jim was vaguely aware that his mouth had dropped open at their appearance and was still hanging there, and he shut it hastily.

"No, no, NO!" Trelane screamed, arms flailing, throwing a proper tantrum now. "You said I could have this planet and could do whatever I pleased with it!"

"You're being cruel," the first voice replied calmly. "If you don't take better care of your pets then we won't let you have any in the future."

Despite the absurdity of it all, Jim still had the sense to be offended at that statement.

"BUT I WAS WINNING," Trelane insisted, reminding Jim very much of a five year old child.

"No, Trelane," the deeper voice said. "Come along." Trelane sobbed dramatically and slowly faded from view. Jim stood there and watched stupidly, unsure of how to proceed, when the voices addressed Jim next. "We are sorry for how this has effected you. We wouldn't have let our child stop the vessel you were on if we had known the trouble he would cause."

"Who are you, or rather - what are you?" Jim asked dazedly.

"It is of no consequence. We will allow you to contact your ship and shall maintain your life functions until you have left. Please forgive us." The lights dimmed until there was nothing left, and Jim took a moment to look around him and wonder what the hell just happened.

His brow furrowed as he realized what the being's had said about him contacting the ship. There was no way the Enterprise was still anywhere near Gothos. After everything that had happened - the kidnapping of crew members, the loss of Lt. Commander Burken, and the obvious threat that the Squire had presented against the ship - logic dictated that the captain steered the Enterprise as far away from Gothos as possible. The hope that had risen in his chest plummeted deep into his stomach, making him feel sick as he realized just how screwed he had to be. He ran a hand through his hair and exhaled. What was he supposed to do now?

His communicator chirped, making him jump. He started at it in surprise for a moment before flicking it open. "Kirk here," he said tiredly, rubbing his forehead, most of him still not expecting a response.

"Jim! Good God man, it's great ta hear yer voice again. You've had all of us worried out of our minds. We've got a lock on your location..." Scotty's familiar lilting accent came through the speaker and he could hear Bones' familiar voice shouting in the background. Jim's knees nearly gave out in relief.

"You're a miracle worker, Scotty." Jim gasped. "Please beam me up."

Chapter Text

Bones was standing directly in front of him when he materialized on the transported pad, and Jim didn't even mind the doctor fussing over his minor wounds. He swept Bones up into a swift hug and clapped the older man on the back, squeezing tightly for a moment before releasing him. Bones looks rumpled but pleased, and Jim only felt a tiny bit bad about smearing his blood across the front of Bones' shirt.

Jim still wasn't quite sure how he had managed to get away mostly unscathed. This was, perhaps, the first time that luck had been in his favor. Bones seemed satisfied that none of Jim's wounds were life-threatening, and cuffed Jim over the head with his palm. "Don't do anything that reckless ever again, Jim. You almost gave me a heart attack."

"Probably saved your life though," Jim pointed out, spreading his hands wide in a placating gesture. "Sorry, Bones, but that's not a promise I could keep. I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

"You're gonna send me to an early grave," Bones griped. "Go take a shower, you reek."

Jim laughed. "Yes, sir," he said playfully, shooting Bones a sarcastic salute. Bones practically shoved Jim out of the transporter room and followed a second later. They walked together for a short minute, bumping shoulders in companionable silence, before they parted ways, Bones headed for the sickbay and Jim turned towards his own quarters.

He entered his cabin with a huge sigh of relief. He stretched his muscles and groaned at how they protested, at how his joints popped and ached after the disaster that was today. Jim stood in the center of his room and just took a few minutes to stare blankly at his feet, trying to process the days events. He rubbed a hand down his face tiredly and eventually began peeling his sweaty, dirty uniform off of his sore body. He threw articles of clothing haphazardly on the floor, leaving a trail of untidiness behind him as he headed for the shower.

Jim walked past the bathroom mirror as he reached for the shower chamber door and paused. He had caught a glance of his reflection and stopped to study it a bit closer. His hair hung limply in his face, greasy from perspiration and sticking to his glasses. Dirt and flecks of blood were smeared across his cheeks, and his bottom lip was bleeding, his chin a bit of a mess from where he had scraped it against the ground. Various bruises were starting to form on his chest and shoulders. Jim's body looked like a tired wreck but his eyes had never seemed more alive, still bright from the excitement of battle and impossibly blue.

He took off his glasses and placed them on the counter before entering the shower. Deciding that he deserved a little extra pampering, he switched the setting from sonic to water and reveled in the warm stream that began to flow from the ceiling. He stood under the water longer than he probably should have, not thinking, not having the willpower at that particular moment to excersize any self control, and was well aware of the ridiculous amount of time that passed before he shut off the shower and stepped out to wrap a towel around his waist. He kept the towel secure with one hand as he grabbed his glasses with the other end exited the bathroom.

As he approached the main area of his cabin his doorbell rang, and Jim hastily put on his glasses before allowing the requested entry. The captain paced quickly through the doorway and Jim's heart jumped into his throat. He had assumed it was Bones at the door, although in hindsight the doctor probably would have just walked in without asking first. Jim tried to inconspicuously adjust his posture so that he was standing more properly upright, attempting to grasp at some semblance of dignity while standing before his captain in only a towel.

Spock dragged his eyes up and down Jim's body and raised an eyebrow but said nothing about the state of his undress. "Mr. Kirk, I assume Dr. McCoy has examined you?"

Jim cleared his throat and nodded. "Yes, sir. Just some scrapes and bruises." Jim shrugged. "Nothing I can't handle."

Spock folded his arms behind his back. "That is most fortunate. It would have been a great loss to the crew if something were to have happened to you on Gothos. I admit, I am impressed by the way that you handled the situation, especially in light of Lt. Commander Burken's death. I am certain that without your intervention there would have been many more casualties."

Jim flushed and rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly with his free hand. "I only did what I could, Spock. Anyone else would have done the same."

"No one else did," Spock pointed out, raising an eyebrow and taking a step closer. There was only a couple of feet between them now. Jim was suddenly very aware that all it would take was a slip of his fingers and his towel would drop, leaving him completely nude in front of the Vulcan. He wondered how Spock would react, if he would be angrily scandalized, or curiously interested, or simply just confused. His hand tightened on the towel - his thoughts were ridiculous and would only get him into trouble.

Realizing Spock was waiting for a response, Jim shook his head to clear it and said, "You stayed behind for me. Wouldn't it have been more logical to protect the rest of the crew instead? Why didn't you leave?"

Spock hesitated, and Jim raised his eyebrows in surprise. It was rare that the Vulcan didn't have an immediate retort on his lips. "In most cases, I believe the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few," Spock admitted. "In this circumstance, however, I determined the needs of one were a heavier burden than he could handle alone. Dr. McCoy also made various threats upon my life should I decide to leave you on Gothos."

Jim laughed and ran a hand through his damp hair. "Well I'm certainly glad you came back for me. Thank you for that."

"You are welcome, Jim," Spock replied, his voice low.

Jim was still fairly wet from his shower and could feel beads of water running down his back and chest. He watched Spock's eyes follow a trail of moisture that dripped down his sternum and ran over the firm muscles of his abdomen, stopping only when it disappeared into the towel slung lowly around his hips. Spock's eyes snapped up to meet Jim's for a heated moment before darting away from him to pointedly study the wall. Jim swallowed audibly, bringing Spock's attention back to him. His mouth went dry under Spock's gaze, and Jim licked his lips. "Was there something I could do for you, Spock?"

Spock shook his head and some part of Jim was disappointed, though he wasn't sure what he could have possibly been hoping for. "I came to ascertain the status of your health and to deliver your schedule and duty changes." Spock handed him a PADD and Jim stared at it in confusion.

"Schedule and duty changes?" He repeated uncomprehendingly.

Spock cocked his head to the side as he explained. "Lt. Commander Burken was the head of the science division aboard this ship. Now that he is now longer with us, it is customary that his second in command take over his responsibilities. That would be you, Mr. Kirk. I can arrange for a promotional ceremony if you wish."

He stared at the captain blankly. "I hadn't even considered it," Jim told him honestly, a little stunned. He composed himself and waved the PADD around. "That won't be necessary. I'll look this over tonight and report to the bridge in the morning."

"That is agreeable," Spock nodded. He pivoted on one foot and made his way towards the exit. He had almost made it to the door when he stopped abruptly, keeping his back to Jim. He paused quietly as though he was unsure of what he wanted to say.

Jim, still wet and gripping his bath towel tightly with one hand and the PADD with the other, heart pounding in his chest, asked, "Sir?"

"I...am pleased that you are in good health and that tragedy did not befall you on the planet Gothos. I was concerned for your safety during your absence."

"Me too." Jim smiled wryly.

Spock inclined his head and opened the door. "Goodnight," he said softly, and disappeared through the doorway, the door sliding shut after him.

Jim took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. He walked over to his dresser and pulled on a pair of shorts before collapsing on his bed with the PADD Spock had given him. Jim's pulse spiked anxiously at the though of being promoted to Lt. Commander. He had only technically been on one away mission after all. Now he was supposed to pretend to know what he was doing?

Jim read over the specifics of his new responsibilities and took into account his new schedule. Surprisingly, everything seemed well within his capabilities and his nerves settled. He had handled himself pretty well in the last week, he reasoned. He knew he was accustomed to surviving in high-pressure situations - there was no reason to believe he wouldn't be able to handle this new obstacle as well. Jim decided to put it out of his head until tomorrow and let his mind wander to not-so-professional thoughts. As Chief Science Officer, he would be on the bridge with the Captain for nearly every working shift. He wondered if that was a good or bad thing.

His stomach fluttered at the thought of spending more time in Spock's presence, and he came to the conclusion that it would be a tortuously glorious thing. The real question was, how was he going to be able to handle it? Jim groaned - he really needed to get over his illogical little crush on the captain. Not so little, he surmised, but it didn't matter. Nothing would ever come of it and the sooner he embraced that the better. Any other train of thought would just lead to heartache. There was no point in ruining a potential friendship with the Vulcan just because he happened to be the smartest man Jim's ever met, not to mention the best Captain in Starfleet, with dreamy chocolate brown eyes...

Jim flopped his head down against his pillow and groaned. He was so fucked.

 

-----

A package of new sciences blues was at his door the next day, sleeves all modified to reflect his new rank. His first week of bridge duty is uneventful. Jim would almost even say it was boring, except for the fact that his new station was maybe five feet from the Captain's chair. And that was anything but boring. There were many small smiles shared and encouraging glances given to him by the captain, and Jim spent a ridiculous amount of time telling himself to stop thinking about Spock and to get back to work.

Luckily for him, he started his new position during a week of little activity, which meant plenty of time to acclimate to his new environment and just enough down time to make himself...distracted. They were on their way to Starbase 37 for supplies and a short break for the crew members. The Enterprise was scheduled to arrive shortly and Jim was eager for a change of scenery. Perhaps he and Spock could even spend some time together on the base. Jim daydreamed about the possibilities and soon they were getting ready to dock at the station.

The large structure seemingly floated in dead space before the ship, getting larger on the viewscreen as they approached the dock. Sulu and Chekov carefully navigated the ship into place and officially announced their attachment to the station aloud. The captain dismissed the crew over the intercom for the next 36 hours and everyone on the bridge stood and made their way towards the turbolift in groups. Jim turned to find Spock, but his heart sank as he saw the captain approach his first officer, heads bent low and talking intently. Uhura threw her head back suddenly and laughed. An ugly feeling started to grow in the pit of Jim's stomach and he squashed it immediately. Uhura was an amazing woman and an even more amazing officer - if there was anything going on between her and the captain, Spock would be lucky to have her.

It made sense really, Jim thought dejectedly, there was no one on-board better suited for the Vulcan. Jim made his way quickly to the lift, wanting to avoid having to share with the two of them. So what if Jim and Spock had played chess twice already this week? That meant nothing, he reminded himself viciously; they were building a working relationship and that was the end of it. He managed to get into the lift right before its descent and told himself he had imagined Spock looking at him as the doors closed between them.

Jim met Bones in sickbay and together they walked to the transporter room for beam down. Jim wanted to look through the shops for antiques and Bones wanted to get wasted the bar - Jim had suggested they do both together and the doctor had agreed. They decided to hit the shops first, fearing they might cause a scene if they were to try and shop inebriated. There were a few things that caught Jim's eye as they wandered from store to store but nothing worth buying, until they came to the last shop on the base.

Bones walked up to the counter as Jim started to scour the shelves and racks. "My friend here has an interest in old-world antiques. You wouldn't happen to have anything like that around here, would ya?" Jim heard Bones ask the cashier, who responded too quietly for Jim to overhear. Bones returned to Jim's side a moment later as Jim had made his way through to the back of the store. "Owner says he just sold the only antique he had left - some Earth book you probably already have in your collection. Find anything else or are you ready to grab some drinks?"

Jim was about to say they might as well leave when his hand brushed against soft fabric, and he looked to see what had caught his attention. A fine robe in deep red was hung on the rack beside him. Thick gold embroidered symbols lined the sleeve cuffs and the long bottom hem that was dragging on the floor. A thick sash wrapped around the middle to keep the fabric shut. Jim ran his hand down the front of it just to feel the softness of the material once more, then grabbed the tag to find it's point of origin.

He sucked in a breath as he read *Manufactured on the planet Vulcan* in lined calligraphy. He hesitated for a moment before grabbing it impulsively and marching towards the counter. Bones said nothing but his sour expression spoke volumes. Jim paid for the robe and had it transported back to the ship. He turned to Bones and gripped his shoulder tightly, grinning. "Let's get drunk."

They went to the first bar they came across as sat down at a high-top table. Their waitress was Orion, very pretty, and obviously appreciated the look of Jim. He was kind to her but tried to discourage her interest. Once they got their drinks, Bones took a long swig of his and looked at Jim intently. Jim returned the look expectantly as Bones paused before finally managing to spit out: "I asked Carol on a date."

Jim grinned widely, clapping Bones between the shoulder blades. "About time, Doc. Tell me everything."

Bones huffed. "There ain't much to tell. I swung by the science labs today, asked her if she'd be interested in having dinner with me tomorrow night and she said yes. End of story."

"Dinner?" Jim groaned. "You're so boring."

"Says the man trying to woo his Vulcan captain with endless chess matches. How's that working for you, by the way?" Jim bumped Bones with his shoulder as the older man tried to take a drink, making him dump liquor down the front of him. Bones scowled and wiped up the spill with a bar napkin. "You're a child," Bones grumbled at him, and Jim just smirked.

"Are you nervous?" Jim asked.

Bones took a large gulp of his bourbon. "I'm a nervous wreck. This is the first date I've gone on since the divorce. I don't even know how to do this anymore."

"You've been with other people since your ex," Jim reasoned. He knew better than to say her name.

"There have been a few hook-ups, but that doesn't require anything except takin' my clothes off!" Bones took another long drink and signaled to their waitress for another glass.

"You just have to stay positive," Jim said soothingly. "You're the best doctor that Earth has to offer - surely you can handle one dinner with another brilliant doctor-slash-scientist."

"I'm a doctor, not a match-maker," Bones sighed. "Maybe this was a bad idea."

"No!" Jim assured him. "This will be good for both of you, I promise. You guys were practically made for each other. Tell you what, I'll stop by tomorrow before your date and help you get ready. Everything will be just fine."

"If you say so," Bones said as a fresh drink was put down in front of him. Jim asked for a round of shots and laughed when he saw the expression on the doctor's face.

"Just something to help you forget your nerves," Jim placated, and Bones rolled his eyes.

"Do you see me complainin'?" Bones asked and grinned. They clinked their glasses together and downed the liquor, both wincing from the burn.

Many more shots were had as the night progressed, and by the time last call rolled around, Jim and Bones were leaning on each other heavily and both fairly intoxicated. Enough so that they found just about everything they came across to be absolutely hilarious, including the sound of the transporter beam and the sight of two ensigns making out in the corridor outside Jim's quarters. Jim's sides hurt from laughing too much. Bones collapsed in a stupor on Jim's couch as soon as they entered his cabin and fell asleep, snoring almost immediately. Jim snorted and laid down face first on his bed without removing his glasses, not taking long to drift off to sleep himself.

In the morning Jim's doorbell woke them up, the loud beeping startling them both into consciousness. Bones groaned and grabbed his head, trying to bury it into the couch cushions. Jim scrambled to get up and in his still-half-asleep confusion, got his feet twisted in the bed sheet. He fell and hit the floor hard, grunting loudly. Bones sat up abruptly and looked over at Jim through squinted eyes, hair standing up on his head in disarray.

Jim disentangled himself and somehow managed to answer the door. Spock stood on the other side of the doorway. Jim watched Spock take in his disorganized state and flushed. He stepped aside to allow the captain entry to his quarters, and Spock hesitated momentarily before stepping inside. He zeroed in on the doctor immediately and looked distinctly uncomfortable.

