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Gone, but for the Shadow

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He doesn't know what he's doing here. Jim shifts in further against the creaking sofa and stares at his past surrounding him on all sides. He'd been in Iowa two weeks now and still couldn't keep his skin from crawling every time he walked into the farmhouse. It was Sam's now, and he'd made it a home with his wife, Aurelan's help. But their salaries were nominal and despite the subtle cosmetic changes, Jim could still see the faded battle scars that remained etched along the banister, gouged into the kitchen floor and scratched along the walls or inside closets where no one would see them unless they knew to look.

The house was filled with remnants from his youth, ghosts that beckoned him to recall memories he'd buried years before. The sofa he sat on, for instance, was the very same one he'd lost his virginity on when he was fifteen. The same sofa he lay on for three weeks straight after returning from Tarsus IV. The sofa that as a child, he'd curl up on next to his mother as she read him stories about pirates, orphan boys and space.

The sofa that he now sat on squeezed uncomfortably between his Uncle Marcus and Bones. Bones looked distressed, shoved as he was against a sharp arm that no longer contained the soft cushioning that had once covered the wooden frame. However, he wasn't nearly as bad off as Jim. Uncle Marcus had a good three hundred pounds on him and much of that was pressing hot and damp against Jim's left side. He repressed a shudder and wondered, not for the first time, when the man would finally make his exit. Everyone else had cleared out nearly an hour ago, but Marcus seemed content to nurse his beer and stare blankly at the wall.

The soft patter of sock clad feet drew Jim's attention, and he looked up to see his nephew stopping in front of him. At four years old, Peter looked the spitting image of his mother. Peter, was dressed in his pajamas and looked completely exhausted. He'd spent the better part of the day crying over the palpable tension that he was too young to understand that had filled the house. It was no wonder he was heading to bed before the summer sun even thought of setting.

"Hey kiddo." At Jim's words, little arms reached up and Jim couldn't refuse that request. Maneuvering his arm from behind his Uncle, Jim leaned forward to pull the boy onto his lap. Peter clung affectionately to Jim and murmured something unintelligible into his neck. "What was that buddy?"

"Read me a story?"

The soft words somehow startled Marcus into the present, because the man jerked and began extracting himself from the sunken cushions, the sofa groaning in protest to the rocking body shifting it's fragile frame. Once standing, the man looked around in apparent bafflement before setting his empty bottle on the coffee table.

"I should be off. I didn't realize it was so late." With an absent pat to Peter's hair, Marcus strode to the foyer, acknowledging Sam with a nod before leaving without another word.

"Finally!" Sam exclaimed from the entryway. “I didn't think he'd ever leave." Sam strode across the room to scoop his son into his arms only to earn a loud protest from the boy.

"Uncle Jim's gonna read me a story!" Peter threw himself backwards in an attempt to gain his freedom but his attempt was futile.

"Not tonight babe. Uncle Jim can read to you another night. Mom's looking forward to reading the next chapter to you. You don't want to hurt her feelings, now do you?"

Peter looked undecided for a moment, biting his lip in thought. He looked to Jim who smiled encouragingly at him before Peter shook his head and lay against his father's chest in defeat.

"Tell Uncle Jim and Leonard goodnight."

"Goodnight."

"Sweet dreams, buddy." Jim stood to kiss Peter's neck, earning him a giggle before Sam left to see to his fatherly duties.

With the sudden extra room, Jim threw himself onto the couch and swung his feet across his friend's lap. The glare aimed at him only caused him to grin unrepentantly. Closing his eyes, Jim allowed himself to bask in the silence. It was the first he'd had since arriving. Only, it wasn't silent. Not really. Jim's mind whirled with activity and noise. Thoughts he couldn't block now that it was just him and Bones alone with reality.

Why the hell was he even here? What made him think he could do this? That he should do this? It had been many years since he had felt indebted to the family he'd left behind. The family who'd left him behind first. It wasn't guilt. That he knew for certain. When he'd gotten the comm from Pike, he'd just made the arrangements and necessary roster changes before kidnapping Bones and heading to Iowa.

He hadn't even talked to Spock about the situation, only offering the briefest of explanations before he was on the first transport to Earth. He knew he'd hurt Spock with his silence and his choice to bring Bones instead of him. But Jim couldn't explain to Spock, didn't take the time to explain, that he couldn't survive this without knowing that his crew and ship were safe. And for Jim, safety meant Spock.

Their relationship was still in it's infancy stage but Jim had come to trust Spock more than anyone in the three years they'd served together. He knew when he returned to the ship Spock would be there for him, would offer whatever Jim needed from him. At this moment though, in this place, what he needed was Bones.

"Some shore leave, huh?"

The quiet words surprised a snort from Jim. He cracked his eyes to see Bones watching him with those warm blue eyes that saw too much. Jim had the sudden thought that maybe Bones knew exactly why Jim had come here and feared what that reason might be. He didn't ask.

"Don't worry Bones. This won't count against you as official leave. I'll make sure you have plenty of 'special lady time' next time."

Jim huffed as a pillow impacted hard with his face and laughed when Bones shoved his feet off his lap onto the floor.

"Smartass. You know what I mean."

"Yeah. I know Bones." And Jim knew that his “thank you” was heard and accepted when Bones swung his legs up behind Jim on the sofa to burrow his feet under Jim's torso. Sock covered toes dug into sensitive ribs, causing Jim to rear up and try to stifle the unmanly giggle they had rendered.

Sam returned to the living room then, smiling at the two of them before handing them fresh beers and sitting across from them in what had been Frank's chair. Jim took a healthy swig to shake off the memories before settling into silence once more.

It wasn't comfortable by any means. Too many years of distance and resentment kept comfort at bay. Without Peter or Aurelan present to buffer their interactions, Jim and Sam couldn't converse in a civil manner. Too much wreckage lay between them, a veritable chasm that lay littered with broken promises and years of separation.

It was a relief when Aurelan returned to the room to sit on the floor, resting her back against Sam's legs.

"You have a fan, Jim. I don't think Peter was as happy with my telling of Peter Pan as he would have been with one of your space adventures." She smiled warmly at Jim, with affection. Anyone looking at them would find it hard to believe that they met for the first time twelve days ago.

"Well, I'm new. The novelty hasn't worn off yet." Jim tipped his beer back again and resisted squirming under her gaze. They weren't family, not really. Their connection was bridged through Sam and that meant they weren't connected at all.

"Whatever you say. All I know is last week Peter wanted to be a dog trainer and now he informs me that when he grows up he's gonna explore space with his Uncle Jim."

"A dog trainer?" Jim asked, completely ignoring the rest of her comment. Who fantasizes about dog training in their youth?"

The sudden laugh from Sam caught his attention and he was surprised to find Sam smiling at him with real amusement and something else he couldn't identify.

"Well I know someone that wanted to be a fish when he got older, so dog trainer doesn't seem that odd to me."

"What? No. I did not!" Jim sat up with indignation that Sam would even believe that himself, let alone announce something so absurd aloud.

"The hell you didn't! You were two I think, and Mom took us swimming for the first time. You loved it. Wanted to swim all day and threw a hell of a tantrum when we had to leave. Mom said something like you'd turn into a fish if you stayed in the water any longer. Well, that was it. For the next year all you talked about was when you got older you'd be a fish then you'd swim all day, every day, and no one could make you do any different. You were quite fierce in your conviction. In fact, you once snuck out of bed in the middle of the night, filled the tub and lay in there for hours hoping you'd turn into a fish by morning."