Jim rubbed a hand down his face and willed himself to be more alert than he felt. His own head was pounding lightly but he managed to push that aside for the time being. "What can I do for you, Spock?"

Spock made a point of looking over at the doctor before he spoke. It was only then that Jim noticed he was holding a wrapped package under one arm, and Spock was fiddling with a loose piece of the wrapping paper. Jim didn't think he had ever seen Spock perform such an oddly human action before, and he wondered if Vulcan's got nervous. Why he would be nervous now was beyond Jim, but that's what Spock's body language seemed to be saying. "I wanted to speak with you briefly, but if this is not a good time, I can return later."

Bones scowled as he took in the captain and got to his feet, still wearing his shoes from the night before. "Captain. I'm just leaving," he said gruffly, running a hand through his hair, looking back and forth between Jim and the captain. "Jim, I'll see ya later."

"Later, Bones," Jim called as the doctor made his exit. He turned his attention back to Spock, who seemed to relax a little after the doctor left. He handed the package he was carrying over to Jim, who looked at him in confusion. Spock seemed to be out of his element, and maybe... even a little bashful?

Jim was bewildered. "What's this?" He asked, holding up the package.

Spock stared at a fixed point somewhere over Jim's left shoulder. "I came across it during my short visit down to the starbase. It seemed as though it would serve as a fitting 'thank you' gift in exchange for saving my life. I hope you find it to your liking."

Now Jim was really taken aback. "Spock, I don't need a gift for saving your life. You've saved mine, along with the rest of the crew, countless times over."

"Be that as it may, this seemed more...personal. I thought perhaps a gift might be appropriate, but if I am overstepping-"

"No!" Jim said hastily. "No, I just...wasn't expecting it, that's all. Thank you, Spock. That's very kind of you." Spock was staring at him blankly, and Jim realized suddenly that he was waiting for Jim to open it. Jim tore the wrapping paper off and glanced down at the book in his hands. His eyes widen as he read the title, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens - one of the books he had been wanting to find in his spare time. He ran his fingers over the lettering and looked at Spock in amazement, feeling touched that the captain had thought of him at all, let alone remembered his interest in antiques.

He suddenly remembered the robe he had purchased yesterday and laughed softly under his breath. He set the book down on his desk rummaged through the bag sitting beside it, pulling out the gift he had gotten for the captain. "Great minds think alike," he murmured, offering the article of clothing to Spock, who took it from him tentatively. Jim watched as he unfolded it and examined the Vulcan symbols. His brown eyes widened at Jim, looking vulnerable and unhindered for the briefest moment as he trailed his long fingers delicately across the soft fabric.

"Thank you, Jim." Spock told him, voice low and colored with something that Jim couldn't identify.

Jim smiled, cheeks flushing. "Don't mention it."

"Would you be interested in a chess match later this evening, perhaps over dinner?" Spock looked nearly hopeful.

"That sounds great," Jim replied, a bit too eagerly for his liking. "I'm helping Dr. McCoy get ready for a date, but I could stop by afterwards?"

Spock considered this and nodded. "I will see you tonight then."

"Tonight," Jim confirmed, smiling at the little nod Spock gave him in return before he left. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. He still had a few hours before he would have to meet Bones, so he plopped back down on his bed and settled in, falling back asleep almost instantly.

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

Jim had a little more composure the second time his doorbell startled him awake. He opened his eyes and sat up slowly, glaring in the direction of the door and sighed heavily. He ran a hand through his hair and felt the strands standing up in every direction, a honey brown halo of chaos around his head. Jim opened the door to find Carol facing him, leaning against the door frame. She took one look at the disgruntled look on Jim's face and laughed, pushing past him into the room. "Rough night?" She asked, which Jim just ignored.

He shut the door behind her, rubbing at his forehead. "Rougher than I thought, I guess. What about you, what's up?"

"I need your help," she said desperately. "I'm in really big trouble, and I don't know what to do."

Jim turned around to face her. She looked up at him with pleading eyes, lips pouted, hands clasped together in front of her. Christ, her bottom lip was even trembling. He rolled his eyes. "What'd you get yourself into this time?"

She flipped her hair out of her face and huffed indignantly. "Nothings so terrible, Jimmy. Just a date with a certain country doctor, and I have no idea what to wear."

"That's all?" Jim laughed. "You two are a pair. Would you like me to pull up a chair at dinner too, or do you guys think you'll be able to manage a conversation without me?" Carol looked at him inquisitively. "I'm supposed to help Bones get ready," he explained, and she rolled her eyes with a smile. He took a moment to change out of last night's clothes and then motioned for Carol to leave, following close behind.

"Well I hope you didn't have any other plans for the day," she teased as they walked side by side.

"Today? No. Tonight? Yes actually, so you two really will be all on your own."

"Hot date?"

"Chess match with Spock."

"Same thing."

"No," Jim corrected sternly.

"Yes."

"Carol," Jim said warningly.

She smiled up at him innocently. "What?" She asked, eyes wide.

Jim sighed. "Just don't."

"All I'm saying is..."

"You've said it all, Care, and I'm not letting you plant false hope in my head just so I can end up making a fool of myself. No. End of discussion."

"So you can meddle in my love life but I can't in yours?" She cried, and Jim scowled.

"You and Bones both practically begged me to meddle. In fact, I'm pretty sure you did."

"I'm just trying to help..."

"It's pointless, okay? Let's just focus on you and Bones - that's enough as it is."

Carol looked at him sadly, and he pointedly avoided her eyes. "Whatever you say, Jim," she replied, but he knew she hadn't let it go completely.

They arrived at Carol's cabin and she immediately began riffling through her closet, throwing loose items of clothing into a pile on her bed, which she then sorted into outfits for Jim's observation. They discussed a couple different options before deciding on a teal dress that stopped just below her knee and showed just enough but not too much cleavage. Jim helped her pin her hair up behind her head and assured her she was beautiful, and she was. Bones was likely to drool down the front of himself when he picked her up later. He wished her luck before he left - not that she would need it, and was happy to see his friend in such high spirits.

When he showed up at Bones quarters, it was to a very different atmosphere. Where Carol had practically radiated quiet confidence, Bones was projecting anxiety. He was in the bathroom shaving when Jim entered the room, and Bones's reflection glared angrily at him from the mirror. "Where have you been?"

Jim was taken aback by the hostility in his stare, and he paused like a deer in headlights. "What?"

"We have less than an hour!" Bones wailed, wiping his face and coming to stand before Jim. The doctor was wearing a leisure robe, his hair combed neatly to the side, breath minty fresh, and smelling of aftershave.

Jim looked at him, bewildered. "Bones... all you have left to do is get dressed..."

"I don't even know what I'm going to wear yet," Bones said helplessly.

"Oh, my god," Jim muttered, pushing his glasses up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "It's like having children. I have to do everything myself. Come here and show me what my options are."

Bones showed him his hideous collection of flowered button ups and knit sweaters. Jim settled on blue jeans, a light grey knit sweater, and a faded chocolate brown leather jacket. He threw them at Bones. "Get dressed. Where are your shoes?"

Jim gave him the once over after he was fully put together. He had to admit, the doctor cleaned up nicely. Carol was sure to appreciate the look - she could thank him later. In fact, Jim's sure they both would be thanking him by the end of it. "You look acceptable. Now go get em, tiger," Jim told him, slapping his ass for good measure. Bones swatted at him and grumbled but looked pleased and considerable less anxious. He left carrying a bouquet of flowers and wearing a rare smile. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Jim yelled down the hallway after him, and Bones just laughed.

Jim's stomach growled loudly, and he put a hand to his side reflexively. He remembered his own dinner plans and stopped by his cabin briefly to grab a few things before heading towards the captain's quarters, hunger now mixing with butterflies in the pit of his stomach. Spock answered his door immediately and Jim was thrilled to see Spock wearing the robe he had given him earlier. He licked his lips at the sight despite himself. The deep red brought out the slightly green flush to the Vulcan's cheeks, giving Spock a glow that Jim found irresistible. Jim averted his gaze so he wouldn't be caught staring. Spock stepped aside to allow Jim entry but he hesitated. Spock seemed to then notice the basket in Jim's arms. "Actually," Jim hedged. "I was thinking I could show you my favorite place on the ship. Are you interested?"

Spock raised an eyebrow curiously. "Indeed."

Spock stepped out into hallway and Jim led the way towards the observation deck. As they arrived, Spock stopped and stared out of the large window dominating the room. The starbase was in full view from their position, not the prettiest thing to look at but impressive nonetheless. "Normally there's a better view," Jim said apologetically, setting down the basket he was carrying. "I like to come here sometimes when I can't sleep. Watching the stars as we pass by can be peaceful, like leaving my troubles behind. Illogical, I know." He smiled sheepishly and spread out a blanket for them to sit on.

"Illogical," Spock agreed. "Yet I find myself able to relate to the sentiment. I have nothing but respect for my planet and it's inhabitants but it is not perfect. I joined Starfleet to put those imperfections behind me. It has not always been a successful endeavor; it seems that many species tend to hold prejudice for similar reasons."

"There will always be ignorant people," Jim muttered, pulling drinks and sandwiches out of the basket and placing them on the blanket, along with his chess set. "You certainly didn't let that stop you, though."

"No," Spock agreed. He fell silent, and Jim wasn't going to pry. He sat down cross-legged and patted the spot across from him. Spock came over to join him, and together they set up the chessboard. They played the first few rounds in comfortable silence, munching on cucumber sandwiches and simply enjoying each others' company. Quite a few moments passed before Spock spoke again. "How was your encounter with Dr. McCoy?"

"Bones? Oh, his date, you mean? Fine. I set him up with a friend of mine. Dr. Carol Marcus? Anyways, they've been making eyes at each other forever, and I finally convinced him to ask her out. They both wanted me to help them prepare for tonight."

"Why would preparation be necessary?"

"You know, so the date goes well and they make a good impression. They want to like each other, make something more serious out of it."

"I see," Spock said quietly, though Jim wasn't completely sure he did. He raised his glass of saurian brandy and took a sip. "I had thought perhaps you and the doctor were pursuing a relationship."

Jim choked on his drink and coughed. Spock looked at him quizzically. "Me and Bones? No way."

"Why else would he be sleeping in you quarters?" Spock's eyebrows furrowed. Jim suddenly understood Spock's discomfort in his cabin this morning - he probably had thought he'd interrupted something.

"We went out drinking and Bones was too lazy to walk back to his quarters afterwards," Jim said, laughter coloring his tone. "He's like an older brother. There has never, and will never, be anything romantic between us. I'm not seeing anyone, in fact."

"My apologies," Spock murmured, studying the chess board a bit too intently. "The two of you interact more intimately with each other than I am accustomed to experiencing. I did not mean to assume or offend."

"I'm not offended, Spock. It's hilarious, and not the first - or likely the last - time someone has thought that." Jim suddenly had an idea, and asked as casually as he could manage, "What about you? Is there a... romantic interest in your life? Someone special?"

"Not presently."

"Not even Commander Uhura? You guys seem to get along pretty well."

"It is true that Nyota and I have a close working relationship. However, there is no romantic involvement between us. I believe she has every intention of pursuing a relationship with Mr. Scott."

"Scotty, huh? Wow, didn't see that one coming. Anyways, sorry. My mistake."

"It is of no consequence, Jim."

They both fell silent once more. Their pieces were chasing each other around the chess board. Neither one was willing to sacrifice a pawn in order to gain ground and they were at a standstill. One of them would have to either budge or slip up eventually, or they would have to call the match as a draw. Jim studied Spock in the dim light of the room. Spock felt himself being watched and caught Jim's eye. Jim surprisingly held steady. He was feeling the slightest bit tipsy from the brandy and more than a little reckless. Everything in his core screamed for him to lean forward and close the distance between them, to catch Spock's lips with his own, the consequences be damned. The more rational part of him kept his ass seated firmly on the ground.

"I believe more sparring sessions would be beneficial in the coming future," Spock said suddenly, taking Jim off guard. He moved a piece in the wrong direction and Spock took immediate advantage, tipping the scales in his direction.

"What do you mean?"

"Part of your responsibilities as Chief Science Officer include leading landing parties if I or Commander Uhura are indisposed. The way you handled the situation on Gothos exceeded expectations, but more lessons in self defense could be of use if you continue to get into trouble."

"Trouble?" Jim laughed. "Am I just a troublemaker to you, Spock?" He moved another piece on the board. At this point, he already knew he had lost the match but had been resisting the whole way. He liked watching the frustration show on Spock's face at Jim's irrationality.

"Not the cause," Spock corrected. "Perhaps more akin to a beacon for it, attracting it towards yourself. I have not yet accumulated sufficient data to give you a fully detailed hypothesis on the matter. I shall continue to collect more information."

"You've really thought about this," Jim said incredulously.

"Your safety is important to me."

Jim didn't know what to say to that, so he just shook his head in bemusement and smiled. "Well, you let me know what conclusion you come to." Spock nodded seriously and declared checkmate. Jim tipped his king over easily. "Round two?" He asked, and Spock began resetting the board in lieu of a response.

They played well into the night, and Jim got a little more tipsy, laughing more than he normally would but Spock didn't seem to mind. In fact, he seemed to be enjoying himself. Even buzzed, Jim was getting better and better at reading the Vulcan's body language. He could tell when Spock was uncomfortable or relaxed, and right now he seemed pretty content, secure in the emptiness of the ship and Jim's company. Jim was a tad unsteady on his feet by the time they packed up to leave, and Spock walked him back to his quarters with one hand resting lightly above Jim's elbow. They bid each other good night and parted ways, Jim feeling happier than he had in a long time. He fell asleep with a smile on his lips and dreamed of brown eyes and pointed ears, a recurring theme these days.

Chapter Text

It took little time for them to travel from the starbase they were visiting to the next planet on their roster of missions from Starfleet Command. To say that his first time leading a landing party was a disaster would be an understatement. It had seemed relatively simple: observe and take notes. Spock had stayed aboard the Enterprise and had entrusted Jim to take charge, leading a group of science officers down to collect data and samples for the labs. Sulu had offered to come along and Jim was grateful for the familiar company. It put his nerves slightly at ease. The mission started off well, until suddenly the landing party found themselves trapped inside the cave they had been exploring, cornered by a huge creature that blocked their exit.

It came farther into the cave towards them, and once it was out of the glaring sunlight, Jim could see exactly what they were up against. Sulu swore fearfully. Jim didn't like what he saw. A gigantic wildebeest, with magenta hair and massive horns loomed over them, its eyes wide, pupils blown open like deep black pits. He could tell something wasn't right, that possibly it was diseased- the creature twitched and gurgled as it came closer, and his team was starting to panic. Jim signaled for them to back up against the cave wall, as far from the beast as possible. They foolishly hadn't brought any security officers along, not expecting to run into any trouble, and most of his science officers had little to no combat training.

"Jim? Jim, what do we do?" Sulu hissed in his ear behind him, gripping Jim's upper arm tightly.

Maybe shooting the pink wildebeest with his phaser wasn't the best idea, but he was running out of options. While that may not have been the best option, it was the only one he could think of that ended in only one potential casualty: himself. So he stood before his small landing party and shot the great ugly thing right between the eyes, phaser set to kill. The beast obviously didn't end up being very happy about that, and took little to no damage from the direct hit. The creature roared and shook its massive head, making the rest of the landing party flinch instinctively.

Sulu's grip loosened on Jim's arm and Jim took the opportunity to break free of the man's grasp, and dashed under the creature's belly. He slid beneath it as though aiming for home plate, and got quickly back to his feet. Jim aimed and fired another shot at the thing's ass, forcing it to turn around and focus on him instead of his landing party. He took off running in the opposite direction, pausing only to look back to make sure his plan had worked. The creature whipped it's head around, locking its wild yellow eyes on Jim, and charged.

Jim distantly heard Sulu shouting his name behind him, but he was too busy scrambling as far away from the beast as possible to take much note of it. "Fuck fuck fuck," Jim cursed breathlessly as he bolted through the underbrush, hearing the clumsy sounds of his attacker gaining on him. "Oh, I fucked up. Shit!" He had hoped to lose the beast in the density of the underbrush, but the creature seemed to be able to crush the surrounding foliage like paper. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised.

He was far out of his element and it showed - his phaser fire did little to slow the creature down and it caught up to him in no time. It released an ear-splitting growl, its foul breath close enough for Jim to smell, as it barreled into him from the side. Jim was knocked clear off his feet and his phaser was thrown from his grasp as he made impact with the ground. He landed with a grunt and heard the painful, all-too-familiar sound of ribs cracking, felt a sickening heat blossom in his abdomen before he actually felt the pain. Looking around dazedly, he saw the bright hooves of the creature approach him, closing in for the kill, and Jim forced himself to struggle to his feet.

He dove to the left as the wildebeest charged him again, but this time he wasn't fast enough. White hot pain shot through him as one of the creatures thin tusks impaled him, slicing clean through his abdomen and drove him back against the hard trunk of a nearby tree. Pinned between the rough bark and his attacker, Jim couldn't even fight to get free and wasn't sure he had the strength to at this point anyway. His vision blurred and his ears were ringing. He was paralyzed from the pain radiating from his midsection, and he could feel warm blood oozing everywhere, creating a slimy puddle on the ground beneath him. Jim slowly became aware that the ringing in his ears was actually coming from his mouth as he realized he had been screaming from the unbearable pain. He stopped abruptly as the beast finally yanked its great head free of him, Jim's body releasing it's horn with a sickening sound. Jim crumpled to wet ground beneath him with a cry. He was about to lose consciousness, could see the tell-tale signs of darkness creeping in around the edges of his vision.

The wildebeest was seemingly aware that he was no longer a threat and trotted off into the distance at a casual pace. Jim could only hope that Sulu had signaled for the rest of the landing party to be beamed back aboard the Enterprise. He summoned the strength to lift an arm to his belt and felt around feebly for his communicator. His hand came up empty and he breathed out a curse. He must have lost somewhere during his scuffle with the beast. The planet's atmosphere prevented the transporter from picking up their life-form readings - without his communicator signal, the ship was unable to locate him. Jim was starting to accept the fact that he was going to die down there. Taken down by a pink wildebeest; at least it was an interesting way to go. He chuckled weakly at that thought, coughing at the effort and splattering more blood down the front of him.

Jim's heart stopped for a moment as he saw a flash of yellow pass between the trees. Remembering those wild, yellow eyes, he shuddered. Perhaps the beast had come to finish him off. He hoped it would be quick. He nearly cried with relief when he saw a familiar tall frame emerge from the underbrush and come sprinting towards him. Jim tried to call Spock's name but it came out garbled, and fresh blood moistened his lips. Spock dove to his knees beside Jim and carefully adjusted Jim into a more comfortable position. Despite Spock's gentleness Jim still hissed in pain. Spock ripped off his gold shirt, revealing a simple black t-shirt beneath it, and firmly pressed the material to the gaping wound at Jim's side. Jim tried to speak again but Spock stopped him with a glare. "Do not attempt to speak, you must conserve your energy." He whipped open his communicator with one hand, keeping the other firmly pressed against Jim's injury to slow the flow of blood. "This is Captain Spock. Mr. Scott, do you acknowledge?"

"Aye, Cap'n. Scott here."

"I have located Mr. Kirk." The captain barked out his orders in clipped tones, "Have a medical team standing by and prepare to energize. Spock out."

Jim was starting to feel light-headed, and the pain was beginning to ebb away into blissful nothing, a numb sensation taking over instead. That wasn't right, he thought disorientedly, and fought sluggishly against the haze. They were suddenly encased in light, and Jim wondered if he was dying, but then he saw the beloved interior of the transporter room and he relaxed, slumping against the pad under him. At least he wouldn't die alone on that planet - he would rather it be on the ship, with Spock at his side than anywhere else. Spock looked at him with veiled panic hiding in his eyes as Jim went limp, his eyes drifting closed. "DR. MCCOY," Spock bellowed, his deep voice reverberating loudly around the room.

"Jim?! Goddammit, man! You absolute fucking asswipe!"

Somehow, despite everything, Jim had no problem conjuring a smile at hearing the doctor's voice. His eyes fluttered back open briefly, unable to fixate on anything, before rolling back into his head as Jim finally lost consciousness.

------

Waking up in sickbay was starting to become a normality for him, but the elephant sitting on his chest was not. Jim groaned as his eyes opened, and he felt someone lightly swat the top of his head. "Don't be such an infant," Bones chided, but Jim could hear the relief evident in his voice. "You were only nearly dead, after all."

The doctor's face came swimming into focus as Jim looked up at him. "How long?" Jim asked hoarsely.

"13 hours, 16 minutes and 28 seconds," came the reply, but it wasn't Bones who had spoken. The captain stood at the foot of Jim's bed, his arms folded behind him, expressionless.

Bones huffed at the Vulcan's preciseness. "Not that he's been counting," he muttered under his breath, then raised his voice to yell at Jim. "Sulu told us everything. Just what the hell were you thinking, provoking that thing and running off like that? You could have gotten yourself killed - nearly did, in fact."

"I didn't have a choice, Bones. There were no other options. I did what I could to protect the group." Jim winced as he tried to lift himself into a sitting position.

Bones planted a hand on his shoulder and shove him back down against the bed, careful not to upset any of Jim's injuries. "Four broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a giant gaping hole in your chest! You're not going anywhere for a while, pal. This is the craziest stunt you've pulled yet, and you jumped out of a moving car and off a bridge at the academy." Spock raised his eyebrows at that.

"I drove a car off a cliff at the age of 15, too. What's your point?"

Bones threw his hands into the air. "If I didn't know better, Jim, I'd say you were suicidal."

"Both of those situations turned out fine," Jim insisted for the millionth time, rolling his eyes. "And I'm fine now, thanks to my amazing doctor. I knew you'd have my back and fix me up like you always do."

Bones narrowed his eyes at Jim and pushed his finger into Jim's sternum. "If you're not more careful, there will be a time where you'll be too broken for me to fix. If it wasn't for the captain, it would have been today. I'll be damned if I sit around and watch that happen." Bones stormed out of the room, leaving Jim alone with Spock.

The silence in the room was heavy. Jim was sure he was about to be reprimanded by the captain now also as Spock took a few steps closer to him. He leaned back against the pillows and closed his eyes, unwilling to see the potential disapproval on Spock's face and waited for his rebuff. When Spock remained silent, Jim risked opening his eyes and glanced at the Vulcan. Spock was regarding him thoughtfully. "Aren't you going to yell at me now too?"

"You showed great courage by using yourself as bait to ensure your team's safe escape."

"You're not mad?"

"Anger is a human emotion. It is fortunate you survived," was all Spock had to say.

He brought out a chess board from behind his back and Jim grinned.

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

Jim would be lying if he said their next mission went any better. The planet they beamed down to had a name Jim couldn't pronounce, and had been completely destroyed by Romulans, and the Federation wanted to know why. The planet was tiny, no bigger than Earth's moon, with an incredibly small population. The land was more fertile than any other in this quadrant of space, and was able to grow almost any crop planted in half the normal harvesting time. The planet's inhabitants were mostly peaceful farmers, but had been nearly exterminated by the attack. The captain had speculated that they denied the Romulans access to their resources in attempted neutrality. No doubt the Romulans retaliated by devastating their planet so that no one could benefit from their resources.

Spock led a landing party down on the surface, consisting of Jim, Chekov, and a few security officers. Their mission was to look for any survivors, though the odds weren't looking good. Most of the land had been torched, buildings completely in ruins. The smell of scorched skin hung potently in the air. Jim coughed as the team spread out over the area. He shivered despite the humid air around him - he was reminded of another war zone years ago, other crops that had wilted and another population that had died. Jim shook his head to clear it and followed the captain to the center of the small town where they had received sensor readings.

There had been faint life-form signals in this area, and they split up to cover more ground. Jim and Chekov came across a small bunker and decided to explore it together. They crept down the stairs into darkness. Jim fumbled for a light switch and flipped it, bathing the bunker in an unnatural light. As their eyes adjusted, they began to make out shelves lined with jarred goods, boxes stacked against the walls, and a hunched figure glaring at them. She was filthy, ragged clothes covered in ashes and soot, hair twisted into a mess behind her head. Brown furry ears twitched on either side of the small horn adorning the middle of her forehead. Her orange eyes leered at them crazily from the shadows of the room. Chekov raised his phaser reflexively and Jim threw an arm out to stop him.

"We are not here to hurt you," Jim said gently. "We're here to help you. Can you tell me what happened here?"

She snarled and launched herself over the boxes between them, clawed fingers outstretched and aiming for Chekov. Her body was humanoid but smaller and incredibly lithe. Jim shoved the younger man out of the way and collided with the woman instead. She slammed into him and sent them both sprawling to the ground. Her race was much faster than Jim's, and she was on her feet with her hands around Jim's throat in seconds. Picking him up off the floor, she threw Jim into the wall of the bunker and he groaned as his head cracked against it. He hit the ground, stunned; heard Chekov yell loudly and a following crash. Jim managed to stagger back upright as she came at him again. Jim dodged her attack, stepping sideways and pushing her past him. She stumbled for a moment, long enough for Jim to get his bearings and he raised his hands protectively in front of him. He saw Chekov lying in a heap on the ground a few feet from him, unconscious but seemingly alive. The woman turned to face him, eyes blazing.

"You don't have to do this!" Jim called to her as she took a few steps towards him. Her eyes narrowed into slits and she growled. Her bushy tail flicked angrily behind her. "I know you're scared," Jim continued, his tone soothing. "We wont hurt you."

"Lies!" She hissed, lunging for Jim once again. He was ready for her but couldn't match her speed, and they both fell to the ground in a writhing mess, each fighting for leverage. Jim managed to kick her off and away from him. He fumbled for the phaser at his belt but came up empty. He spotted it on the floor across the room and crawled frantically towards it. His fingertips were inches from his weapon when he felt a hand grasp his ankle and pull hard.

She yanked him across the floor, away from his phaser and he tried to resist, fingers dug into the floor desperately, but his attempts were futile. She climbed up his legs and reached up to grab a fistful of Jim's hair. He felt her yank him up backwards onto his knees, one hand fisted in his hair and the other planted firmly on his shoulder. Jim fought her grip on him, ignored the pain at his scalp as hair was ripped from his head in the effort. She screamed furiously at his attempts and sunk her teeth deep into the juncture where his neck met his shoulders. Jim cried out in agony and felt hands wrap around his throat, claws digging into the sensitive skin over his jugular. Jim looked at the bleak, empty wall of the bunker in front of him and closed his eyes as her hand constricted.

There was a faint thumping noise in the distance and the hand at his throat paused. Jim opened his eyes in time to see a pair of black boots trot down the stairs in front of him. Command gold adorned the torso that followed, phaser held out before it protectively, and soon the captain's face was visible in the dim light. Jim breathed a sigh of relief. Spock zeroed in on the situation immediately and his expression darkened as he took in Jim's bloody state. He fixed his weapon in their direction. Jim met Spock's eyes and gave him a weak smile. Spock's grip tightened on his phaser, but with Jim in front of her, they both knew he didn't have a clear shot. "Release him immediately," Spock commanded. "He is a member of Starfleet and is here to provide you any aid that you require. He is not a threat. Release him."

"Why should I do as you ask?" The woman spat over Jim's shoulder. "Your people are the reason my planet has been destroyed!"

"Not my people," Spock corrected. "I am Vulcan, not Romulan. Though we share a common ancestry, it is far in the past. We are an entirely different people, now."

"Why should I trust you?!" The woman screeched desperately. "No, no," she sobbed hysterically, her hands tightening at Jim's throat in response. He gasped softly as his trachea was restricted, and felt the tips of her claws pierce his skin, beads of blood running down his neck. His shoulder throbbed where she had bitten him, his blue shirt stained heavily from the wound. Taking advantage of her distraction, Jim reached a hand up and tapped his index finger against his chest. He locked eyes with Spock and repeated the gesture, willing the captain to understand. They needed Jim out of the way so Spock could take her down, and there was only one way to do that. Spock blinked. "I can't!" The woman wailed, determination fueling her voice. "I won't let you trick me again!"

Before she could make her next move, Spock fired.

The shot hit Jim square in the chest and he slumped forward, immediately unconscious.

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

Jim came back to himself a few moments later, as Spock was carrying him up the stairs of the bunker. Jim's head was tucked into the crook of Spock's neck, and Spock had one arm around Jim's back, the other under his knees. He carried Jim effortlessly, as though he were weightless, and Jim let himself appreciate the moment briefly before alerting Spock of his return to consciousness. The captain carefully put Jim down back on his own feet, keeping one hand firm on Jim's upper arm. "Are you alright, Jim?" Spock asked, his voice quiet, for Jim's ears only.

Jim nodded and winced as the movement pulled at the bite wound on his shoulder. He put a hand up to gingerly touch around the bruised, bloody skin. Spock pulled Jim along beside him, heading back to the center of town. Jim saw Chekov trailing along behind them, a hand held to his head, his other arm tucked tightly against his chest as though broken. Behind Chekov was the rest of their team, two security officers carrying the unconscious woman between them and the remaining officer scouting the area for any other lifeforms. They gathered in the center of the small town and Spock signaled for beam up.

Sulu, Dr. McCoy, and Nurse Chapel were waiting for them in the transporter room. They had a small first aid kit set up on a tray in preparation to stabilize their injuries. Chekov walked shakily off of the transporter pad into Sulu's waiting arms. Nurse Chapel flitted to the captain's side immediately, assessing him for any injuries as Spock attempted to dissuade her. Jim watched her fret over Spock and felt a pang in his chest, but was quickly distracted by Bones, who took one look at Jim and started cursing up a storm.

Jim waved Bones away as the doctor approached him. "Go make sure Chekov is okay. Then you can look me over."

"Jim, your shoulder is still actively bleeding and needs cleaned. Chekov's broken arm can wait."

"No," Jim insisting, pushing Bones towards the younger man. "Chekov first."

Bones slapped Jim's hands away. "Chapel!" He barked, causing the nurse to jump at the captain's side. Spock looked relieved to be interrupted. "Put the kid's arm in a sling and check to see if he's got a concussion."

Chapel turned pink and nodded vigorously. "Yes, Doctor," she said, glancing up at Spock one last time before rushing over to Chekov's side.

"Satisfied?" Bones asked Jim, who nodded, and began inspecting his shoulder. He whistled lowly. "Christ, this is deep. It'll take me a minute to patch up," Bones told him. "We need to move to sickbay so I can do this properly."

The group relocated to the sickbay, where everyone was given a once over until they were deemed acceptable by Bones. Jim and Chekov had been the only ones injured. Chekov's arm had been wrapped and Sulu escorted him to his quarters, sure to keep a close eye on him. Spock was unscathed but stayed in the sickbay by Jim's side while Bones cleaned Jim's wounds and stitched him back together.

"Jim, you're one more disaster away from being a damsel in distress," Bones commented as Jim pulled a black t-shirt carefully over his bandaged shoulder.

Jim sputtered indignantly. "I am not!"

Bones laughed. "Oh yes you are. You're just lucky that you have Spock as your knight in shining armor. I don't think anyone else could keep up with the bullshit you get yourself into."

Jim felt his face turn red. "Thanks, Bones," Jim muttered, his cheeks burning.

"I can't believe she attacked you so viciously." Bones shook his head disbelievingly. "I thought the inhabitants were supposed to be peaceful farmers."

"Desperation makes people do crazy things," Jim said softly. "She had nothing left to lose."

Bones gave him a long hard look and patted him him on his good shoulder. "Take it easy, kid. I'll check on you later."

Bones stopped Spock on their way out with a hand on his arm. "Captain...thank you. For watching out for him."

Spock nodded once, and Bones let them go.

Jim and Spock stood quietly together in the turbolift. The silence broke a moment later.

"Dinner?" Spock asked, one eyebrow raised.

"Chess?" Jim blurted at the same time.

They glanced at each other and Jim grinned.

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

 

When Jim was kidnapped on the mission after that, he started to believe he was cursed. The landing party had been ambushed by the lizard people of the planet they were orbiting, and Jim was taken hostage. They kept him prisoner in a cell beneath their leader's stronghold, where Jim was beat within an inch of his life for information. They were allying themselves with the Klingons and had heard of Captain Spock of the USS Enterprise, and wanted to know his weaknesses. Jim took the pain and told them nothing, but he wasn't sure he could last much longer. He constantly waited for rescue or a swift death. When he saw his briefest opportunity for escape - some weakened bolts and a sloppy guard - he took it, and by some stroke of luck managed to make his way out of his prison undetected.

The harder part was making it out of the city's limits. The civilization had a force field of energy around it that prevented any sort of sensor scanning or communications, and if Jim had any hope at getting off the planet's surface, he had to make it outside the city. Bruised and sore, cut up and bloody, Jim limped his way through to the cities outskirts as stealthily as he could, leaving a trail of blood behind him from the massive stab wound on his inner thigh. He was pretty positive the injury had punctured his femoral artery due to the steady flow of blood that continued to pour from the wound, despite the tourniquet he had managed to tie firmly above it.

If Jim was a damsel in distress, now would be a good time for Spock to swoop in and save him.

He made his way into the treeline outside the city and tried his communicator, cursing when he still had no signal. He agonizingly made his way further from the city, only pausing when he passed through what felt like a thick wall of air. Jim leaned against a tree for a moment before dragging himself upwards onto a low hanging branch. Out of breath and sweating profusely, growing weaker and weaker from blood loss, Jim flipped open his communicator and signaled the ship.