Bones, at this point, was on his side, face pressed into the cushions to muffle his wheezing laughter. This was totally unacceptable and would have to stop. Immediately.

"You-" Jim pointed at his brother with an accusatory finger. "Are a bullshitter. And you-" Jim turned his finger on his red faced friend. "Are lying on the sofa I've defiled with my sexiness too many times to count."

With a shout, Bones leaped to the floor and glared at Jim while wiping at his face as if being attacked by invisible cooties.

"Goddammit, Jim!"

This reaction brought forth a loud, indelicate braying from the woman on the floor who was clutching her sides, trying to breath. Jim looked from Sam to Aurelan then back to Sam. His brother just shrugged and picked up his beer. "What can I say? She suckered me in with amazing sex and I was married before I knew she brayed like a donkey."

"Jackass."

"I was being tactful, sugar."

"No. You are a jackass, jackass." Aurelan grabbed the beer from Sam's hand and levered herself off the floor to flop down opposite Jim on the couch. The smile gracing her features told Jim that this was a standing joke between them and he felt oddly out of place to be let in on it.

"Oh my God! I need a shower." Bones shuddered but sunk to the floor by the coffee table, drinking heavily from his bottle. "I'm gonna need something stronger then beer. What have you got?"

"How's whiskey sound?" Sam levered himself out of the chair and walked to a cabinet in the far corner. The creak of the door startled Jim enough that his bottle slipped from his hand to thud sharply against the wood floor. "Jim?"

Jim said nothing, just retrieving his bottle and swiping his socked foot over the floor to absorb the spillage.

"Jim?" Sam persisted.

"I'm fine." Jim gritted the words out but met his brother's eyes across the room and saw comprehension dawn.

"Fucking goddammit!" The cupboard door slapped roughly against its frame, bouncing back open against Sam's legs. "I thought...Jesus Christ."

The tension ricocheted through the silence. The room was evenly split between those who understood what was just revealed and those that were ignorant of the significance of what just happened.

"Before or after?" The quiet question slipped past Sam's lips as he held himself rigid, as if preparing for a blow. Jim thought about lying, of dismissing the question altogether. He found the truth slipping from his mouth before he could stop himself.

"Both."

The sudden sound of an unopened bottle of Jim Beam shattering against the wall filled the room like a gunshot. A startled cry emitted from the second floor and Aurelan rose to see to her frightened child. She gave Sam a questioning look as she passed him but he didn't seem to notice.

"Shit. Shit!" Sam scrubbed at his face, collapsing against the cupboard for support. Collapsing into himself as his eyes sought his brother's once again. "Did she know?"

Well, that was the million credit question, Jim thought. Did she know? Did she know that her brother liked to get drunk and beat his nephews until they couldn't move? Did she know that while Jim was still recovering his strength after surviving a genocide that Frank had dragged him off this very sofa to kick him repeatedly for throwing up pizza forced on him the night before? He didn't think she did. He hoped that she hadn't known. He certainly hadn't asked and it was impossible to do so now.

And really, if she had, what did it matter now? It was in the past. There was nothing that could be done. No absolution to be sought. No forgiveness to be begged for. It was irrevocably out of reach. So, Jim answered the only way he could.

"No."

"You're lying."

"Jesus Christ! What do you want from me, Sam?" Jim exploded up off of the couch as his anger, that had simmered for the last two weeks, finally boiled over. "I don't know the answer to that. Did she fucking know? How the fuck should I know? I never said. She never said. It's over, it's done and there's nothing that can change it."

"I wish I'd-"

"What? What do you wish, Sam? You wish you'd never left? That mom never left? That dad never died? It's all so fucking pointless. Wishing never got anyone anywhere. Just fucking let it go."

With that, Jim stormed out of the room, out of the house and stood amid the dying day and swallowed down the scream choking him. He shouldn't have come. He didn't owe them anything. Didn't owe her anything. And this house, this fucking house was an emotional pitfall. Everywhere he turned he fell further into the abyss where his memories lay. The damn sofa, the scratches against the closet wall, and a goddamned creaky cupboard, all enough to send him spiraling, momentarily at least, into a PTSD induced nightmare. Hell, the entire state of Iowa was one giant trigger for him.

He should not be here. He should not be here. He should not be here.

"Jim, I'm sorry."

His mantra broke, his breath stilled and Jim felt his anger flash once again.

"Go back inside Sam."

"No. We need to talk. It's long overdue." Shuffling steps, a creak of warped wood and Jim knew Sam had perched himself on the porch steps. They hadn't sat together like that since Jim was eleven. It spoke of camaraderie, kinship, a willingness to share secrets and dreams. Or, Jim thought bitterly, emotional childhood scars that were better forgotten. He would be damned if he was going to sit there like Sam hadn't abandoned him in order to save his own skin. If Sam wanted to talk, he'd do it from a distance, just like he did everything else.

"You wanna talk? Talk." Jim didn't even deign to turn around. Refused to look his brother in the face. He wouldn't make this easy.

"God, you always were a stubborn S.O.B.."

"Don't do that. Don't talk like you know me. Like we're family. We're not. You're just some guy I used to know."

"You have to know, I wouldn't have left if I believed he'd turn on you. He never laid a hand on you before." Sam spoke the words quietly, as though it was a confession. "You were always so good. So respectful. Not like me. I couldn't keep my mouth shut, my head down. I always egged him on. I just didn't think. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Jim."

"It doesn't matter now, Sam."

"Of course it matters! You're my brother. I was supposed to protect you. It was my job. My only job and I failed. If I'd stayed you never would have been touched. You never would have been sent-" Sam broke off with a quiet sob and Jim was finally forced to look at his brother.

"Stop it! What are you even doing? Crying over that! It's not your tragedy. Not your story. You don't get to cry over it. If I didn't cry, you don't get to. You hear me?" Jim clenched his hands into fists at his sides and took a step toward his openly sobbing brother. The screech of the screen door snapped his attention to Bones, who was taking in the scene with those damn knowing eyes of his.

"What?" Jim snapped.

Bones met his gaze and held it for a seemingly interminable moment before releasing a heavy sigh and responding.

"You have a comm. You can take it in the den." With that, Bones stepped back into the house, closing the screen gently behind him.

Jim took several deep breaths to calm himself before stomping past his brother and entering the house. Jim took satisfaction in allowing the screen door to slap violently closed behind him. He went straight to the den and closed the door behind him for privacy. With a snap of his wrist, he activated the comm link and the visage that filled the screen momentarily took his breath away.

"Spock." The name left his lips on a breathy exhale. Jim found himself taking in that severe face, the sharp brows and hard mouth and felt his anger instantly drain from him.

"Captain, I am calling as per your request to relay current ship status as normal. We are currently finishing our charting of sector four and will be officially beginning our next assignment per Starfleet orders. I believe you are aware of the course change necessary that will temporarily take us out of range of communications for the approximate duration of 2.233 days."

Jim floundered. This was not what he had been expecting. This overly formal, regulation perfect Spock hadn't been present in private moments for months. Years, if Jim wanted to be completely honest. And it was private. He could see the Vulcan artifacts on the wall over Spock's shoulder to know that Spock was calling from his personal quarters.

Had he hurt Spock more than he thought with the manner in which he had left? Had he destroyed their fledgling relationship with his inability to share stories of his dysfunctional family with Spock. Spock, who had never had to question his mother's love. Who, despite a few rough years, knew his father's as well. How could he explain to Spock what he was dealing with? How could Spock ever understand? He couldn't.

That was why Bones was here instead. Bones, who had his own dysfunctional family to contend with and understood the drama he was witnessing here in Iowa. Understood how to deal with Jim, knew when to be there and when to make himself scarce. And Bones, seeing exactly how fucked up Jim was, wasn't going to run for the hills and terminate their friendship, because he understood that nobody could choose where they came from. You couldn't choose your family. All you could do was survive them.

"Captain?"

Jim focused on Spock's composed face and noticed a flicker of concern. Jim cleared his throat and tried to pull off his command persona.

"Of course, Mr. Spock. I'm confident you've followed protocol and will gather the required readings from within the nebula."

"Indeed, Captain. I...I find it illogically disagreeable that our temporary Science Officer continues to refer to this particular nebula as The Little Ghost. She refuses to call it anything but."

Jim felt a grin overtake his face. Our. That one tiny word included with an unnecessary admission was Spock speak for segueing the conversation from professional to personal. Jim felt immensely relieved.

"Well, Spock, you can't really blame Lieutenant Pietrowiak for using the name Terran's gave it nearly six hundred years ago. Even if it is no longer the Federation's accepted name."

"Indeed." Spock looked away for a moment. A simple shift of his eyes but Jim could read nervousness in the move. Also, the slight hint of green spreading across Spock's cheeks gave Jim the impression of embarrassment. "It has been mentioned, by several crew members, that your absence is undesired. I feel it my duty to inform you of their request for your expeditious return."

"Just the crew then?" Jim smirked into the view screen trying to remember how to breathe.

"I would not disagree with their sentiments, no."

Jim couldn't keep the grin from splitting his face at that admission. They were going to be okay.

"I miss you too."

Spock looked away again and then looked at his lap. And continued looking at it. If Jim didn't know better, he'd say Spock was fidgeting with his fingers. But Spock didn't fidget. Ever. Silence dragged on and Jim began to worry that something had happened. That Spock wasn't telling him something.

"Is everything alright?" That brought Spock's head up with an incredulous look on his face before he schooled it to Vulcan calm.

"Jim, I believe it is my task to ask that of you."

"I'm fine, Spock." And he was. At this moment. Jim did not feel guilty for not taking that opening to tell Spock how horrendous the whole trip had been. Not one bit guilty. Nope.

"You are...fine."

Jim didn't know why, but Spock looked distinctly displeased with Jim's response.

"Then I must return to the Bridge to oversee the commencement of our next assignment. Good day, Captain."

Jim was staring at a black screen before he could even respond. What the hell had just happened? It wasn't until he was lying in bed with Bones' snores filling the room that it occurred to him that Spock had really only called to check up on him. To see how he was and to let Jim know he'd be unable to communicate for the next two and a half days. To be there for Jim if needed. And Jim had tossed it away with a lame ass 'I'm fine'. He was a sucky boyfriend and he would have to make it up when he returned to the ship.

He fell asleep thinking of things to do for Spock, completely missing the bigger picture.

***

Jim startled awake, nearly sliding out of the molded plastic chair at the sound of a gurney bouncing off a wall. He rubbed grit from his eyes before seeking the clock on the wall. Four hours down, two to go. His mind felt foggy and he tried to will his body to move, to seek out caffeine. As if by magic, a steaming, fragrant cup materialized in front of his face.


"Beautiful yet, princess?" McCoy slipped around Jim and into the next chair when Jim greedily accepted the coffee from him.

"If that was the goal of sleep, I'd never need to do it." Jim blew cautiously across the hot liquid before indulging in a sip. He still burned his tongue but found the pain worth it. It was incredibly good coffee. "This isn't from the hospital. Where did you go?"

"There's a coffeehouse two blocks away. Couldn't take another cup of the sludge they serve here."


Jim tilted his head against Bones' shoulder and peered up at him with a dreamy expression.

"You're my hero."

Bones snorted into his cup and shrugged Jim's head off with an efficient roll of his shoulder.

"So, you doing it today?" It was a casual question. As bland as if he inquired about the weather but Jim could hear the undertone of hope.

"I don't see the point. She's a vegetable, Bones. What purpose would it serve to go in?"

"Hearing is the last to go, Jim. Talk to her, she'll be able to hear you."

"And say what? All's forgiven? Feel better about dying?" Jim slumped down in his seat and resolutely averted his eyes from the nameless friends and family members streaming into the hospital room across the hall. He didn't know them. He didn't want to know them. If he kept his eyes down, maybe a few wouldn't feel it necessary to tell him how sorry they were and how much she meant to them.

"It's not for her, Jim. Do it for you. Say what needs saying while you still have a chance." Bones caught and held Jim's gaze. It was effective. Jim felt the concern, and empathy, and that damn stubborn push Bones always gave him when it was needed, flow into him from that single look.

"Fine." Jim sipped from his coffee and glanced at the clock again. One hour and forty-nine minutes left. A sharp elbow in his side inspired him to stand. "Goddammit, I said fine!"

Ignoring Bones' satisfied smirk, Jim tossed his coffee away, pushed his way through the strangers in the hall and stepped into Winona's room. The gentleman silently crying over her still form noticed Jim and made a hasty retreat, but not before stopping to say what an honor it was to serve with her and how the world was losing someone special. Jim tasted a bit of bile at the back of his throat but just nodded through the bullshit and closed the door at the stranger's back.

"Jesus Christ, who are these people? Seriously, I've never seen a single one of them." Jim turned around and nearly staggered.

She looked perfectly healthy, just a bit frail. Her skin was thinner than he remembered, age just beginning to show its advance, with deeper creases only barely visible around her mouth and eyes, a few of them sneaking up to her forehead. Her veins were more prominent, bulging under the skin of her hands and silver locks blended smoothly in with blonde. Overall? She was still beautiful and in no way looked like she was at death's door.

He wasn't prepared for this. Jim slipped into the chair next to the bed and stared. He imagined that he could see the virus that was poisoning her body, trapping her within herself. The sickness that was prematurely causing her death. One stupid scrape on an uncharted planet and now decades of living would be lost.

"I don't know what to say. I really don't. I'm here though. So, there's that, for what it's worth." Jim sighed and rested his head in his hands. He shouldn't be here. He wasn't ready for this. How could he be ready for this? He's twenty-eight years old. He shouldn't be watching his mother die! And really, she was more of a stranger. They hadn't spoken more than a handful of times since Tarsus. Since those three months she spent seeing him eat and go to therapy and strengthen his weakened body. Since she deemed him healthy and once again ran away to the stars. She gave him three lousy months for almost dying. Well, it was better then the five days Sam had given him.

What was he doing here?

"What am I doing here?" Jim shot up from the chair, the legs scraping loudly across the floor, and paced the room. "I don't owe you any vigil. I don't owe you a damn thing. You left! You all left and I'm what, supposed to be the dutiful son and brother just because you say? Because people would judge me if I didn't? I don't fucking care. Do you hear me? I don't care that you're dying. I don't care that he's grieving. I don't fucking care about any of you!"

Jim could feel years worth of anger and resentment bubbling up inside him and came to a dead stop. He wouldn't do this. He wouldn't let it out to consume him because that's what it would do. He had put it away years ago, stuffed it down until it couldn't corrode him, and eat away his humanity. He wouldn't let it out now. Jim swallowed it back and looked down at the still form of his mother. He wouldn't leave her with the acid that swirled within him. But, he thought, maybe Bones was right. Maybe he did have things to say.