"Kirk, is that you?" Uhura asked frantically, her beautiful voice singing out of his speaker.

Jim sobbed in relief. "Yes, its me. I've escaped my kidnappers but I'm badly injured. Could really use an emergency extraction here."

"Transporters are down, but Spock and Scotty are working to get them back online. Just hold on a little longer Jim," Uhura said worriedly.

There was a faint bit of rustling and then Bones' voice rang out, "Jim?! How bad are your injuries?"

Jim sighed heavily. "Got a deep laceration on my right thigh. I think it punctured the artery. Have a tourniquet wrapped above it but doesn't seem to be doing much good. I've lost a lot of blood so far and I can't stop it."

"Shit," Bones cursed. "We need to get him aboard now! He needs immediate medical attention."

"The captain and Scotty are working as fast as they can," Uhura fretted. "There's nothing we can do until they're done."

"It's fine, I can wait," Jim huffed out tiredly.

"Shut the fuck up, Jim!" Bones yelled.

"I feel like you tell me that a lot."

"Probably because you need a lot of reminders."

Jim did as he was told and stayed silent. It was easier than speaking anyways. Only a few moments passed before Bones' voiced filtered back over the speakers. "Talk to me, Jim. Keep talking."

"You literally just told me to stop."

"Only because you were being a smartass, but I need you to stay conscious."

"I can be conscious and not speak," Jim argued weakly.

"No, you really can't." Bones replied.

Jim wanted to give a snarky retort, but his eyes fluttered closed and he couldn't respond. His head felt disconnected from the rest of his body. He could vaguely hear Bones shouting through his communicator but couldn't focus on what his friend was saying. Jim distantly became aware of movement near him and managed to flip his communicator shut, quieting the doctor's steady stream of words. Jim pressed himself back against the tree bark and stayed as silent as possible. Multiple beings passed beneath him, and Jim barely dared to breath in case they discovered him. He heard them hiss back and forth to each other in their lizard language, and the creatures scattered, moving in different directions to scour the area for Jim.

One of the group stayed behind and loitered under the branch Jim was hiding on. It paused beneath him and flicked its tongue outside its mouth, tasting the air. It suddenly cried out to its companions and they gathered back together under the tree next to Jim's. They chattered for a long moment before they began retreating in the direction they came. Jim thought he was in the clear when his communicator beeped loudly in his hand. The group of aliens snapped their heads in his direction and locked onto his position in the tree. They screamed and launched themselves towards the trunk, claws skittering against the bark. Jim flipped his communicator open, heard Uhura shout that the transporter was back online and read out Jim's coordinates. A bright light encased him, and when he opened his eyes, he was back aboard the Enterprise.

Spock, Scotty, and Bones stood behind the transporter console, staring intently at the spot where Jim had appeared. Nurse Chapel stood off to the side next to a stretcher, watching the captain work adoringly. Spock and Bones rushed to Jim's side and lifted him onto the stretcher, both of them immediately drenched in Jim's blood. Jim fainted from blood loss on their way to sickbay.

He woke from unconsciousness once, and heard Spock and Bones talking in low tones outside of the recovery room.

"You know, Captain, I don't agree with the way you run things most of the time," Bones was saying. Jim had to strain to hear him. "Half the time I wonder if you even have a heart in that robotic chest of yours. But I have to admit, you do the right thing when it counts. I'm glad Jim has someone other than me looking out for him. You've been a good friend, Spock. Just keep it that way and we won't have any problems.

"I will keep that in mind, Doctor," was Spock's cool reply.

When he woke up again later, in a biobed with Bones and Carol on either side of him, faces etched with worry, Spock standing stoically in the corner, Jim knew he was especially lucky to be alive this time.

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

The following mission went slightly better, in the way that no one was fatally injured, though Jim wouldn't call almost burning to death anywhere near a success.

Jim's small landing party had an unfortunate run-in with a rebel Andorian colony that had settled on the planet they were researching. After a short scuffle, Jim, Chekov, and two security officers were escorted back to the Andorian camp, arms and legs bound. When they arrived at the Andorian base of operations, Jim was surprised to discover that they were an entirely rural colony. No technology was in sight, and the structures of the camp were built with rudimentary camp materials. Jim suspected they were dealing with an outcast colony who had broken off from modern Andorian culture and settled here instead. Jim tried to reason with their captors but each time he opened his mouth, he was clubbed warningly in the back of the head. He managed to get one pleading sentence out before the male Andorian leading him bellowed, "CEASE OR BE ELIMINATED FOR YOUR INSOLENCE."

Jim stayed quiet after that. The Andorians forced the landing party into the center of their camp, where various alters were set up for worship. Old wooden stocks sat around a wooden pole, blackened around the bottom where it was driven into the ground. Jim was tied tightly to the stake while the others were forced into the stocks, heads and hands hung shamefully. Jim struggled violently against his bonds but only succeeded in rubbing his wrists raw.

"You will burn as sacrilege for the gods," the Andorian who seemed to be in charge told him simply, as he called for the rest of his people to gather together. He lit a fire in a round pit and picked up a decorated torch as one by one people filed into the clearing to watch.

Chekov turned his head to the side as much as he could to look at Jim. "Ve are in deep trouble."

Jim sighed, racking his brain for any means of escape. "Indeed we are, Chekov. Astounding observation, buddy."

"Ve are not to be getting out of this one, I think," Chekov said quietly, fear coloring his voice.

Jim's heart pounded in his chest. "The odds are slim," he agreed. "I'm sorry this happened, it's my fault."

"It's not your fault, Jim. You are a good man. I am lucky to die by your side."

"We're gonna get out of here somehow, Chekov," Jim promised. "I don't know how yet, but we are not dying today."

Chekov said nothing, just closed his eyes.

The Andorian chief approached Jim at the stake and the crowd around them hushed. He stuck the torch into the flaming pit and lit the end ablaze. The crowd cheered. The chief swung the burning torch close to Jim and seemed to taunt him with it. He cleared his throat and addressed the crowd. "THIS IS AN ACT OF GOOD FAITH, MY LORDS," he called to the heavens. "AN OFFERING, FROM YOUR LOYAL WORSHIPPERS. PLEASE KEEP US IN GOOD HEALTH, AND MAY OUT CROPS GROW PLENTIFUL AS WE PRAY TO YOU, AND SURRENDER THIS SACRIFICE FOR YOUR PLEASURE." The crowd roared in response. The fire from the torch came dangerously close to Jim's hair. "Be honored, warrior," the chief said to Jim, "that your death not be in vain."

"You son of a bitch," Jim raged. "You wanna kill me? You wanna sacrifice me to your fake gods? Go ahead, but let the rest of me team go. They don't need to be a part of this."

"You are in no position to be making demands," the chief observed. The crowd jeered. "Say your last prayers, sacrifice, and prepare for death."

"Fuck you," Jim spat.

The clearing erupted in phaser fire, Andorians dropping around them like flies. Spock and Sulu charged into the clearing, efficiently stunning the remaining Andorians attempting to flee. Jim felt cool, soft hands pick at the ropes around his wrists, and Jim looked over his shoulder into the lovely eyes of Commander Uhura. "You just might be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," Jim told her as he tenderly touched the sore skin at his wrists. She scoffed and rolled her eyes, but Jim saw the small smile she tried to hide from him.

Once he was free, he ran to Chekov's side and freed him from his uncomfortable position. Chekov rubbed his neck and stood up next to Jim. "You seem to be wery bad for my health," Chekov told Jim.

"I'm bad for my own health," Jim confided, making Chekov and Uhura chuckle.

Spock and Sulu returned from scouting the rest of the campsite. Sulu went to Chekov's side immediately, checking him over for any obvious injuries. Spock came to a stop beside Jim and looked at him appraisingly, one eyebrow arched. Jim raised his arms so Spock could assess him. "Mostly unharmed," Jim said smugly.

"That is a first," Spock observed, lightly touching Jim's arm above the ring of raw flesh at his wrist. "Though I might point out that you would not have stayed unharmed for much longer had our arrival been delayed."

"I had it completely handled," Jim disagreed and as an afterthought added, "Let's not tell Bones about what happened."

Uhura snorted a laugh beside them, flipping her communicator open. "Scotty, love? The landing party is ready for transport."

Jim heard Scotty's affectionate reply, "Aye, lassie."

They beamed back aboard the ship and Spock walked Jim back to his quarters. "You have a habit of getting into trouble, just as I previously hypothesized," Spock commented.

"My knight in shining armor," Jim teased, bumping Spock's shoulder with his own. "Chess tonight?"

Spock nodded his assent. "That would be agreeable."

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

 

During next mission was the first time Jim upset the captain. They had beamed down to survey a planet with no life-form readings, intelligent or otherwise. A party of six transported to the surface and split into pairs. Jim accompanied Spock in exploring the large orange lake half a mile from their beam down point. They scanned their surroundings and chit-chatted as they made their way along towards the large body of water. The plant-life around them was a brilliant purple, contrasting sharply with the color of the lake. Jim laughed breathlessly. "It's like something out of a fairy tale," he remarked.

"I do see the resemblance," Spock agreed.

They wandered closer to the water's edge, looking out into the center of the lake. It was so peaceful, Jim thought. It would be the perfect place to go swimming. He thought about stripping off his uniform and diving into the sunset waters. He'd look up at the captain and invite him in. 'What's the worse that could happen?' He'd ask, beckoning to Spock to join him.

Jim shook his head to dispel the daydream, and he watched as Spock walked close to the edge and peered over, staring at his own reflection in the water. A ripple in the lake's still surface caught Jim's eye. There wasn't a breeze, and scanners showed nothing in the lake. There should be nothing making small waves and yet there they were. Jim was about to call Spock's attention to it when he saw something move under the water's surface.

"Captain, watch out!" Jim cried, running to pull Spock back from the edge. He grabbed Spock by the shoulders and hauled him backwards as a tentacle shot out from the lake and reached in their direction. "Run!" Jim yelled, pushing Spock in front of him. Spock took off and Jim attempted to follow but tripped and hit the ground hard. He scrambled to his feet and Spock turned around to help him up. Just as Spock reached for his hand Jim felt a slimy cord wrap around his ankle and pull. Spock dove for his hand and attempted to stop the monster from yanking Jim mercilessly beneath the water. They struggled for leverage against the creature's strength and they were steadily losing ground, sliding precariously close to the edge of the lake, Jim dragging Spock along with him by their clasped hands.

"Let go, Spock!" Jim yelled. "Before it's too late!"

"I will not," Spock said through gritted teeth, digging his heels into the ground futilely.

Jim felt his boots scrape over the edge, dangling feet above the water's surface, where underneath a dangerous unknown creature remained. Jim couldn't let it take both of them. The ship needed her captain more than it needed him. "I'm sorry," Jim gasped, and let go of Spock's hand, flinging it away from him. Spock fell back against the ground in surprise.

"Jim!" Spock cried out as they locked eyes for a single moment, and Jim thought he saw despair on Spock's face before he hit the water.

Jim inhaled water immediately and struggled to hold his breath as the creature whipped him back and forth in the water. He opened his eyes and tried to see what had a hold of him, but his vision was tinted orange and it was impossible to see through that far to the bottom. His ears popped from the change of pressure as he was dragged further and further down away from the surface. Suddenly, a flash of light blazed across Jim's vision and severed the tentacle holding Jim in half, dismantling the creature's hold on him. Jim swam desperately for the surface, his lungs burning in his chest and light-headed from lack of oxygen. Hands grabbed at his arms and helped him the rest of the way upwards, until Jim's head broke the water line and he gasped for air. Spock surfaced beside him and propelled them both in the direction of land. Spock all but launched Jim out of the water and followed closely after, dragging them both as far away from the lake as possible.

Once a safe distance away they both collapsed in a heap on the ground, soaked to the bone and breathing heavily. Jim coughed and spewed water from his lungs. Spock said nothing as they rejoined the rest of their party - looking like a pair of drowned rats, mind you - and beamed back aboard the ship. Spock radiated disapproval, and none of the other landing party members dared to ask what had happened. Spock stalked out of the transporter room without a word to Jim, and Jim heard nothing from him for the rest of the evening, despite the fact that it had become almost routine to play a few rounds of chess after their missions. The captain was especially cool towards Jim during their next shift on the bridge together, and by the end of it Jim had had enough.

He followed Spock into the turbolift when he left the bridge and they rode together in silence, tension palpable between them. Spock still said nothing when Jim continued to follow him all the way back to his quarters, and he let Jim into his cabin wordless when they arrived. Jim marched into the room and turned around to face Spock. "What did I do?" Jim asked. "Why are you giving me the silent treatment?"

"I do not know what you are referring to," Spock denied, pacing past Jim to set up his meditation mat.

Jim sighed. "You haven't officially reprimanded me as captain, so I must have done something to upset you personally. I'm sorry for whatever it was that I did, Spock. I didn't do it intentionally."

"You did, in fact," Spock finally said after a moment.

"I did what?"

"You did do it intentionally."

"What are you talking about?" Jim demanded.

"You constantly put your life in danger despite your insistence that you do not wish to die." There was an undercurrent of fury in Spock's voice. "It is not logical to needlessly risk your safety for the sake of others'. It is simply reckless."

"I was trying to save you," Jim protested.

"I did not need saving," Spock retorted.

"You hadn't seen the attack coming, but I did. I was trying to get you out of the way in time."

"A simple spoken warning would have sufficed."

"I couldn't just stand there and watch it happen!" Jim said loudly, hands planted firmly on his hips. "I couldn't bear it if something had happened to you and I had been able to stop it." Feeling brave, or perhaps it was recklessness as Spock said, Jim added, "I care too much about you to let that happen. You're my friend."

"As you are mine," Spock replied quietly, and Jim's heart flipped in his chest. "Do not make me suffer through that which you cannot bear, for it would be just as difficult for me to experience as it would be for you."

Jim gaped at him for a moment, then nodded. "Keep this up, and you'll be as bad as Bones," he joked.

Spock blinked and raised his eyebrows. "I believe I am beginning to understand the reasoning behind some of the doctor's more irrational behaviors."

Jim laughed wholeheartedly and gestured to the chessboard. "Fancy a match? I'll even let you win."

Spock said nothing, but procured some food from his personal replicator and sat down at the table across from Jim. Jim just grinned and took the opposite seat.

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

 

The next several months passed quickly. Spock and Jim began to spend increasingly more time together until they were basically inseparable. They played chess almost every other night, and they began regular sparring sessions as well, something that took a tremendous amount of self-control on Jim's part. Bones and Carol solidified their relationship and became the ship's resident power couple. Jim was elated to see how happy they made each other and wasn't the slightest bit bitter, even if sometimes his heart ached in his chest when he saw intimate emotional moments between them. He longed for that connection with Spock but didn't dare mess up the friendship they had built, the one really good thing in Jim's life that he couldn't bear to ruin.

They even had a few uneventful missions and a few weeks of mind-numbingly boring space travel, something that Bones claimed was a miracle. Despite the good, there were many more disastrous occurrences. Jim gained more experience leading away party's and tried his best to stay out of trouble. It didn't always work, but Bones and Spock kept a close eye on him and together they were able to handle just about any situation that came their way. It wasn't always perfect; Jim still attracted trouble like a magnet, and people still got hurt, but they did their best and that was enough.

Jim couldn't remember the last time life had been this good.

Chapter Text

The Enterprise was finally due for some proper shore leave. They had taken a few stops for rest along the way, after especially grueling missions gone wrong, but it had been a while since they were actually scheduled a vacation, and Jim was looking forward to it after the chaos that had been his life lately. The only advantage of the chaos was his friendship with Spock.

So when a chime at the door interrupted Jim in the middle of packing his belongings, and Spock entered a moment later, Jim grinned ear to ear over his shoulder, not surprised in the least to see his captain strolling casually into his quarters after their shift. "Hey, Spock."

Spock inclined his head in Jim's direction and folded his hands behind his back. "I have important matters to discuss with you, Jim. Is now an adequate time?"

Jim stopped packing for a moment and turned to face Spock fully. He sat down on the edge of his bed. "Of course. You have my full attention," he said, and gestured for Spock to continue.

"Nyota has resigned as my first officer." His voice was emotionless but quiet.

"What do you mean, resigned?"

"She has always expressed a desire to continue her pursuit of xenolinguistics. It is her wish to acquire more leisure time in order to continue her studies in order to broaden her already extensive knowledge. When she accepted the position at my request, she had alluded to it being temporary. I now find myself searching for an appropriate replacement."

Jim crossed his arms over his chest, thoughtful. "That'll be difficult. She's one of the best officers in the fleet."

"Indeed she is."

"Well, at least you have the three days of shore leave to think it over."

"I believe I have already determined the crewman suitable to take over her duties."