"You left. That's simple fact. You ran away as soon as you could and you didn't come back. Deep space missions and all the excuses in the world don't mean shit. I'm a Captain, I know you could have requested more leave if you'd wanted it. You didn't. That's on you. I know that Sam told you what happened to him. I know he told you about the beatings and emotional abuse Frank dealt out to him. Why didn't you ever think to ask me? Why didn't either of you think to ask what had happened to me? I'm really happy that you and Sam became close these last years, I really am. What I can't figure out, and what I'm sure I'll never know is, why wasn't I worth the effort? Why didn't I get a call after joining 'Fleet? Why didn't we commiserate over hazing rituals and ancient professors? You could share yourself with Sam with parenting advice, which is a joke of epic proportions, but you couldn't even call me to say 'hey kid, glad you're still alive'. What the fuck, mom?"

Jim turned to face the window and the never-ending flatness stretching out before him. His mind swirling with thoughts he hadn't let himself acknowledge before but had always been there.

"Why didn't you care?" Jim swallowed back a sob, his mouth suddenly dry, his throat constricting against the pressure of unleashed emotion and pressed his forehead to the cool glass of the window. "I didn't kill him. I wasn't the one who took him from you. I killed the bastard responsible, though. I thought, maybe, now you'd notice me. See me. I avenged your husband and it made no difference to you."

Jim's voice lowered to a whisper and he found himself speaking more to himself than to the dying woman who had birthed him.

"Did you think I wouldn't let you in? I understand. Why you left, I mean. The stars, they call to me too. I think what pisses me off most is that I'd have done the same as you. Stuck on Earth with two kids, love of my life gone? Yeah, I would have sought the stars for some measure of peace, too. But you didn't know that. Couldn't know that I'd understand. You never asked."

"Here's something else you don't know." Jim turned and stared at his mother, trying to see any sign that his words were getting through. Winona remained frozen in the act of dying so Jim continued for himself. To acknowledge the truth aloud for his own sake. "I'm with someone. It's really new, and awkward at times, and it scares the shit out of me. It's real. He's, well he's Vulcan, so you can understand immediately some of the inherent problems with the relationship. But he's amazing. I've never met anyone so smart or caring and true to himself. He's absolutely wonderful and I'm terrified he's going to realize that he can do so much better."

Jim huffed out a wry laugh and flopped back into the bedside chair.

"Thanks for the self-esteem issues, by the way. They're awesome. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm going to be okay. I'm not right now, but soon, I will be. I've got the stars and Bones and Spock. That's more than you had and I'm going to hold on with everything I've got to keep them in my life. So, you can let go or go toward the light or whatever the fuck it is that you're supposed to do to just stop this pointless lingering. It's not flattering and these fluorescent lights really make your skin sallow." Jim snorted into his hands and pressed his fingers to his throbbing temple. "Okay, that was bitchy, but you're killing Sam with this crap. He needs to move on and you really should have died days ago. So, go already. We're all fine. We're all going to be fine. You can let go now."

Jim peaked through his fingers and held his breath, waiting to see if she'd follow his orders like a fucking crew member and flat-line at his command. Of course, she didn't. She continued lying there, void and hollow. A representation of life and nothing more. Letting his breath whoosh past his lips, he leaned forward and lifted her hand to his face.

"Goodbye, mom." Jim placed a small kiss into her palm before releasing her hand and leaving the room.

He didn't look back.

***

The random strangers that called themselves family lingered longer that night. They just didn't seem to want to leave and couldn't take a hint. Aurelan hovered in the kitchen, trying to put food away while grazing fingers reached for stale cookies and warm ham slices. Sam had escaped to put Peter to bed a full hour past his bedtime. The sun had set and it was nearing 2130 hours. Jim was exhausted.

Thirteen days of this tense shuffle between hospital and his brother's home. The constant stream of strangers telling him who Winona was to them, how wonderful she was. Sam breaking down every couple hours because he remembers more good times then bad, because he somehow developed a relationship with Winona with the birth of his son and didn't feel hypocritical when he called her Mom. Aurelan with her freely given affection and the ease with which she made room for Jim in her home. All of it combined to make Jim want to tear out of the house, find the nearest bar and relive his final day in Riverside, right down to the beating. God, a good old-fashioned fist fight would be perfect right now.

A sudden hand at his elbow gripped hard and steered Jim past the clumps of family members, out the screen door and across the lawn to the hammock tied snugly between two giant oaks. With a firm push against his shoulder, Jim settled against the netted ropes and held his breath as a warm body settled next to him. The hammock dipped crazily for a moment before they redistributed their weight and settled into comfortable stillness.

"I was doing just fine. I didn't need a rescue."

"Uh-huh. Sure you were." Bones' voice dripped sarcasm, which Jim would have responded cleverly to if he had not been presented with a full bottle of Johnny Walker at that precise moment.

"Bones, I love you!" Jim fumbled with the seal and twisted off the cap to inhale that rich, burning scent.

"Don't start slobbering on me just yet. I was ordered by Scotty to get you a bottle to 'assist with your grief'. Apparently, you're not doing it right if 'Johnny' ain't in on the process."

Jim coughed through the first sip of liquid fire and passed the bottle to Bones.

"We have the best Chief Engineer ever." Jim gritted out, blinking tears from his eyes. Bones merely chuckled before taking a pull from the bottle.

They passed several companionable minutes in that manner, drinking away a fourth of the bottle before the silence was broken.

"You gonna let me in on what that scene was about yesterday?"

Jim took another drink to put off answering. "I—it's not important." He took another drink for good measure before passing it back to Bones. He just held it and sighed into the night air.

"Sometimes, Jim, you make it hard to be your friend." The sudden jerk of the hammock signaled Jim's attempt to depart but Bones' arm shot out across Jim's chest to still his movement. "No, you're gonna listen to me, damn it! I am your friend. It doesn't matter to me what the hell your life was like before we met or what you went through. I am here. I will always be here. If you need me to listen to you bitch about your childhood, your family or just get shit faced with you so you can forget it all then that's what I'll do. But sometimes, Jim, sometimes you need to tell me things. You need to speak up about what's eating at you so I can be your friend. So that I'm not stumbling in the dark trying to help you."

Jim released the tension in his body, and he yanked the bottle from Bones' lax grip but held his silence.

"Jim, I'm not stupid. I can clearly see that some serious shit went down in your past. Hell, I didn't need to come here to see that. You keep it all to yourself. You never say anything about your life before Fleet that isn't bragging about your lays or the number of fights you got into. I don't know anything about your life before you stepped onto that shuttle. Don't you find that odd? I sure as hell do. You know everything about me. You've listened to me prattle on and on about my sister and her family. About Jocelyn and Joanna. About my dad and my practice and my fucking crush on Yeoman Barrows but you don't tell me anything! Am I wasting my time here? Do you even consider me your friend? Don't you fucking trust me enough to share one personal damn thing with me?"

Jim turned and caught Bones' gaze. The hurt he saw there moved him to blurt out what he'd wanted to say for months.

"I'm dating Spock."

"Oh Christ, kid." Bones muttered before snatching the bottle back and downing several swallows at once. "Couldn't you have started out with something small? Like telling me about a dog you used to have or your first girlfriend? Jesus!"

"You asked!" Jim responded with indignation that quickly dissolved into laughter at the horrified expression on his friend's face. "Oh my God! I wish I had a recorder. Your expression is priceless."

"If this is you fucking with me, I swear to God you will pay for it during your next physical."

"No, no. I promise. I'm telling the truth." Jim stifled his laughter with another swig from the half-empty bottle.

"For God's sake, why?"

"It works." Jim shrugged against the body pressed against him. "He balances me, and Bones, you can't tell anyone about this. We're not ready for everyone to know. We've really only just taken this step and the smallest thing could fucking ruin it. And I don't want Uhura to find out from ship gossip. That would piss her off, and then I'd have to watch my back for the rest of my life."

"I'm not going to tell a soul. Hell, who'd believe me? You know though," Bones shifted more onto his side to lean into Jim in a conspiratorial manner. "This is just going to kill Christine. She's been throwing herself at Spock since day one. Never in my life have I seen anything funnier then Spock fleeing sickbay whenever she starts her 'Oh Mr. Spock, is there anything I can do for you' routine. I would swear he blushes if I thought he were capable of such a thing."

"Oh, he blushes all right." Jim could feel the dreamy smile overcome his face but couldn't seem to stop it. The particular memory replaying in his head called for it.

"Oh fuck me. You love him!"

"What?"

"You. Love. Spock." Bones annunciated clearly as if Jim hadn't heard what he'd just said. And it was ridiculous. Completely, 100% fucked up nonsense. And he'd make sure Bones understood this.

"What of it?" Wait. What?

"Nothing. Just surprised. I mean, I don't see what all the fuss is about. What is it about that hobgoblin that has you and Uhura and Christine stumbling all over yourselves to get a piece?" Bones tipped back the bottle that Jim hadn't realized left his hand. Jim snatched it back from Bones mid-swig and drank greedily while Bones bitched about the spill he had caused. "Jesus Jim! Slow down or I'm gonna have to pump your stomach."

Jim pushed the bottle back into Bones' hand and tried to catch his breath. The burn had helped calm him somewhat, but he was still a tumultuous, swirling mass of anxiety.

"First, I did not know I loved Spock. Thanks for pointing that terrifying fact out to me. Second, Spock is awesome!" Jim punctuated his statement with flailing hands. "How can you not see this? He's the smartest being I've ever met. He's kind to everyone and everything. He has backbone, stands up to me all the time when he doesn't agree with me. He has a temper that scares him but I find it insanely hot when he forgets himself and shouts at me in the middle of an argument."

"He does this thing when he kisses me, he starts all controlled, as if he's following a how-to manual in his head. Which, let's face it, he probably is. But then, he just melts into me. He fucking melts, Bones. And then I have an armful of blissed-out Vulcan all from fucking kissing. It is the most amazing thing I've ever witnessed in my life. And you know what? I think I'm officially drunk. You too, cause you're not freaking out like you should be over this." Jim turned his head and catches Bones' look of confusion.

"Yes, you should be freaking out at this. I always pictured you ranting and raving and muttering unpleasant things about Spock while waving hypo's threateningly through the air. Why is this not happening?"

"Why isn't he here?"

Jim frowned in confusion, thinking Bones was clearly more drunk than he was because the answer was obvious.

"Um, because we're in Iowa and he's in space, which is really, really far away. I'm cutting you off now. You've had enough, it would seem."

"No, Jim. Why isn't Spock here instead of me? Why didn't you ask him to come with you?"

Jim blinked at the question. Wasn't it obvious? Jim loved Spock. They had just covered this information. Of course, he wouldn't bring him home to the root of his many neuroses. He wanted to keep Spock in his life and that meant never telling him anything about his past. Clearly. But Bones didn't seem to see this. Huh. Time to switch gears.

"Don't you want to be here, Bones?" The stinging slap to his forehead wasn't what he expected.

"Don't deflect. Why the hell didn't you bring the hobgoblin?"

"Ow! Jesus. Let it go. I left Spock in charge of the ship, asshole. I trust him to keep everyone safe, okay?" Jim rubbed at his temple and hoped his answer satisfied Bones.

"You mean you don't trust him enough not to run screaming back to New Vulcan if he found out how screwed up you really are."

Jim's hackles rose instantly at his insecurities being voiced so carelessly to the night air and with such cutting precision.

"Fuck you, you fucker!" Jim rolled quickly and landed painfully on the ground, but was satisfied that his sudden movement sent Bones sprawling on the other side of the hammock. With unbalanced footing, Jim sprinted back toward the house but was tackled to the ground halfway there.

"Now you listen to me, and you listen good." Bones said from atop Jim's back, pushing his head forcefully into the ground.

"Get off, you bastard. I can't fucking breathe!" Jim flailed uselessly underneath Bones' heavier frame. He knew he looked ridiculous flapping his arms against the ground but fuck it, he didn't want to have this conversation.

"Deal with it. I'm not moving 'til I've said my piece. For some reason, that green-blooded bastard has opened himself up to you. He has allowed you close to him and here you are, pushing him away just like you do to everyone. And don't try to deny it. The only reason I'm still around is because I won't let you shake me. Now, if you repeat a word of this I will tell everyone about the time, after the second Kobyashi Maru, when you drank yourself into a stupor and pissed yourself in your sleep."

Jim grunted his assent even though he didn't think it was a big deal. Who hadn't pissed themselves once or twice?

"We are all fucked up, Jim. Even Spock. If you can't trust him with your history, you've got no future. Now, I'm your best friend, and it's my job to take your side on things. But, I figure Spock hasn't had a hell of a lot of supportive people in his life so in this, I'm with him. If you hurt him because you're afraid to lose him? Well, I've got a lot worse things in my medicine bag than the Melvaran mud flea vaccine. Now, I don't know if your relationship is a good thing or even whether or not I like it. What I know is what you've told me and how you told me. Jim, he makes you happy. Isn't that worth trusting him? Isn't that worth seeing how far it can go?"

Bones didn't wait for an answer, just patted the back of Jim's head like a damn puppy and strolled into the house. Asshole. Jim pushed himself over and allowed sweet, precious air into his abused lungs. His thoughts swirled into a tempest that overwhelmed him and blocked out everything, swallowing him up in darkness.

***

Jim awoke with a blade of grass tickling up his nose and a shiver wracking his body. The sun was barely making its presence known on the horizon and hadn't yet burned off the dew that seeped into his clothes, chilling him to the bone. With a grunt, Jim shifted his palms against the cold earth and moved to push himself up. Vertigo washed over him, causing his vision to blur and his head to throb, bringing with it gut churning nausea.

Gritting his teeth, Jim shoved himself upright and stumbled into the house. The chronometer on the kitchen wall showed it to be just after 5 am and Jim had the childish urge to jump onto Bones' sleeping form in retaliation for leaving him to suffer the elements. Lack of coordination sent him sprawling onto the sofa instead. With sleep numb hands, Jim yanked down the blanket draped over the backrest and curled into himself, trying to return to sleep.

He was unsuccessful. Memories buzzed in his sluggish mind and pecked at him until he could only surrender to them. He had pushed everything, all of it, away for so long, and now that the memories were being truly examined they seemed to rush over him as if metaphorical floodgates had been released.

He felt the years stripped away and he was ten years old again, the horror unfolding for the first time before his eyes. It had started right here. On this fucking sofa. Jim remembered how he and Sam had stayed up watching classic horror movies, curled together on the couch in a tangle of limbs and popcorn kernels.

Frank had staggered in, drunk off his ass, and flown into a rage at the sight of the mess they had created. With a snarl, Frank pulled Sam to the center of the room by his hair. He hadn't hit him. That hadn't started yet, but Sam had cried out in obvious pain. Frank had screamed at Sam, calling him worthless and good for nothing. Had held Sam upright, nearly on his toes by his grip in Sam's hair. Spittle had flown from Frank's frothing mouth and Jim could smell the alcohol from his huddled position on the couch. That moment marked the day that Jim learned real fear. In his terror, Jim had wet himself and he remembered clearly the mortification that filled him when Sam, wiping tears from his face, silently cleaned Jim and his mess.