"Oh really? That's great! Is it Sulu? He'd be thrilled. He told me the other day that he's always dreamed of becoming a captain one day."

"No doubt Lt. Sulu would be a sufficient first officer, but he is not to whom I was referring."

Jim furrowed his brow in confusion. He didn't know anyone more qualified than Sulu for the job, except maybe Scotty, but Spock would have to pry that man's hands away from the warp core and tie him to the bridge if he wanted him as first officer. "Then who?"

Spock stared at him steadily and said nothing.

"Me?" Jim's voice rose an octave in disbelief. "I'm just a science officer."

"You are a Lt. Commander and Chief Science Officer aboard Starfleet's flagship. You outrank Mr. Sulu," Spock pointed out.

"Well, when you put it that way... Can I think about it? It's a big responsibility."

Spock nodded. "Of course."

"I'll have an answer for you by the end of leave." A thought occurred to Jim and he stood up. "Speaking of which, what are you doing for the next few days?"

"I will be staying aboard the Enterprise. To Vulcan's, rest is simply to cease using energy. There is no need for such elaborate measures."

"You might not need a vacation, but don't you want one? Isn't there anything you'd like to do, or anyone you'd like to see?"

"I have no family or friends inhabiting this planet," Spock replied bluntly.

Jim's heart tightened in his chest. "You could come with me," He said nonchalantly, despite his pulse pounding in his ears.

"I do not wish to be a burden."

"It's no burden," Jim assured him hurriedly. "I'll be beaming down by myself otherwise. My family is off world, and Bones is taking Carol to Georgia to meet his family. I was just planning on a few days of peace and quiet, but I would welcome the company."

Spock considered this for a long moment. "That does sound amenable."

Jim clapped Spock on the arm and left his hand lingering there. These days he barely even remembered a time when it wasn't commonplace to touch the captain casually. "Come on, Spock! It'll be fun!"

After what felt like an eternity, Spock raised an eyebrow. "I accept your offer."

The vice around Jim's heart eased, and Jim released Spock's arm with a friendly squeeze. "Okay, well great! I just need to finish packing and then we can beam down together."

"I shall meet you in the transporter room in one hour," Spock replied, and turned on his heel to exit Jim's quarters.

Jim let out a big breath as the door slid shut behind Spock. He sat back down heavily on the bed and raked a hand through his hair. What was he thinking?! Three whole days alone with Spock. How was he ever going to keep his feelings to himself. Not to mention the question of becoming first officer. Spock thought Jim was the best candidate for the job, but Jim wasn't so certain. It wasn't his experience or abilities that he was worried about. He knew he could make the sacrifices necessary to put the ship's needs before his own - hell, he had done it a hundred times over already - but if it came down to the ship's fate or Spock's life, would he be able to make the right decision?

He buried his face in his hands, glasses awkwardly pressed against the bridge of his nose.

"I'm so fucked."

----------

An hour later, they beamed down to Earth's surface and Jim rented a private shuttle to drive them the rest of the way. The flight was quiet, Spock surveying the crop fields while Jim's hands gripped the steering wheel tighter as they neared their destination. It was summer-time in Iowa, the late July heat hot and humid, the sun glaring down blindingly as Jim landed the shuttle outside of the Kirk farmhouse. The smell of the countryside filled Jim's nostrils as he opened his door and stepped out, grabbing their bags from the storage compartment. Spock looked around, his normally rigid bangs ruffling slightly in the breeze.

"Home sweet home," Jim said somewhat bitterly, and Spock looked over at him curiously. Jim shouldered his bag and led the way up the path towards the front door. The house was old but decently nice, the years starting to show on it now that it is frequented less and less. There was no one around to keep up on the day to day repairs and maintenance. Jim had bought a cleaning service when leave had been announced so that he wouldn't have to deal with the piles of accumulated dust when he returned. Now that Spock was with him, he was glad he had thought about it. Nothing about the house's design or decorations stood out. The house seemed impersonal, with the haunting exception of the memories it held.

The inside of the house was simple, almost bare. Jim had no decorations hung anywhere; nothing was personalized. The house was fully furnished and the furniture was modern but boring, meant for comfort only. That was the main concern when its purpose was being somewhere Jim could pass out drunk on when he needed to. All his belongings of importance were aboard the Enterprise.

Jim gave Spock a quick tour of the house and showed him where he could stash his belongings. Spock made no comments about the house, just thanked Jim for his hospitality and unpacked for the next few days. Jim did the same, then made his way into the kitchen to see what their dinner options were. The replicator hadn't been updated in years, and the cupboards were obviously empty. Take-out it was, Jim thought to himself as he rummaged in a drawer for the stack of menus he kept handy for times like these. He rifled through them and settled on Italian. He called and placed an order, hanging up the comm just as Spock descended the stairs.

"I ordered some food," Jim said lamely, gesturing to the comm in his hand.

"Sustenance would be agreeable," Spock replied.

They stood there awkwardly for a few moments and Jim cursed himself internally. What do they do now? He hadn't had anything planned for himself to do, let alone anything to entertain a Vulcan. He really ought to have thought this through, he surmised.

"Chess?" Jim blurted suddenly, the silence becoming too much for him. Chess was always neutral ground.

Spock nodded, and Jim thought he looked a tiny bit relieved. Jim dug out his old chess board and set it up on the kitchen table while they waited for their food to arrive. They played a few rounds in a more comfortable silence until their dinner was delivered, and they put the match on pause while Jim portioned out their plates from the take-out boxes.

"Here," Jim said as he handed a loaded plate to Spock. "Don't worry, it's vegetarian."

Spock took a tentative first bite and must have decided it was acceptable, as he began eating it at a regular pace. Jim smiled and dug into his own pasta dish. They eventually finished eating and Jim cleared their plates, setting them in the sink to take care of later. They resume their game of chess and played a few matches before Jim started to yawn, and he realized it had gotten pretty late into the night. They finished their final game and parted ways until the morning.

Jim tossed and turned in his bed, thinking about the Vulcan right across the hall from him, probably tangled in Jim's sheets. Was he wearing pajamas? Or a robe? Was he even wearing clothes? Jim groaned and yanked the pillow over his head, trying to smother the thoughts out of his brain. If he wanted to become first officer, he was going to need to stop thinking that way about his captain. It would only end in disaster.

 -----------------


The next afternoon Jim gave Spock a tour of the land. He showed Spock the tree-house that his Dad had built for him and Sam when they were kids. Jim bet Spock he could still fit inside the tiny structure but mainly ended up falling out of the tree and making a fool of himself. Spock just raised an eyebrow at him but Jim could tell he was amused, so it was worth it. They wandered around the property and Jim found himself telling Spock more details of his childhood. The memories bubbled up and out of his mouth, almost without his permission.

"Sam was my best friend growing up. We did almost everything together. Hell, he practically raised me since both of our parents were off planet and aboard the Kelvin for most of our childhood."

"Who watched over you while your parents were away?"

Jim smiled grimly. "My uncle Frank, my mother's brother. Let's just say those aren't some of my fonder memories."

"He was unkind to you?" Spock's eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

"That's one way of putting it. Sam got it the worst - he was always trying to protect me, even when I told him not to. We got really good at hiding the scars."

Spock's eyebrows shot up. "Why did you not alert the authorities or your parents to the abuse he was subjecting you to?"

"He said they wouldn't believe us if we told them, and we were young enough to be scared of that. By the time my parents found out, I was 14 and Sam had left for the academy. My dad beat the shit out of Frank and I haven't seen him since. They had to leave soon after that, though, so they sent me-- er, off planet to study at a research base in order to fast track my time at the academy later."

Spock contemplated this for a moment. "They left you after discovering such a traumatic experience has been occurring?"

Jim shrugged. "Duty called."

"Are your parents currently aboard the USS Kelvin?"

Jim let out a large breath as they meandered through the cornfields. It had been a long time since he had talked this openly about his younger years. Bones knew most of it, the bits and pieces Jim could bring himself to talk about, but not all of it. Something about the way Spock was listening intently with his usual quiet observation was comforting. Jim felt like he could actually say the words without falling to pieces.

"My mom is. My dad died shortly after I returned from my... study abroad. My mom didn't handle his death well, and Sam was already off interning on a starship somewhere. I didn't know how to deal with my emotions and I did some really reckless, destructive stuff to take out my anger at the universe. My mom started drinking a lot and we didn't get along. Once she'd eventually sobered up I was 16, and she decided her duty to Starfleet was more important than the emotional well-being of her own son. So she gave me the farmhouse and left again. I got emancipated and started working at the local bar in Riverside. I think she's still aboard the Kelvin. It's been a while since I've spoke to her."

Spock was silent for a long time, then eventually asked, "Where is your brother currently?"

"He's settled down on Deneva with his wife, Aurelan, and their son Peter." Jim smiled fondly. "I talk to them every week."

They walked past the old barn sitting next to the farmhouse. It had been empty for over a decade. His dad used it as storage for odds and ends, and most importantly: his car. George Kirk had loved that car, had taken care of it despite all his time in space and only drove it on special occasions. Jim took the liberty of driving it over a cliff after he died, unwilling to let it sit in the garage to rot, and unable to care for it himself.

Acting on an impulse, he walked over to the barn and slid the door open. It was filthy, and as empty as Jim expected, save a bundle of junk in the corner covered by a tarp. Jim stood there for a moment and just stared into the empty space, and Spock stayed silent beside him, clearly aware that Jim was having a moment. Jim shook his head to clear it and turned around to leave when a glint of light caught his eye. He whirled back around to look again, and noticed a glimmer of sunlight reflecting back at him from under the tarp. Jim strode over and yanked the tarp away, revealing a few stacks boxes, and a forgotten PX70 motorcycle underneath.

"No way," Jim breathed, and kicked the boxes aside to maneuver the bike out of the barn. He brought it out into the sunlight and brushed some of the dirt off of the seat and handle bars. "I had forgotten about this thing!" Jim exclaimed, amazed at his discovery. It had been out in the barn this whole time and he never knew, he thought. But it had been years since he'd even looked at the barn, let alone thought about going inside. "My dad taught me how to ride it when I was 13. My mom was furious. She always yelled at him for being reckless," Jim remembered bitter-sweetly.

"A trait he apparently passed down to you," Spock noted, earning a surprised laugh from Jim.

"Want to take her for a spin?" Jim asked, his grip tightening on the handlebars.

Spock looked reluctant, to say the least. "There are no helmets."

Jim started to wave his hand in dismissal but stopped at the look on Spock's face. "I think I saw a few back in the barn. Be right back."

Jim rummaged through the boxes and managed to find two helmets, both a little worse for wear but still functional. He walked up behind Spock and planted one on his head. Spock looked apprehensively at Jim through the face shield, looking so ridiculous that Jim fought not to smile. He didn't think Spock would appreciate the humor. At Spock's pointed look, he put the other helmet on his own head, carefully avoiding his glasses. Jim then swung a leg over the bike, settled himself into the seat, and started the engine. It roared to life and rumbled beneath him, making Jim grin gleefully.

"Come on, Spock!" Jim yelled over the noise of the engine. Spock didn't move from where he was standing and Jim waved him over. Spock took a few tentative steps forward and said loudly, "This looks like a dangerous piece of machinery. I do not think it wise..."

"Don't you trust me?" Jim interrupted, and Spock's words faltered. He set his chin and approached the bike, to Jim's satisfaction. "Careful," Jim cautioned as Spock grabbed onto his shoulders and lifted himself up on the seat behind him. Jim's heart fluttered in his chest as Spock settled against him, hands flitting nervously from Jim's shoulders to his waist. Jim took a deep breath to steady himself, grabbed Spock's wrists lightly and pulled them completely around his waist. He thought he felt a spark of electricity between them but ignored it. "You'll want to hang on tight," Jim explained, his voice rough, but he hoped the roar of the bike would hide it.

Spock didn't respond, but he folded his hands tightly together over Jim's abdomen, Jim's t-shirt the only layer between their skin. The butterflies in his stomach fluttered against the point of contact. He revved the engine and pushed along the ground with his feet as they started forward. They take off down the dirt road, gravel and dust flying in a cloud behind them. Spock's hands tightened around Jim as he pulled himself closer. Jim whooped loudly in delight as they gained speed, and he wished desperately that Spock hadn't made him put on the helmet. He wanted to feel the wind rush through his hair. They coasted the country roads for a while, until the sun began to set on the horizon.

Jim hadn't had a destination in mind when they hopped onto the bike but one popped into his head as they approached the main road into the city. Jim turned onto the highway and followed the familiar route he used to drive every day. Walking into Lew's bar was like travelling back in time. He didn't recognize any of the staff but everything else was the same, just like any standard bar you could find across the Mid-west but it was Lew's. The one place that simultaneously kept Jim sane and caused him some of the worst trouble.

They took a seat in a booth near the entrance and a pretty blonde waitress came over to take their drink orders. "I'll have a draft beer and my friend," he winked towards Spock, who looked unamused, "will have a chocolate martini." At that, Spock's eyebrows disappeared into his bangs. The waitress smiled flirtatiously at Jim and promised to be back momentarily. Jim laughed at Spock's expression. "What? We're on vacation, Spock. You're allowed to let loose a little."

Spock looked like he was about to argue, but the waitress returned with their drinks and asked if they were ordering food. Jim got a bacon cheeseburger and fries and Spock a salad. The waitress lingered for a moment too long but when Jim turned his attention immediately to Spock after ordering, she huffed a little under her breath and sauntered away to put in their order.

Jim pushed the martini across the table until it sat directly in front of Spock.
"I used to work here," he said, fingering the stem of Spock's glass. Spock looked around and seemed to catalog all of the details around him. Jim decided he didn't want to talk about himself anymore. Spock was much more fascinating. "So, Spock, you got to hear me ramble an awful lot about my younger years. What about you? I'm sure growing up on Vulcan was an interesting experience."

Spock stayed silent for a moment, before lifting the glass to his lips to take a sip. Jim couldn't help but watch as his lips grazed the rim of the glass, and he pinched his leg hard to stop his inappropriate thoughts.

"My experience as a child on Vulcan was not a standard one," Spock replied evenly, though Jim could make out an unknown emotion lurking in his brown eyes.

"How so? If you don't mind me asking, of course."

"My father is a Vulcan ambassador, but my mother is human. Some factions of Vulcan consider my blood to be tainted and unpure, and therefore see me as a lesser breed. My father commanded me to purge all remnants of my human heritage, while my mother begged me to embrace it. As neither human nor Vulcan, I struggled to find my place in my world."

"I didn't know you were half human," Jim said, astonished.

"It is not something I advertise. Humans consider me too Vulcan, and Vulcans consider me too human. Both consider me lesser than themselves."

"That's ridiculous!" Jim yelled, and a few heads turned in their direction. He lowered his voice and continued. "You can't help the way you were born, Spock. And you can't listen to people who judge you for it. They're all just trying to fill a void in themselves by making other people feel worse."

Spock inclined his head. "That is a lesson I have learned many times over during my years, but thank you for the reiteration, Jim. It is something my mother has repeated to me on numerous occasions as well."

"I'll bet your mother is a smart women. She'd have to be, to keep up with you guys. I'd like to meet her sometime."

"I shall introduce you if the opportunity arises." There was a long pause and then Spock, who Jim had never known to be sentimental, said,"I find I am grateful for your friendship. It is not something I have experienced often."

Jim reached out and clasped Spock's arm on the table, touched. The food arrived a moment later and Jim reluctantly withdrew his hand. The waitress eyeballed Jim's movement as she set their plates down. She took Jim's order for another round of drinks with a smile. Jim downed the rest of his beer after she walked away and gestured to Spock to do the same. Spock shook his head slowly and Jim nudged him under the table with his foot. Spock jumped at the unexpected contact and Jim grinned. Narrowing his eyes at Jim over the rim of the glass, Spock suddenly tipped it back and swallowed its contents in one smooth gulp. Jim clapped appreciatively as Spock set the glass back down, chocolate syrup smeared at the corner of his mouth.

Jim's mouth went dry as he fought the urge to lick it off Spock's lips. Instead, he cleared his throat and eloquently said, "You've, um, got some chocolate, uh, there," and swiped at his own mouth, indicating that Spock should do the same. Spock copied his motion but on the opposite side of the smudge. "Other side," Jim corrected, and watched as Spock spectacularly missed the spot altogether. "For Christ's sake," Jim muttered under his breath, and sat up to reach across the table. He brushed his thumb gently across the stain, watching the pale skin come clean. Spock's mouth fell open slightly and it took everything in Jim not to caress his fingers over his bottom lip as well. On a second's whim, Jim locked eyes with Spock and impulsively licked the chocolate from his thumb.

The waitress chose that moment to return with their drinks, completely unaware of the moment she ruined with her presence. Spock's pupils were blown wide as Jim hastily sat back in his seat. Jim noted with curiosity that Spock's cheeks were flushed a light green, as well as the tips of his ears. It must have been the alcohol, Jim surmised.