It had continued for two years like that, Sam taking the hits, the verbal attacks, the brunt of Franks unceasing rage. Always, always Sam would turn to Jim afterward and offer comfort and solace. It was their pattern, Jim's only consistency until Sam ran away to save himself. Thinking about it now, yeah, Jim could see the logic of Sam's decision. Frank had never laid a hand on him. Had never done any more than occasionally glare or throw out random insults. It had been enough to keep Jim in line; the possibility that he was next.

It had been almost as if Jim hadn't existed to Frank until Sam left. He had been overlooked and ignored for the better part of his life. The only person who saw him had been Sam. And that, that right there was the root of Jim's anger. It hit him solidly in the chest and stole his breath. When Sam left, Jim had disappeared. He had ceased to be. Frank hadn't even bothered with him until Jim had finally snapped and, in desperation to be noticed, had taken that damn car. Jim had started the whole damn thing. He had purposely sought to catch Frank’s attention in his bid to be acknowledged.

Fuck.

It wasn't his fault. No. That was an oversimplification. But he knew how to push people's buttons. Always had. It was a gift of sorts. And Jim had pushed Franks' until he could taste blood in his mouth, until his jaw throbbed and his ribs screamed with each shallow breath. He pushed and pushed until Frank pushed back. Pushed him all the way to Tarsus, where Jim pushed new people and learned to cheat and steal and run. Just run.

On Tarsus, he had learned what it was to be responsible for others, to have someone weaker, smaller depend on him. Jim had done what was necessary, what had to be done, but he had been relieved to walk away from them. He would have died to protect any of those kids, nearly had a time or two, but boarding that ship back to earth was a relief. He had immediately felt the weight lessen when he took his first free breath in what felt like forever.

It must have been how Sam had felt, that first day as he walked away. Away from the hatred, away from a little brother that required so much. Too much. Damn. With sudden understanding, Jim recalled those five days when Sam had returned to Riverside to take care of him after Tarsus. Those five, precious days where Jim could just rely on someone else to see to his needs, his wants. It had been wonderful after so much responsibility. But he recalled the yelling that had filled the house. He remembered the sound of flesh impacting flesh and then the sound of Sam's body being slammed into a wall.


How could he have forgotten what Sam had endured in order to care for him? Sure, it was easy to say that he had been a kid and dealing with a traumatic event, but fuck that. Sam had only been sixteen when he took off. At sixteen, Jim was swimming in alcohol and indiscriminate sex to block out his nightmare life. He only had himself to rely on, to protect. He couldn't imagine dealing with someone else at that time in his life. Couldn't have taken care of anyone while he was mouthing off to Frank and losing himself in a bottle or a stranger's body.

So, to sum up, he was a sucky boyfriend, a barely there friend and on top of that, he was also a shitty brother. Why the fuck did people want to be around him? Jim pulled his legs up tight to his chest and fought the wave of self pity that tried to swallow him up. He shouldn't question it. He should be fucking grateful. Not only did he have people in his life who cared, but the quality of those people was astounding. He could admit to himself that he looked up to Bones and Spock. They were shining examples of the kind of man he wanted to be. They made him try harder, to push himself to do right and stay good.

And somehow, in the last fifteen years, Sam had become a devoted husband and loving father. He had never thought he'd make much of a father himself. Was afraid of the possibilities, knowing what he came from, afraid he'd lose control and become Frank. But Sam was the picture of patience and calm. If Sam could do it, what's to say that he couldn't handle it?

Not that he wanted kids. It wasn't something he'd even consider until he retired or was forced off his baby. But he'd seen the look Spock got sometimes, when dealing with orphaned children from whatever catastrophe they were assigned to assist with. Had seen Spock on New Vulcan assisting with the children still unclaimed and living in group homes. Spock wanted to care for somebody. He wanted the responsibility. Wanted to make that impact on another's life. And if Jim was honest, truly honest with himself, he wanted to help him. If Spock wanted to take in children someday then Jim was going to have to come to terms with his fears. Because there was no way he would miss the opportunity of watching Spock be that man, be a father.

Jim suspected that Spock would be an amazing father. With his innate kindness and selflessness, Spock would be a gift to any child in need of a home. However, at this point, he wasn't even sure Spock would still want to be with him anymore, let alone plan a future together. Bones' words echoed back at him and maybe he was right. Maybe he didn't trust Spock enough. He trusted him with his life, his ship, his crew. But with himself?

Jim sighed and pushed the blanket off with clumsy fingers before shuffling into the kitchen. Setting the coffee pot to on, he settled in at the scarred table and let his mind go blank. He wasn't prepared for his brother to stagger in as if in a trance, to hover with intent eyes over the coffee pot. Maybe it was a Pavlovian response? Jim watched Sam with curious eyes, waiting for the first sight of drool. He was disappointed when Sam merely poured himself a cup of black coffee and collapsed into a chair.

"Is this your normal morning routine?" Jim asked in astonishment as he rose to collect his own cup of coffee, cream and sugar thank you very much.

He received a grunt in response and raised his eyebrow in response. Okay, fuck, tried to raise his eyebrow. Mostly he shrugged with his forehead. He'd figure it out one of these days.

Sam drained his cup slowly before refilling it and turning his suddenly alert gaze on Jim.

"So, you and Leonard, huh?"

Jim sputtered cream and sugar flavored coffee all over the table top in surprise, a portion of that coffee exiting through his nose. The mother fucking burn!

"What? No. Jesus. No!" Jim couldn't answer emphatically enough to make it clear that NO, he was not doing the bumpty bump with Bones. Sam just casually wiped up the mess sprayed over the table with a rag before raising an eyebrow at Jim. A single fucking brow. Seriously, can everyone but him do that?

"Really? We just thought, I mean, you brought him here of all places and you seem extremely close. It just seemed like you were a couple."

"We? Aurelan and you have talked about this?" Could this get any more awkward?

"Well, yeah. The first night you arrived we hashed it out. We figured we were right when you didn't argue over sharing the bed in the guestroom."

Oh. Yeah, this was more awkward.

"Okay. No. Just, no. Bones is my best friend. Emphasis on friend. We're close cause he's a fucking barnacle and doesn't trust me to-" Huh. How to explain it. "Well, anything really. According to him, I'm a baby with the self-preservation instincts of a gnat. And, as he tells it, I confirmed his theory when I taunted Spock into strangling me on the bridge. He hasn't let me out of his sight since that incident."

"Spock?"

If asked, Jim would deny, appropriately emphatic, that he did not blush at his brother's casual use of Spock's name. He'd be a lying liar, but that is beside the point.

"Um, my ah, first officer." Jim mumbled into his cup and avoided Sam's eyes like they were laser points trying to blind him.

"Spock. That's an unusual name."

"Vulcan."

"Huh. Wait. You-"

Jim could see the thoughts forming in his brother's head. The disbelief, the shock, the awe that Jim could be so stupid. It was like the words were forming in a thought bubble above him.

"Yeah, look, it was a long time ago. Shit was going down, we'd just lost Vulcan and Spock wasn't listening to reason. So, I may have provoked a confrontation to gain control of the ship and save the fucking day, by the by.” Jim took a swig of his cooling coffee and raised a finger to make his point. “So, not so stupid in the long run. And it worked out. We're all still alive and he hasn't actually killed me yet. Seriously, I do have reasons for the seemingly senseless stunts I pull. Even Spock has caught on to that by now. Sure, he still questions my sanity from time to time but that's a FO's job. And Bones just needs to get laid. If he had a girl he wouldn't spend nearly as much time mothering me."