The waitress glanced at their untouched food and frowned. "Is the food alright for you guys?"

"It is adequate," Spock said without looking at her. despite not having taken a single bite.

She huffed at his cool tone and dropped their bill with a thud on the table as she walked away. Jim grabbed the checkbook an excuse to look away from the intensity of Spock's gaze, feeling heat pool low in his belly. He noticed with amusement that the waitress has written down her comm number and paid the tab without a second glance.

Jim, feeling nervous under the weight of Spock's eyes, began rambling about random hilarious stories from the academy. They finished their meals and drinks as Jim talked, and Spock even contributed a few anecdotes himself. Jim counted the evening as a success when he managed to draw a small smile to the corner of Spock's lips. Once their glasses were empty, they walked back out into the night to Jim's bike.

Jim was barely even buzzed from the two beers he'd had, but Spock was downright wasted, tolerance for chocolate apparently nonexistent, still quiet but noticeably less coordinated and much more tactile. Jim had to put one arm around Spock's waist as they walked in order to keep him steady. "Are you gonna be able to hold onto me while we're riding?" Jim asked him, and felt Spock nod against him. He handed Spock a helmet and put on the other. "Are you sure? Cause I'll never forgive myself if I let you fall off the back while I'm driving."

"I am certain, Jim," Spock mumbled, and supported a little more of his own weight.

Jim surveyed him for a moment and decided he would be okay for the short ride home. He mounted the bike and started the engine, then motioned for Spock to climb on. Spock swayed slightly but planted himself in the seat behind Jim and wrapped his arms dutifully around Jim's waist. Jim pulled him tighter, for safety reasons, and yelled, "Hold on to me! Don't let go, okay?" Just for good measure.

Spock gripped Jim even harder, and rested his helmet against Jim's shoulder. Jim maneuvered them out of the parking lot and drove the short distance home carefully, anxiously aware of every shift in Spock's position behind him. He was more than relieved when they arrived minutes later and he could park the bike.
Jim held Spock steady as he climbed off and then helped Spock do the same. He slung one of Spock's arms around his shoulders and supported him into the house and upstairs into the bedroom he was occupying.

He laid Spock down on the bed gently, took off his shoes, and drew the blankets up over him despite the heat of summer outside. Spock murmured a few words in Vulcan under his breath that Jim couldn't decipher. Jim just smiled and stared at the sight before him for a moment longer before stepping out and shutting off the lights. He left the door cracked in case Spock were to need assistance later. He crossed the hall to his own room and readied himself for bed as well.

It was a while before Jim was able to doze off, mind awake with thoughts of their earlier conversations and the moment that has passed between them at Lew's. He felt his dick stir in his pajama bottoms when he thought of the look Spock had given him. Jim willed his hard on away and turned over on the bed, burying his face in the pillows. He literally forced himself to count sheep in order to deter his thoughts and it surprisingly worked, after a while. Jim was in the low 300s when he finally drifted off to sleep.

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


It was obvious to Jim the next day that Spock had a hangover. He didn't complain or outwardly show obvious signs of discomfort, but Jim knew him well enough by now that he could see past his restraint. Those brown eyes were glossier than normal, the corners cinched a little tighter, and he was noticeably quiet, even for him. Jim went upstairs and dug around in his drawers until he found one the spare hypos he stashed for situations like this. Spock gave him a grateful look as Jim administered it and watched some of the color return to Spock's cheeks.

They decided to stay in for the day, with the only exception being Jim's quick trip to the store for dinner supplies. Jim showed him a few more old DVDs and Spock enjoyed himself despite finding them preposterous. They played more than a few rounds of chess, trading the usual witty banter and sharing more stories about before they met. It always astounded Jim how much he enjoyed Spock's company. Jim didn't think he would ever tire of spending time with him.

When Spock brought out his Vulcan lute, Jim lost his shit. "Is there anything he can't do?" He muttered under his breath.

Spock sat on Jim's couch and set the instrument on his lap and tuned each of the twelve strings carefully. When he was finished he looked across the room to where Jim sat sideways on the bench in the window. Jim nodded at him in encouragement. Spock closed his eyes and began to play. The most beautiful melody Jim had ever heard filled the room and Jim watched reverently as Spock lost himself in the music. He was open and vulnerable in a way that Jim had never seen before, and he was drinking it in. He wanted to see Spock this unguarded all the time, though he knew it was an impossibility. Jim would just have to be grateful for the rare precious moments when Spock forgot his perfect composure.

Jim bent one knee and propped an arm up on it. He leaned down and rested his chin on his forearm and studied Spock, fascinated by the way his whole body seemed to sway with the notes he played. The music swelled to a crescendo and Jim felt like his heart might burst with the rhythm of it. The song ended on a high sweet note that resonated in Jim's chest. Spock opened his eyes to find Jim watching him, and Jim thought he looked slightly embarrassed but pleased to have Jim's undivided attention.

Jim just looked at him until Spock started to squirm slightly in his seat, still not entirely composed from his performance. He was clearly waiting for Jim to say something, but Jim liked having the advantage of making Spock melt under his gaze for once. Jim smirked and turned to face Spock fully, dropping his feet back on the ground. He rested his arms on his knees and leaned forward. "That was beautiful, Spock, truly. What was it?"

Spock inclined his head and his fingers moved over the strings noiselessly. "Thank you, Jim. It is a piece I composed myself."

Jim huffed out a breath in amazement. "That's incredible."

Spock said nothing, just strummed absentmindedly. Jim watched and listened as Spock played some more, showing him some tunes and melodies that he liked from Vulcan. Spock played Jim some of the songs that his mother used to sing to him when he was a child. Jim recognized a few of them from Earth.

Eventually, his stomach growled, and an idea popped into Jim's head. "You hungry?" He asked Spock, who nodded and then watched in confusion as Jim walked, not into the kitchen, but over to the one item of personal significance in the house instead. The only reason he had not taken the antique record player along with him was that it was big and awkward, and the records were fragile. He rummaged through the cabinet underneath and filed through his selections and picked a mix of songs to play.

The sounds of mid-20th Century era music swept through the air. Jim smiled as he made his way into the kitchen as he recognized "It's Been a Long, Long Time". "What can I say?" He called over his shoulder to Spock, who trailed along after him. "I guess I'm nostalgic."

"You reminisce about a point in time centuries before your birth? That seems irrational."

"I'm human," Jim pointed out, and Spock tilted his head in agreement.

Spock leaned against the counter as Jim took out the various ingredients he had bought earlier, as well as some cooking equipment. He swayed to the music as he started preparing the food.

"Can I assist you in any way, Jim?"

Jim grinned and gestured to the assorted vegetables sitting on the counter. "Those need sliced. Knock yourself out."

Spock raised another eyebrow. "Certainly it is not so dangerous a task?"

Jim laughed. "And they say Vulcans have no sense of humor."

They worked in silence for a while and just listened to the music. Jim hummed and moved to the music, happier in this domestic moment than he could remember feeling in a long time. He felt Spock's bemused gaze on him as he danced around. Spock finished slicing the vegetables and Jim completed the sauce. All of the prepared ingredients were thrown into a pan over high heat for a few minutes.

He grabbed the bottle of brandy he used in the recipe and poured two drinks for them. Jim clinked his glass against Spock's and took a sip. Spock did the same and they surveyed each other over the rims for a long moment. The record skipped for a second and the song changed as Jim took another sip.


~Wise men say only fools rush in
But I can't help falling in love with you~


"Mmm!" He hummed excitedly as he recognized the song and swallowed his mouthful of brandy. "I love this song."

"It is pleasing," Spock agreed.


~Shall I stay? Would it be a sin?
If I can't help falling in love with you~


An ache panged through Jim's chest at how accurately the lyrics represented his feelings in that moment. Feeling bold, he set down his glass on the counter and held out a hand to Spock. "Dance with me?"


~Like a river flows surely to the sea
Darling so it goes, some things are meant to be~


Spock looked down at his hand, eyes wide.

"I can't dance to this one by myself, Spock." Jim murmured, a soft smile on his lips and his heart hammering in his chest.


~Take my hand, take my whole life too
For I can't help falling in love with you~

 

Spock placed one cool hand in Jim's, and let Jim pull him close enough to wrap an arm around his waist. Jim's hand settled in the small of Spock's back. Spock's free hand gripped the top of Jim's arm and slid up to his shoulder as Jim tugged him close enough that their chests were touching. They were almost nose to nose and Jim's breath caught in his throat as Spock's brown eyes locked with his. Heat pooled low in Jim's belly. He loved the song so much that he had forgotten what a bad idea it was to have Spock this close. Their moment in time froze and they stood there, teetering on the edge of something huge, grasping each other tightly and watching for the other to jump first.

Neither of them moved and the moment seemed to pass. Jim gathered his bearings and stepped backwards but brought Spock along with him, and soon they were gliding around the kitchen to the music. Jim tried to take it slow so that Spock could learn the footwork but it was evident that he didn't need Jim's help. His natural Vulcan grace kept him light on his feet and they moved flawlessly together, spinning and swirling around like they had done it a million times, Jim laughing delighted the entire time.

At the end of the song, Jim started to pull away, but Spock caught his hand. He tugged Jim back towards him and spun them around before leaning Jim back into a low dip. Jim laughed breathlessly. "You sure know how to take a guy by surprise. When'd you learn how to dance?"

"My mother taught me as a child," Spock replied, and Jim thought it was slightly rough around the edges.

Spock leaned them both upright and there they were again, close enough that Jim could see the flecks of gold in Spock's irises. Their legs were perfectly slotted together and he felt Spock's breath on the corner of his lips. It would have been so easy for Jim to lean forward and close the small amount of distance between them, to brush their mouths together like he'd been dying to do for months now.

Instead, he released Spock's hand and took a few steps backwards. "I should check on the food," he said as an excuse, and turned towards the stove before Spock could see the look of longing on his face. He cleared his throat quietly as he stirred the vegetables around and turned the heat up higher. He heard a glass clink behind him and looked over his shoulder. Jim was surprised to see Spock pour himself a drink and down it in the next second.

Jim turned back to the food and lifted the spoon to his mouth to sample it. Satisfied that it tasted the best it could, he plated the stir-fry and put some steamed rice on the side. "Dinner's ready," he informed Spock, who came to grab a plate for himself. They sat down at the kitchen table together and ate in a not-quite-uncomfortable silence, except for Spock complimenting Jim's cooking.

Jim didn't know what to make of the moment they had just shared and didn't know how to broach the distance now between them. His heart dropped into his stomach when Spock excused himself to his room after finishing his dinner. Jim watched as Spock climbed the stairs without a backwards glance. He put his head in his hands and left the rest of his dinner untouched. The deep horrible pit of emotion deepened in him and he fought to not fall in, but it crept up on him relentlessly and soon he thought his chest might burst with the force of it. Sure he had ruined things between them and desperate to take his mind off things, Jim began to stress-clean the kitchen in despair.

He was scrubbing the dishes frantically by hand when he caught sight of his motorcycle outside. Feeling reckless, he threw the dish towel he was holding down on the counter, picked up the bottle of brandy off the table, and went outside to stand next to his bike. They returned to the ship in the morning and it was likely that Spock was never going to talk to him again, so he took one big swig from the bottle just because he shouldn't. After setting the bottle down on the ground, Jim climbed onto his bike and started it, not bothering to wear a helmet. He revved the engine and took off down the driveway, heading for the old dirt roads he used to drive.

Jim rode at dangerous speeds and enjoyed every second of the wind whipping past him, glasses plastered to his face and hair going wild. He drove until he hit the edge of the quarry that he had almost driven off years ago. Jim pulled the bike around sideways and stopped. It was dark by now and being this far away from town, he could see the stars shining in the distance. Being back on solid ground had dug up some unpleasant memories, and now with things potentially ruined with Spock, Jim missed being in space. As illogical as it was, he almost felt more claustrophobic on this planet than he did on the ship.

He stared up at the sky for a while, mind blank, and tried to enjoy just living in that moment. It was harder than it should have been at first, but as his mind quieted it got easier. When he no longer felt like his world was shattering, he started up his bike again and headed home at a significantly safer speed than before.

Trepidation loomed in him as he approached the farmhouse once more. Jim parked the bike and picked the bottle of brandy back up off the ground and made short work of emptying the contents of the bottle down his throat. Spock was still locked in his room when Jim finally walked inside, the smell of incense and candles alluding to his meditation. Jim walked by his door without stopping and stumbled into his own room, filthy, reeking of booze and in desperate need of a shower.

Clumsily, he peeled his clothes off and let them fall to a heap on the floor. Jim fumbled for the shower handle and managed to turn on the stream of hot water. He stepped in and let the shower scorch his skin, relishing the sting on his skin. The water rinsed most of the dirt and dust from his body and he used his hands to rub at some of the more stubborn patches. One of Jim's hand brushed over a nipple and his dick twitched in response. He gritted his teeth and tried to ignore it but the sensation of water running over him made it difficult, and soon he was fully hard despite his best efforts.

Jim looked down at his erect dick and sighed as he wrapped a hand around it. He tried to think of past lovers, of his craziest fantasies, anything other than his captain across the hall. His plan succeeded at first and he shuddered as warmth settled in the pit of his belly. His hand seemed to move of its own accord and soon he was jerking himself off enthusiastically, hips stuttering as he thrusted into his own fist.

One hand moved to his chest and he groaned as his thumb flicked over a nipple. He repeated the movement and his mouth fell open at the sensation. Jim massaged the head of his penis and moaned. He planted a hand on the shower wall to steady himself and leaned forward until his head rested against the cool tile. He panted as his orgasm built within him, so close to coming but needing a little more to push him over the edge. The hand on his dick worked faster, tugging and twisting ruthlessly.

An unbidden thought of deep brown eyes crossed his mind and he trembled with desire. He had tried to avoid thoughts of Spock but now they came forward untethered as Jim envisioned long fingers other than his own closing around his dick. He imagined the look of concentration that Spock would wear as he worked determinedly to make Jim come. Jim's vision went white as he pictured it, his hips jerking erratically as he climaxed at the thought of Spock jerking him off. He stroked himself through the waves of pleasure, Spock's name unspoken on his lips.

His chest heaved as he relaxed, his dick gradually growing soft in his hand. He stepped back, knees still weak, and let the stream of water wash away his ejaculate and then scrubbed a clean hand down his face, ashamed. He finished washing himself quickly and stepped out of the shower. Jim wrapped a towel around his waist and walked out into his bedroom to collapse on his bed. For the first time since their shore leave began, Jim had no trouble falling asleep instantly.

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

When Jim and Spock met in the kitchen for breakfast the next morning, neither of them brought up the night before. In fact, they acted like nothing had happened and like nothing was wrong or weird between them. Jim was grateful for that, at least. The last thing that he wanted was for his romantic feelings for Spock to get in the way of their friendship, and soon-to-be command team. He hadn't thought much at all about becoming first officer, if he was honest with himself. He had been too preoccupied with Spock. In the end, he decided to accept because that was what Spock wanted him to do, and after everything Jim didn't want to let him down.

The shuttle taking them back to the transporter location showed up right on time. They piled their bags into the storage unit and started towards their destination. It was quiet for a while and their shuttle trip was almost before Jim cleared his throat and said, "If the offer is still on the table, I'd like to be your first officer."

Spock raised both eyebrows. "Indeed? You are certain?"

Jim grinned over at him and shrugged. "Yeah. I mean, its probably a bad idea, but what's the worst that could happen?" He resisted the urge to wince as he heard the words come out of his mouth. Spock pondered this for a moment before opening his mouth to respond. Jim didn't give him the chance and cut him off hurriedly. "It was rhetorical, Spock," he said, and laughed to cover up the fact that he was very aware of all that could possibly go wrong. He decided it was worth the risk anyways when he saw the corners of Spock's eyes crinkle slightly, his lips twitching in Jim's direction.

"Then I accede to your acceptance, Commander."

A tiny shiver went through Jim at that, and his hands tightened slightly on the wheel. If Spock noticed, he said nothing, and they sat in companionable silence. When they arrived a few minutes later, the newly-minted first officer Jim was the one to signal the Enterprise for transport when they arrived at the designated location. He smiled at Spock as they stepped onto the pad, the feelings he had tried and failed to ignore fluttering in his chest. At least as Captain and First Officer, they would be on more level playing ground, he reasoned as he flipped open his communicator. He was ready to see where this new change in dynamic would take them.

"Beam us up, Scotty."