Silence descended after Jim's short outburst and he watched his brother absorb his words with a furrowed brow that suddenly lifted inquiringly.

"So. Spock, huh?"

"Kill me now." Jim groaned and dropped his head forward until it thumped painfully against the tabletop. He heard Sam snicker and knew his reaction had given too much away.

"A Vulcan? Really? What, I mean, how? How did you land a Vulcan? Aren't they all like, I don't know, logical and repressed?"

This misnomer brought Jim's head up quickly.

"No, no they're not. They experience the same emotions we do, actually. In fact, their emotions are more overwhelming, hence the strict control. Did you know that in ancient times, and by that I mean fucking thousands of years ago, Vulcans were violent, uncontrolled warriors? It must have been something to see.”


Jim could feel a flush of warmth overtake him as he expounded on one of his favorite topics.


“And they were ruled by their emotions to such an extent that they nearly decimated their species. Then comes this guy, Surak, who teaches the path to logic and control and we get the Vulcans of today that we all know and love.“


Jim paused for a moment and he saw Sam open his mouth to speak but he starts talking again before Sam can say anything. Words are bubbling up inside him and spilling out without any conscious thought. It’s like he’s opened a floodgate and broken the latch and now has no way to stem the deluge.

“Their culture is fascinating. And Spock can fucking pinch people unconscious. How insane is that? It hurts like a motherfucker, let me tell you. But it's effective in a 'I'm a peaceful pacifist and do not wish to maim or kill you so allow me to pinch you asleep instead' kinda way." Jim finally trailed off mid-lecture at the amused expression on Sam's face. "What?"

"You love him."

"What the fuck!” Jim will never admit to squeaking but his voice may have cracked a bit from the shock of being so damn transparent. He had thought he’d been pretty subtle with the whole Spock worship thing. Apparently not. Jim feels his heart accelerate and he’s breathing hard, like he just outran something trying to kill him. He can’t meet Sam’s eyes and he thinks he’s starting to sweat. Jim leaned forward and with a calm and even voice, he tried to find out how unsubtle he actually was. “Am I giving off subliminal messages or something? How is it that you and Bones just pick this shit up from me talking?"

"Don't pout Jim, it's unbecoming. And, to answer your question, it's written all over your face. You got kinda dreamy there for a moment. Like, you wanted to write “Jim hearts Spock” in your notebook during study hall, dreamy."

"Nuh-uh." A bead of moisture trails down his side from his armpit and it’s confirmed. He is definitely sweating.

"Yep." Sam took another sip of his coffee before deciding to speak again. "So, it's good? I mean, he treats you well?"

Jim stared down into his mug, decidedly uncomfortable with the turn their conversation has taken and tried to discover the meaning of life in the creamy, sweet liquid. "Yeah. Better than he should."

"What's that mean?"

"It means I'm an asshole who doesn't know how to maintain a healthy relationship. It means that it's only a matter of time before he gets fed up with me and logically dumps my sorry ass."

Jim startled at Sam's sudden laughter and then shot him a glare across the table. Sam noticed the look immediately and waved it away.

"I'm sorry. It's just, damn. That's exactly how I felt about Aurelan when we started out. I'd convinced myself that it would never work cause she was so normal and undamaged that she would never stay with me. I was wrong, of course, cause look around."

Jim shook his head in denial. "It's not the same thing at all."

"How so? You think it was smooth sailing for us? There were times Jim, when I yelled at her, caused fights deliberately to push her away. I needed to prove myself right, needed to prove myself unworthy. I needed her to leave me because if I was wrong, if she loved me enough to stay, to deal with my bullshit, then I was going to have to face what terrified me most."

Jim cleared his throat, forced his query past his constricted throat.

"What terrified you?" He knew the answer. It trembled in his bones every time Spock reached for his hand, stroked his face. He felt it every single time Spock gasped out his name so softly, so reverently.

"Happiness. Having it and deserving it. It's scary as hell, Jim. I'm not gonna lie. It makes life much harder when you know you can be happy. When you know that this person in your life loves you despite your flaws, because of your flaws, you can't run. You'll want to. Believe me, there were a lot of times I wanted to pick up and leave because it's overwhelming, consuming, but you can't. You can't because they love you, and you love them and what you create together becomes everything."

A tentative hand reached out and settled atop Jim's. He wanted to jerk away, pull back from the connection that suddenly bloomed between them. He didn't. He didn't look at Sam though, kept his gaze averted while Sam spoke words he desperately wanted to believe, words that scared him to his core. He didn't look up until the room was empty and he was alone again with thoughts that threatened to undo him.

"What happened in this house, what happened to you on Tarsus, it doesn't stain you. You deserve to be happy, Jim. I have no right to ask anything of you, but I'm asking you for this. Try to be happy. Try it for me."

***

Jim stalked around the house in a fit of irritability. At his insistence, Bones was in the den setting up a visit with Joanna. They would be here a bit longer and Jim thought his friend should take advantage of their time on Earth. They had no idea when they would be back for a visit and he knew how desperately Bones missed his little girl. Jim was ready to leave Iowa. He didn't feel like he needed to wait for Winona to pass on. He had said his goodbye, had purged a shit ton of emotional baggage and was ready to move on. He would need to check in with headquarters in San Francisco, attend the mandatory counseling session to judge his ability to resume command and he wanted to have a meal with Pike to catch up in person for a change.

It wasn't necessary for Bones to tag along for all that crap, so Jim had forced him to treat himself to a surprise visit. The forty minutes of arguing that he had heard through the door hadn't sounded like a treat but Jim could hear giggles now that Jocelyn had let Joanna on the comm and knew the Bones had gotten his way. Jim had packed his bags, set up his meetings and now that it was nearing late afternoon could only pace throughout the house in irritation.

He knew why he was irritated, he just couldn't do anything about it, would not be able to do anything about it for another nineteen hours. He knew he had a lot to make up to Spock. The need to start, to take that first step was pressing on him and filling him with bubbling frustration. He was pulled abruptly from his thoughts at the sound of the screen door opening. He turned and froze at the sight of Sam in the doorway, expression blank, body tense, holding a simple bronze urn.

"When-"

"A few hours ago." Sam's voice was hollow. Empty of all the emotion Jim knew was restrained just beneath the surface. He watched Sam enter the kitchen, set the urn carefully on the table and brace himself against the smooth surface with shaking hands.

"Why didn't you call? You didn't have to do this alone."

"Aurelan came. She's picking up Peter now, should be home soon." Sam's shoulders shook with his words and the effort to hold himself together. "I want to thank you for coming. You didn't have to. I know that being here wasn't easy on you. I really appreciate-"

Jim strode forward and pulled Sam into his arms. His action surprised him, and from Sam's stiff posture he knew he'd surprised him as well. He thought briefly of retreating but he could feel the tension running through Sam and squeezed tight to encourage him to let it go.

"I'm sorry. For everything. For being an asshole. For cutting you out of my life. For what I said to you the other day. I meant it at the time, but it's not true. You're my brother and you took care of me when nobody else would. It's not your fault. None of it is your fault. I'm so sorry."

Jim ran his hands over his brother's back and held as tight as he could. He felt the air go out of him as arms encircled his torso roughly, fisting his shirt in clenched hands. The first sob startled him, but he just continued to hold on. They stayed like that for some time, Jim holding Sam as he broke down and released his grief onto his brother's shoulder. When Sam quieted and finally pulled back, Jim noticed they were no longer alone.

Sam scrubbed at his red, damp eyes and reached out to his wife, pulling her into his arms. Jim sat at the table and stared at the urn, accepting the coffee Bones thrust in front of him.