Chapter Text

Jim moved into the cabin attached to the captain's as per standard command team arrangements. Uhura had preferred other quarters when she was first officer so they were conveniently empty. Spock had pointed that out to Jim as they returned aboard the Enterprise from Earth, and casually suggested Jim occupied them now.
Shocked but pleased, Jim had accepted with some hesitance. The wilder part of him craved any way to be closer to Spock despite knowing anything other than friendship was still out of reach. The more rational part of Jim told him it was a very bad idea for that very reason. In the end, with Spock looking at him expectantly, it was impossible for him to reject the offer of joint quarters. Now the only thing separating them most of the time was a shared bathroom.

The next mission was about a week's travel from Earth, so Uhura spent a lot of that time going over Jim's new responsibilities and duties as first officer in his new quarters. He was grateful for her organization and expertise, and with her assistance he was able to create a system for himself that helped him stay on schedule for his newly assigned tasks.

The evening before they were set to arrive at the next planet they were surveying, Jim and Nyota sat on the floor, talking idly after they had finished going over the parameters of being XO. She eventually drew out Jim's reluctant confession that he was anxious about being second in command, and she gave him a soft, reassuring smile.

"You'll do great, Jim," Nyota squeezed his hand. "I've seen the way you take charge of the landing parties, and you always know what to do in a crisis. Hell, you're braver and crazier than me, but somehow it always works to your advantage."

"I don't know about that," Jim huffed. "I seem to get into trouble an awful lot."

She gave him a dubious look. "Complain all you want, but you come alive under pressure. It's when you do some of your best work. You'd be bored without the thrill of the chase."

"Oh, so you're a psychologist now too?"

"Like I said, I've seen the way you handle impossible situations. You do whatever it takes to get your team through the wreckage and damn the odds stacked against you."

He shrugged. "I don't believe in no-win scenarios."

"You're a force of nature, Jim Kirk," Nyota chuckled. "No wonder Spock has such faith in you. I can't think of anyone else I'd rather have by his side."

"I knew you just couldn't take your eyes off me," Jim drawled, a cocky grin on his lips to hide how touched he was.

She swatted at him playfully. "Shut up, I was just doing my job. What kind of communications officer would I be if I didn't read people's body language?"

"Convenient excuse," Jim said teasingly.

"Speaking of my observation skills..." Nyota smirked. "I've noticed you staring at the captain more times than I can count. Care to comment?"

"Who doesn't check out the captain?" He asked nonchalantly, urging his cheeks not to color. "He's attractive. I didn't think it was a crime to enjoy the view."

"It's not, but I wouldn't classify 'gazes full of hopeless longing' as 'enjoying the view.'"

"Hey, I do not gaze longingly or hopelessly at the captain!" Jim objected, but it sounded weak to his own ears. He sighed in defeat at her knowing look. He tried to take some comfort in the fact that they were alone, but the fact that Uhura was obviously aware of his more-than-friendly feelings towards the captain put him ill at ease. Was he that obvious?

"Am I that obvious?" Jim rubbed the bridge of his nose under his glasses, and closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to see Uhura's pitying look.

"Not that obvious to everyone," she assured him. "Just to me. Does anyone else know?"

"Only Bones and Carol."

"And what do they think?"

"Bones read me the riot act, per usual. Carol told me to go for it, also per usual." When she didn't say anything to that, Jim continued. "What about you? What do you think I should do?"

"I don't know," she told him.

Jim nodded like this made perfect sense to him. "Well, great. Now that that's settled, can I trust you to keep this between us?"

Nyota nodded slowly. "Of course, Jim. I just..." She hesitated, and the look on her face made Jim uneasy.

"What is it?"

There was a long pause before she said anything, clearly contemplating what words she should say before she said them. "I'm not telling you this to scare you, but I do want you to be prepared for the worst. Back at the academy, Spock was my language tutor and that's how we became friends. I... developed romantic feelings for him and tried to subtly make it obvious, but he never caught on. When I finally worked up the nerve to tell him outright he... made it very clear that our relationship was strictly platonic. Don't get me wrong, he let me down gently - well, as gentle as a Vulcan can be, anyway. But it took a while before we were back to behaving like our normal selves around each other. It was tense between us for bit. Luckily we were both mature enough to put it behind us."

Jim's heart had dropped further into his stomach the longer she told her story. He was sure it was lying dead on the floor in front of him by the end of it, but one quick hand to his chest proved otherwise. He cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows at her. "Thanks for the words of encouragement."

She held up her hands placatingly. "Hey, I'm just trying to save you the heartache. Besides, I met Scotty and we're in an amazing relationship now. Things will work out in the end, whether its the way you want them to or not."

"That makes me feel loads better," Jim muttered.

She patted his back. "You're welcome. What are friends for?"

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

 

They arrived to orbit Alpha 177 the next day, and the mission itself was uneventful. Jim led a small party down to the planet, all clothed in protective gear due to the dramatic temperature changes and strange specimens on the surface. They surveyed the area and documented their findings on their tricorders. Amazingly, there were no injuries. The only mishap that occurred was Jim tripping over his own feet and landing in a dusty dirt pile.

After collecting an ample amount of information for the ship's logs, Jim gathered the team into position for beam up. "Ready for transport, Scotty," Jim signaled, and the familiar glow surrounded him and his team.

When the light receded behind his eyelids and opened them to glance around, he was surprised to see the surface of the planet still surrounding him instead of the inside of the transporter room. He frowned and flipped open his communicator. "Uh, Scotty? I think you're forgetting something. Me, mostly."

Static came through the speakers of his comm unit for a moment, then jumbled nonsense, until finally he could make out Scotty's voice. "I'm having trouble locking onto your signal, Jim. Standby."

He waited patiently, his concern growing by the minute. After fifteen missed had passed, Jim was about ready to signal the captain, when Scotty's voice rang out one more, much clearer than it was previously. "Jim! I finally got ya, lad. Get ready."

Jim stood at attention as the light engulfed him once more, and he was relieved to see the walls of the ship afterwards. Scotty was standing in front of him, worry and relief chasing each other on his face. Jim took a step off the transporter pad and stumbled. "Whoa, laddie, take it easy. Your particles were scattered longer than they should have been." Scotty stepped forward to steady him and patted down his arms and sides, as if to make sure he was whole and solid. Dust from Jim's fall earlier rose into the air around them, and Scotty frowned as he rubbed some off of his hands. "I dunno what happened, but I'm wondering if this strange powder has something to do with it."

Jim shrugged out of his gear carefully, attempting to disturb as little of the substance as possible. "I'll take it down to the labs for testing."

"Here, I can take it," Scotty said, taking the gear out of Jim's hands and walking backwards towards the door. "I want to personally get a look at whatever messed with my machinery. Anyways, Captain Spock mentioned he wanted you to meet him in Conference Room One for debriefing. I reckon Dr. McCoy will want a look at ya afterwards, because of the malfunction. You know how finicky the doctor gets so I wouldn't keep him waiting."

Jim groaned exaggeratedly, making Scotty smile and wink as he exited the transporter room. Once he was alone, Jim staggered over to the wall and leaned heavily against is, suddenly faint and clammy. He shook his head to clear it and reasoned it was probably due to his less-than-smooth transport back aboard the ship. His dizzy spell passed after a moment and he slowly made his way towards Conference Room One.

He only made it about halfway there when he was hit with another wave of vertigo, and his feet went out from under him as he struggled to take a step. He fell sideways and caught himself on the wall, narrowly avoiding a face-plant onto the floor. His ears were ringing, and he tried to stagger upright but failed, his hands slipping from the wall and landing on the floor in front of him. He leaned on all fours and dry-heaved from the nausea rolling in his stomach. Panting, he stayed on the floor for a moment and tried gather his bearings. When he felt like he could stand without toppling over, he unsteadily got to his feet.

A few crewman passed by and he tried to smile reassuringly at them, but wasn't sure he succeeded by the strange looks they sent his way. He managed to convince his feet to carry him to the turbolift, which was thankfully empty. Leaning heavily against the wall, grateful for a handle to help keep him standing. Jim was able to hit the button to take him up towards Spock despite his vision blurring in the process. He put a hand to his head as the pressure in his skull suddenly increased. Jim's legs buckled and he cried out at the painful impact of his knees hitting the floor. That was the last thing he remembered before darkness rose up to claim him.

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

Jim wasn't all that surprised when he woke up in sickbay. After his many near-death experiences, it was rare that he was taken off guard by his sudden appearance in a biobed. It was normally comforting, like knowing the worst had passed and was over, and he was safe in Bones' care. However, what worried him now was Bones standing a few feet away with his arms crossed tightly across his chest, looking down at Jim's chart with unbridled concern. Carol was next to him, her expression equally troubled, and they talked in hushed tones in order to not wake him.

Jim could tell Bones was frustrated by the lines etched deep into his forehead. He was used to having that look directed at him, but usually when he woke up in sickbay, Bones had already figured out what was wrong and fixed it. The fact that Bones was still wearing it made Jim anxious. He tried to make out what they were saying but couldn't, so he cleared his throat to announce that he had returned to consciousness. They immediately flocked to his side, and Carol grabbed his hand.

"Jim, how are you feeling?" Bones demanded, scanning him with his tricorder even though his vitals were clearly displayed on the monitors beside them. Bones huffed, dissatisfied with the readings despite them being identical. Apparently, in Jim's situation, that wasn't a good thing.

"I feel..." Jim tried to sit up and the room spun. "Not good," he finished lamely, collapsing back against the pillows for support.

"I could have told you that." Bones rolled his eyes impatiently. "An ensign found you passed out cold in the turbolift. You wanna expand on that answer a little bit?"

Jim pressed the heel of his palm to his forehead. "I'm dizzy and I feel... heavy, like I'm wading through water. My head feels like it's trying to split apart. What's wrong with me, Doc?"

Bones glanced at him helplessly. "That's the thing: we don't know. Your vitals are all over the place, and I've run every test I can think off, but nothing's led us towards any answers."

"So what do we do?"

"The only thing we can do," Carol said quietly. "Treat your symptoms and hope you either get better or worse."

"You're hoping I get worse?"

"Well, no, but at least it would give us something else to go on, another symptom maybe. As of right now, we have nothing." Carol bit her lip, her trademark nervous tick, and Jim knew she was just as stumped as Bones.

When two of the best doctors in the Fleet didn't know how to cure you, it generally wasn't a good sign.

"I want to keep you here for observation." Bones said flatly, and raised an eyebrow as though daring Jim to argue.

Jim did anyway. "For how long?"

"As long as I say so. Until I'm satisfied that you're not going to die."

"Who knows how long that's going to take!" Jim protested.

Bones threw his hands in the air exasperatedly. "Who fucking cares, Jim!" He shouted. "I don't know what to do with you, and you certainly aren't well enough to just be wandering the halls of the ship by yourself!"

"I'm supposed to meet Spock to go over the mission details."

"Spock can wait!" Bones exploded.

Carol held out her hand placatingly. "Calm down, Leonard. Getting so upset isn't going to help anything." Bones gaped at her and gestured down at Jim. Carol ignored him and continued, "Jim, please be reasonable. We're just trying to help."

"At least let me go back to my quarters," Jim pleaded. "You can treat my symptoms like you said, and I'll stay put in my cabin. Spock will be right next door if anything happens."

"I don't like it," Bones replied instantly. Carol glanced at him sternly, and they shared a long look, a silent conversation playing out between them. Eventually, Bones sighed dramatically and put his hands on his hips. "Fine. I'll discharge you to your quarters."

Jim grinned at Carol. "I rather like the way you handle him."

"I want updates every hour." Bones persisted. "I'll be stopping by periodically to check on you, too. And if anything happens, you comm me right away. I swear to God, Jim..." He trailed off warningly, pointing a finger in Jim's face for emphasis.

"Yes, Mom," Jim deadpanned obediently.

Bones rolled his eyes and left to gather some hyposprays to torture Jim with, no doubt. Carol patted his hand comfortingly. "We'll figure this out, Jimmy. Don't you worry about a thing."

"You're a terrible liar, Carol. But if anyone can figure out the medically impossible, it's you two."

Bones returned and after a few jabs to the neck, Carol was walking him back to his quarters. She made him promise to call her if he needed anything, and only left once he had assured her many times that he would. Once she was gone he stood still in the middle of his room, just trying to make sense of how he was feeling. After a moment he decided a hot shower might do him some good, and dragged his feet towards the bathroom. The steam cleared his head a little, and after the shots Bones had administered, he was starting to feel a tiny bit better.

Jim dried off and got dressed. He belatedly realized that Spock was probably waiting for an explanation of his whereabouts, and walked over to his comm to message him an apologize for missing their meeting, when his door chimed. He told the computer to allow entry, and Spock strutted into his cabin. To anyone else, his face would look void of emotion, but Jim saw the hard way his jaw was set, and his eyebrows were drawn closer together than normal.

"Spock, hey," Jim started, but Spock cut him off.

"Explain yourself." His voice was cold, and Jim had to force himself not to flinch at his tone.

"I was just about to comm you," Jim said slowly, confused by the anger beneath Spock's surface. "I'm sorry for missing our meeting, but I had good reason, I promise."

"I would hardly consider fraternizing with your subordinates a 'good reason' for neglecting your responsibilities," Spock snapped.

"Whoa, hold on." Jim raised his palms in front of him in a halting motion. "What are you talking about?"

"Do not feign ignorance," Spock replied stiffly, his arms folded tightly behind him. "I observed you in an intimate embrace with Yeoman Rand outside the transporter room."

Stunned, Jim responded dumbly, "That's impossible."

Spock raised an eyebrow at him, obviously unimpressed. "And yet it was apparent to I and every other crewman who happened to walk down that corridor. Your actions are immensely out of character. Explain yourself."

Jim was completely flabbergasted. "Spock, I collapsed in the turbolift on my way to meet you. I've been down in sickbay this whole time. You can comm Bones if you don't believe me, but why would I lie? When have I ever lied to you?"

"Where is the logic in maintaining this deception? I witnessed your transgression with my own eyes, Mr. Kirk."

Spock's use of Jim's surname was like a slap to the face. He didn't understand what the fuck was going on, and why Spock wouldn't believe him. After everything they had been through together, Jim thought they trusted each other more than this.

"I don't know who you saw, but it wasn't me." Jim said numbly. "Does that even sound like something I would do?"

"Is there a more rational explanation for what I witnessed?"

"I--" Jim faltered. "I don't know. But I swear, Spock, I've been in a hospital bed since I beamed back aboard. Call Bones right now, dammit!"

"Doctor McCoy would likely provide any alibi for you, should you find yourself in a troublesome situation similar to this one."

Jim's lower jaw dropped open. "You can't be serious."

Spock lifted his chin and gave Jim a haughty look. Jim felt a cold emptiness start to spread through his chest. "You are restricted to your quarters pending disciplinary actions." Spock turned on his heel to leave.

"Bones already has me restricted to my quarters under medical observation! Spock!" He lurched forward and grabbed Spock's arm, turning him back around to face him.

Spock avoided his gaze and stared down at his hand stonily. "Release me, Commander."

Jim looked at him in disbelief and despair. "Spock..."

Spock jerked his arm out of Jim's grasp and silently exited his quarters before Jim could say another word. Jim watched him go, feeling the empty hole inside him rip open wider. He sat down on his bead heavily and let out a deep breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Running a hand through his hair, he tried to wrap his head around their disaster of a conversation but came up short. How could Spock have seen him with Rand? He couldn't even remember the last time he had spoken to her.

He could always have a secret body double running around the ship, he supposed, but deemed that idea absurd and unlikely. Either Spock was mistaken or hallucinating, or Jim was missing time. Although, Spock had seemed pretty adamant and certain that what he saw was real. It didn't make any sense, and trying to get it straight in his mind was making him dizzy again. Jim laid back against the bed and closed his eyes.

He was drifting close to sleep when he heard his door slide open without a warning signal. Jim startled into a sitting position and glanced over at the door just in time to see it close behind... himself. Jim stared in shock, watching himself walk closer towards him on the bed. Three long scratches bled angrily on one cheek of his body double, and the other him grinned down at Jim on the bed.

"Son of a bitch," Jim cursed in amazement. He wondered briefly if he was hallucinating.

"Hey there, Me," the other Kirk sneered. "Care to see which one of us is the better half?"

Jim dove off the end of the bed in time to miss the dagger that swung down in his direction. Hallucination or not, he wasn't taking any chances. He rolled and came up on his feet, arms held out defensively. The other Kirk laughed maniacally, and seeing his own face twisted so crazily unsettled Jim deep to his core. His clone lunged at Jim's middle, weapon outstretched and aiming to kill. Jim deflected the blow with an elbow, which knocked the small dagger from his opponent's grasp. Not a hallucination, Jim surmised as they traded blows.

It swiftly became apparent to Jim that his double was much stronger than he was. It wasn't long before Jim was knocked down and pinned on his back despite putting up a hell of a fight. The other Kirk got his hands around Jim's throat and bore down hard, putting all of his weight into choking the life from Jim. Jim struggled beneath him, his legs kicking out and arms flailing to grab hold of something, anything to help him escape.

The other Kirk was breathing heavy, his chest heaving, face bruised and smeared with blood. His hair hung limply in his face, damp with sweat. Crazed blue eyes stared down wildly at Jim, the whites of his eyes red and pupils dilated. Jim's vision began to blur and he kicked out once more, putting all the strength he could into it before he started to lose consciousness. His foot connected with one of his bookshelves and it toppled over, crashing to the floor loudly and sending it contents scattering every direction. The crash did nothing to distract the other Kirk, and Jim was starting to lose hope, his face red and hot from the lack of oxygen and circulation. His field of vision started to darken around the edges, and he was sure that he was going to die by his own hands.

The door to the bathroom opened suddenly and Spock burst into the room. Spock's eyes widened as he took in the scene before him. "Jim!" He shouted, and without even a moment's hesitation, launched himself at the other Kirk, knocking him off of Jim and sideways onto the floor in a heap of limbs. Jim gasped desperately for air, his head spinning, and coughed violently, his whole body heaving from the force of it. He pushed himself up onto his hands and knees and whipped his head around to locate Spock and his double.

Through bleary eyes he could see Spock had the other Kirk pinned against the floor on his stomach, arms restrained behind his back. Spock kept one knee braced against his spine, a silent warning to not attempt escape. Jim's chest was still rising and falling rapidly, and with the blood and oxygen rushing back to his head, he fell back over onto his side gracelessly, adrenaline leaving his system as quickly as it came.

"Jim!" Spock yelled again, unable to go to his side lest his released the other Kirk. "Jim, are you all right?"

Jim turned over onto his back and took a deep breath. He rolled his head to look at Spock and gave him a tired, slightly delirious smile. "'m great!" He slurred reassuringly, and then promptly passed out.

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

The first thing he realized when he came back to himself was that he was strapped to the bed. He laid very still and slowly opened his eyes to scan his surroundings. The second thing he noticed was Spock pacing the length of the recovery room in sickbay. Jim tried to swallow but his mouth and throat were too dry. He licked his lips and cleared his throat quietly. Spock was at his side in an instant. "Jim, how are you feeling?"

Jim had severe déjà vu from earlier this morning. "I've been worse," he rasped out.

Spock frowned down at him and raised an eyebrow. "You have been in better condition as well," he observed.

"I guess that's true," he admitted, laughing, then winced as his throat protested. "Why am I tied down? Where's Evil Me?"

Spock moved to undo the straps binding him to the bed. "The restraints were entirely precautionary. We were unsure of the condition you would be in when you regained consciousness. Your double is in a similar state of health. Dr. McCoy has him restrained similarly in a private room, but he has yet to awaken."

"Where did he even come from? What is he?" Jim sat up weakly, with Spock lending a hand of assistance, and rubbed his wrists.

"Our best speculation is a transporter malfunction. The first sighting of him aboard the ship was an indeterminate amount of time after you and Mr. Scott departed the transporter room. Yeoman Rand testified to seeing your double come from the transporter. He then approached her and began making sexual advances, which is what I witnessed when I attempted to locate you. Your double later got aggressive, forcing her to defend herself, scratching his face in the process. Other witnesses report that he went in the direction of your quarters after the incident with Yeoman Rand."

"So it cloned me?"

"More accurately, it appears you have split into two halves of a whole. You are the embodiment of James Kirk's positive traits: compassion, humor, intelligence. Your other half encompasses the negative traits: anger, cynicism, your will to live. One half without the other is incomplete - you require both your positive and negative characteristics in order to be completely yourself. Your bodies and minds cannot survive the strain of being separated. We need to recombine the two of you as soon as possible. Mr. Scott is presently running diagnostic tests to determine the cause and remedy your situation."

"I should go help Scotty," Jim said, and swung his legs over the side of the bed to stand.

Spock laid a hand on his shoulder to prevent him from rising. "No, Jim. You must stay here and rest."

"I shouldn't just sit here," Jim protested lamely, but didn't put up much of a fight despite knowing that normally he would be hard-headed about something like this. He just couldn't find the energy or the drive to argue.

Spock looked surprised at Jim's complacency. "Mr. Scott has been expecting my assistance with the transporter, so I must take my leave. I merely wanted to ascertain the status of your condition for myself." Spock looked down in a rare moment of hesitation. Quietly he continued, "I must also apologize for my earlier actions concerning the circumstances of your other half."

Jim's heart panged at the look of remorse on Spock's face. "It's fine, Spock. Really. I probably would have reacted the same way. No apology necessary."

Spock looked to meet his eyes. "I am grateful for your forgiveness."

"I would probably forgive you for anything," Jim admitted with a shy smile. Part of him thought that he probably shouldn't have said that, but he couldn't seem to care. Spock's expression softened at his words, and Jim made a snap decision. He reached out and circled his fingers around one of Spock's wrists. Knowing that Vulcans focused their telepathy mainly through touch, Jim tried to push all the feeling he could through their one point of contact. Spock's eyes widened. "Since its likely that I'm about to die, there's something you need to know. I've wanted to tell you for a while, but I couldn't find it in me to say the words until now. Spock, I--"

"I knew I heard voices in here. I thought I told you to comm me if he woke up!" Bones shouted angrily as he came rushing into the recovery room. Jim dropped his hand from Spock's wrist. "What are you even still doing here, anyways? Don't you have a transporter to fix?"

Spock looked at Jim intently, an question evident in the raise of one eyebrow, but what he said was, "The doctor is right. I must go." His tone betrayed the slightest bit of regret. "I will contact you shortly with a solution." After a final long look down at Jim, Spock departed quickly.

Bones narrowed his eyes at Jim but didn't comment. He fussed about for a couple minutes before declaring there was nothing else to be done. Jim feigned exhaustion to avoid the worrying glances Bones kept sending his way, and the doctor reluctantly left him to rest. Jim stared up at the ceiling and hoped Spock had understood what he was trying to say. Eventually, he heard footsteps approaching and he looked at the door expectantly, hoping against hope that Bones was arriving to tell him that Spock had made good on his promise.

Instead, his other half stumbled into the recovery room, and Jim scrambled upright in his bed. The other Kirk, stubborn determination set on his face, walked menacingly in Jim's direction despite his obvious impairment. Jim ran a hand down the side of his biobed, fingers searching frantically for the alert button.

"Only one of us can survive," the other Kirk said without preamble, but didn't make a move towards Jim. He seemed to be waiting for a response.

"No, you idiot." Jim said to himself. "We need both of us, together. One of us can't survive without the other. Killing me would be killing yourself."

"You?" The other Kirk scoffed. "You are weak. You hold us back from our true potential. You think your pathetic feelings for the captain make you stronger? We both know that he could never love us, and its all because of you. You've been broken since Tarsus."

Jim shook his head to dispel the echo of his other half's words. "You're wrong. Spock is our friend."

"But that's not enough, is it? That will never be enough." His double laughed meanly. "You might as well quit while you're ahead, Jimmy. Just do us both a favor and let me kill you. Then maybe one of us would actually have a chance. I'm the only reason we're even still alive." He leaned over Jim, who pushed at him weakly without success. His counterpart wrapped a hand around Jim's throat and started to apply a steady pressure.

Jim's fingertips finally grazed the control panel and he pushed the call button that he hoped would contact Bones. He floundered feebly, trying to resist but his muscles didn't respond the way they were supposed to, and he could do little but lie there and hope someone would find them in time. The only consolation he had was that his other half would most likely die soon after as well.

"Shh. There you go," the other Kirk breathed. "Don't fight it, Jim."

Jim had half a mind to just let himself die, but Spock's face flashed before his eyes. Spock, who was furiously working to save his life. Jim thought of the words left unsaid between them, and the desire to live swelled in his chest. He glanced sideways and caught a glimpse of the water pitcher Bones had left on a side table for him. He managed to snake his arm sideways and closed his fingers around the handle. Using the remainder of his strength, he swung the pitcher upwards, and satisfaction rose within him at the sound of it impacting his counterpart's skull. The other Kirk crumpled from the blow and Jim drew in a ragged breath as the hand at his throat fell away.

Seconds later a full medical team burst into the recovery room, Bones leading the charge. A steady stream of curses flew from his mouth as he hauled Jim's double off of him. "How the fuck did this happen?!" Bones bellowed, looking around angrily at the rest of his staff. They all averted their eyes, no one seeming to know the answer, when suddenly Nurse Chapel walked into the room, a bruise forming across one cheek and tears in her eyes. She held her chin high as she looked over at the doctor, who's expression softened immediately. He cleared his throat and looked back down at the bed. "Are you okay, Jim?"

"I'm far from okay, Bones, but I'm alive," Jim replied dryly.

Bones opened his mouth to respond when his comm beeped at his hip. He flipped it open immediately. "Doctor McCoy here."

"Doctor, please bring both Commander Kirks to the transporter room at once. We believe we have found a solution."

 

Bones gave Jim's counterpart a sedative to keep his aggressive tendencies at bay. Carol appeared to help wheel them down to the transporter, and held Jim's hand the whole way. Spock and Scotty were waiting for them when they arrived, and Bones helped Jim stand on the transporter pad. He swayed slightly at first, but managed to wave off Bones' outstretch hand and held his own weight. Spock watched impassively from behind the console as Scotty fiddled with the controls, muttering angrily about ore dust the entire time. Bones manhandled Jim's other half out of the second wheelchair and stood him upright in front of Jim, who wrapped his arms tightly around him.

"Jim, if this doesn't work..." Bones began.

"It will work, Doctor." Spock cut him off abruptly.

Jim smiled at Bones reassuringly. "You heard the captain. I'll see you all again in a minute. I'm gonna be right back."

Bones swallowed hard and clapped Jim on the shoulder. "You better be," he warned Jim gruffly, and stepped off the pad.

Jim locked eyes with Spock across the room. Spock stood expressionless, but raised his left hand, fingers parted in the Vulcan salute.

"Engage the transporter, Mr. Scott."

Scotty slid the switches upwards on the console and both Jims dissolved in a ray of light.

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

When Jim reformed, there was thankfully only one of him. The transporter room was silent as he stood there for a moment in shock. He slowly patted his hands down his body, making sure he was whole and in one piece. Jim stepped off the transporter pad and turned to make sure nothing else appeared behind him. Bones immediately ran a tricorder up and down his body, brow furrowed in fear and concentration.

When nothing else emerged from the transporter pad, and Bones announced that Jim's readings were normal, the relief of surviving another impossible catastrophe finally hit. Bones wrapped his arms firmly around Jim's shoulders and hugged him tight. Jim laughed, feeling giddy and grateful to be alive. Carol dissolved into tears and threw her arms around both of them, her tiny chest wracking with sobs. They enveloped her into the fold of their embrace and the three of them stood like that for a long moment.

When Jim finally lifted his head, he looked over Bones' shoulder to see Spock waiting patiently by the door, hands clasped neatly behind him. Eventually Bones and Carol released him, and seeing Jim's attention drawn to Spock, left him with the promise to check on him later. Carol winked at Jim suggestively as she passed the captain. Jim rolled his eyes and walked over to stand at Spock's side.

Spock watched him with thoughtful brown eyes, deep enough that Jim could get lost in them. "I am pleased that you survived, Jim."

"You can't get rid of me that easily," Jim told him, repeating the words he had said not too long ago.

"So you keep informing me," Spock deadpanned, drawing an amused chuckle from Jim.
They stood in silence for a moment, and Jim waited for the other shoe to drop. When Spock said nothing, Jim took a deep breath. "Spock, about what I wanted to tell you earlier..." Spock's eyes were endless pools of melted chocolate, and Jim faltered, on the edge of losing his nerve. Now that it was no longer a life or death situation, he could no longer find his voice to say the desperate words of a dying man.

Spock seemed to sense his struggle and reached out a hand to mirror Jim's earlier action. Cool fingers wrapped lightly around Jim's wrist and squeezed once. Jim just looked at him desperately, feeling all his emotions surge in his chest. All of the hope, longing, and affection came rushing to the surface. As his doubts disappeared and faded away Jim wildly, recklessly, decided to fuck it all.

He rested a firm hand in the middle of Spock's chest and pushed him hard against the bulkhead. Jim paused a moment, gauging Spock's reaction, his hand lingering against Spock's sternum. Those brown eyes dilated as they looked back at Jim, and when Spock made no move to push him away, Jim took a frantic step forwards to finally press their mouths together.

Finally.

Spock's eyes fluttered shut and his lips parted instantly beneath Jim's, and Jim was suddenly swept up in the heat of their kiss as strong arms wrapped around his waist. The soft touch of their lips turned passionate and they were devouring each other, teeth and tongues clashing in their eager attempts to get even closer. Jim's hands stole their way into Spock's silky hair and cupped the back of his head for leverage as he took control and kissed Spock within an inch of his life. His heart was hammering in his chest, his pulse thundering in his ears as held onto Spock like a lifeline. Spock gave as much as he got, and Jim's head spun with the realization that he was kissing Spock, and Spock was kissing him back, and it felt like coming home. He tried to wrap his head around the glorious fact that he was actually kissing his captain...

His captain.

The forceful joy inside Jim went out like a light. He planted his hands against Spock's chest and pushed himself away, breaking their embrace and staggering back, putting some much needed distance between them. Spock made no move to stop him and Jim didn't expect him to. Spock's cheeks were flushed, his hair sticking up ridiculously in places and his swollen mouth was parted slightly in surprise. They stared at each other in shock for a long moment until a throat cleared behind them.

Spock visibly startled, and they both twisted their heads around to see Scotty still standing awkwardly by the transporter, looking anywhere but at the two of them. Jim took a few more fumbling steps back and opened his mouth to explain but couldn't find a good justification for what had transpired between them. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Spock stand up straight against the bulkhead and straighten his gold command shirt. Jim scratched the back of his head anxiously, shifting his weight between his feet and tried so hard not to look at Spock directly.

"If you will excuse me," Spock said stiffly, his voice rough. He maneuvered his way past Jim and allowed more than enough space between them as he hurried from the room.

Scotty glanced at Jim sympathetically. Jim felt his face go red and he put his head in his hands. "What the fuck did I just do?" He whispered to himself, feeling sick to his stomach.

Scotty walked up and placed a hand on Jim's shoulder. "It's all right, laddie. Things will work out if they're supposed to."

Jim lifted his face. "What if they aren't supposed to?" A hopeless fear was starting to spread in his chest, and he clenched his hands to stop them from shaking.

"Then it wasn't meant to be." He patted Jim's shoulder. "Are you going to be okay?"

Jim nodded, just once, and Scotty seemed to understand that he needed time to process what had happened. He gave Jim's shoulder one last squeeze and left. Jim stood there alone, the room feeling huge and empty by himself. Images of a few moments ago flashed in his mind's eye and he groaned. He removed his glasses and rested the hand holding them against the bridge of his nose, trying to assuage the memories that already seemed a lifetime ago.

Emotions bubbled in his chest - hope, love, fear, despair, confusion. He closed his eyes tightly, trying to keep control but rapidly failing. His chest rose and fell quickly. The room, though silent, was still too loud. There was a roaring noise in his ears that he couldn't drown out. His whole body began to tremble. Jim felt tears burn behind his eyelids, and that was the last straw. That pissed him off.

He didn't think about the fact that Spock could never talk to him outside of professional duty again. He didn't think about Spock's face as Jim stepped away, blank with surprise, and how he made no effort to stop him. He didn't think about how he could be demoted and transferred to another ship. He didn't think about the friendship he might have lost, how he had ruined the one good thing he had going for him. He didn't think about their lost chess matches, the accidental touches, the sparring sessions, the dance, their kiss. He certainly didn't think about the small part of him that wished he had died.

Instead, his lips pressed together in angry frustration, he punched the wall hard. The impact of his fist against the bulkhead where Spock had previously leaned against satisfied him momentarily, and the physical pain made it easier to ignore the thoughts in his head. Jim didn't make a sound as his hand came away bloody, skin torn over his knuckles and a few bones clearly broken. He sunk to his knees and cradled his injured hand to his chest.

Bones and Carol, keeping good on their promise to check in, found him some time later, still kneeling with that blank look on his face. Jim wasn't sure how long he had stayed that way. It was almost like he was in a trance, staring off into space across the room and only moving to squeeze his broken hand when reality started to creep back in. Bones pitched a fit and Carol wrapped her arms around him despite her confusion. Jim still said nothing, but allowed Bones look at his hand and lead them back to Bone's quarters to treat it.

They assaulted him with questions that he didn't answer, embarrassed and ashamed, and loathed to admit what happened out loud because that would make it true. Eventually they stopped asking and just supplied him with alcohol under their unwavering supervision. Jim passed out on Bones' couch, drunk and swaddled in a blanket like a child, but admittedly he did feel better in the comforting presence of his friends, who loved him enough to take care of him without even knowing what was wrong.