"What happens now?" Jim took a sip of the steaming liquid and felt fire trickle down his throat. He could taste the whiskey underneath the bitter beans and he closed his eyes in appreciation.

The scrape of chairs shifting pulled him back and he focused his attention on the people around him. Sam hefted Peter onto his lap and rested his chin against his boy's shoulder, breathing him in. It seemed to calm him.

"She wants to be released into space. At the site of the Kelvin. Who do I contact about getting that done?" Sam drank from his own laced cup of coffee and settled his eyes on the ghost resting on the table.

"I'll do it."

"What? No. Jim you don't have to-"

"Would you shut up?" Jim glared at his brother to stop his protestations. "I want to do it. It shouldn't be some stranger, no matter what happened in the past. I owe her this much. I'll call Admirable Pike and make the arrangements."

"Okay. Thanks." Sam shot his wife a look before clearing his throat. "Um, there's a will. I mean, she left a will. I don't know if…"

"Just spit it out, Sam!" Jim was rapidly losing his patience. He was fine. He wasn't the one who had just lost a parent. Not really. Sam didn't need to tread softly in order to spare him. He knew he hadn't been mentioned in the will. He was fine with it. Had expected it.

"There's a house in San Francisco. She hasn't used it in forever, but she still has the deed. I mean, she did. Shit. It was dad’s. Theirs. When they first got married and were finishing up at the Academy, they bought it together. It's yours. She wanted you to have it."

Silence descended and Jim felt his heart pound painfully in his chest. She left him a house. He couldn't fully wrap his mind around it.

"You, um, don't have to keep it. I mean, she stated in the will that it was yours to do with as you liked. Her lawyer has the keys and paperwork."

"Okay." Jim didn't know what else to say. He really had no words for this unexpected development.

"Okay."

***

Jim shifted the warm, dead weight in his arms and gently laid Peter's unconscious body on the bed. It had taken longer than expected to get the boy to fall asleep. He had kept asking questions and prodding Jim to expand on his story, forcing tired eyes to remain open and fixed on his uncle. Jim stared at the sleeping form before covering him with his blanket and placing a kiss against his warm forehead. He smelled of sweat, lavender and childhood. Jim wanted to bottle that scent and take it with him when he left.

Jim straightened and jumped at the sight of Sam in the doorway smirking at him.

"Addicting, isn't it?" Sam stepped back as Jim exited the room, pulling the door nearly closed behind him.

"I don't have any idea what you're talking about."

"Uh huh, sure." Sam trailed after Jim down the stairs and out onto the front porch, settling next to each other on the steps.

"So, um, I'm taking off in the morning. Bones is heading to Georgia to see his kid and I've got meetings and stuff to take care of."

"Sure. Okay. Thanks for coming." Sam stared off into the approaching darkness and said no more. His silence crawled under Jim's skin and rooted around in annoying fashion.

"It's not like that, Sam. I'm not running this time. I've got a fucking psych test to pass before stepping foot back on my ship, arrangements to make for altering the Enterprise's course for Mom, and a fucking house suddenly thrust upon me that I need to figure out what to do with. I'm not-" Jim shook his head and pulled a paper from his pocket before thrusting it in his brother's face. "That's my goddamn personal comm number and my messaging address. I'd like to keep in touch, if that's okay with you."

Sam took the paper almost reverently, tracing the folds with a soft touch before responding quietly.

"Yeah. That's okay with me."

"Good. I've got an extremely early shuttle to catch in the morning so I need to sleep. First though, we need to clear something up." Jim turned to face his brother with his most serious captain's face. "I never, ever wanted to be a fish."

Sam stared in shock before breaking into a fit of laughter.

***

Jim swung the door open and stood on the threshold without moving to actually enter the house. Early morning sunlight streamed through dust heavy curtains, motes dancing in the rays. The house was small, and from what he could see it was tidy. He stood on a wide front porch that spanned the entire width of the house. He had noticed the trimmed yard when he pulled up.

The papers he’d received from the lawyer explained that his mother had paid for the upkeep even though she hadn't set foot inside the premises since the Kelvin was destroyed. This house had nothing to do with him. Sam had been born in Riverside, Jim in space, so this house was exclusively about his parents. He didn't want anything to do with it. Again, he wondered why Winona had left it to him. Why she had kept it all these years. He knew he would receive no answers from standing on the porch, and with sudden determination, Jim stepped into the foyer and closed the door behind him.

Three hours and one severe allergy attack later, Jim was finally moving to the second level. He had dusted, mopped and scrubbed until the first level shone. If he was going to sell or rent this place, he needed to present a livable space. He had lost himself in the den for too long a time as he found himself surrounded by shelf after shelf of books. Paper-bound books. It had caught him off guard enough that he spent nearly twenty minutes just perusing the titles. He had avoided the desk which still lay scattered with papers and pictures. He had avoided the personal affects in the living room as well.

Now, standing at the top of the stairs with four doors staring at him, he knew avoidance was no longer an option. Choosing the closest door to the right of him, Jim entered what must have been a spare bedroom. It housed generic art of questionable taste, a bed and an empty bureau. The closet held extra linens and winter clothes thirty years out of style. With the room clean, windows open to the California air and the linens piled and ready to be laundered, Jim turned to the next room. It was a small bathroom that took no time to clean. He discarded razors and dried out bars of soap along with toothbrushes and expired medications.

Without a thought, Jim opened the next door and became instantly lightheaded. Space swirled around him in depictions of the Milky Way in beautiful detail painted on all four walls. A star mobile hung motionless above a white crib with white linen and a brown teddy bear forgotten in the corner. A changing table was on one side of the room next to a white chest of drawers. A rocking chair with a blanket thrown casually across its arm sat in a corner near a row of windows.

Jim found it difficult to breath. This room was filled with expressed parental love. It spilled out from the mural and furniture and toys that spoke volumes about the time and consideration spent on creating this room. What clenched at his heart, what hurt him more than anything, was the toddler bed placed opposite the crib. His crib. This room was meant for him and Sam. They had made a place for him. They had loved him.

Jim slid down the door frame and sat in silence as he absorbed this astounding fact. Yes, he had understood that he had been wanted. Yes, he understood that his life would have been different had Nero not attacked the Kelvin. But to see visible proof of those facts set off tremors in his body until he felt himself shaking with grief of what never was. What could have been.

With a sharp inhale, Jim pushed it aside. He forced himself to stand and do what he came here to do. With slightly shaky hands, Jim grabbed the glass cleaner and cut through the film coating the windows, allowing light to stream into the room undiluted. He pulled down the curtains, grabbed the linens and clothing and tossed them into the pile in the hallway. He mopped and dusted and brought the shine back into the room. Satisfied with his work, he left the room with stinging eyes and attributed it to his allergies.

It was after noon now and only one room remained. Jim eyed the large pile of bedding and clothes in the hall and decided to start the laundry before tackling the master bedroom. It wasn't a retreat. He had been cleaning for hours, he was becoming hungry and it made sense to start what would be a large number of wash cycles. Kicking out and shuffling his feet, Jim maneuvered the knee high pile down the stairs and to the basement door. He really hoped there was a laundry room down there because the hassle of hauling all this crap to the cleaners was extremely unappealing.

Jim opened the door, flicked on the light and descended into a finished basement. Thick carpeting covered the floor, the walls were painted a bright cream and a laundry room sat off in the far corner. But Jim was distracted by the punching bag that hung in the center of the space. And the weight bench, and wrestling mat, and boxing gloves. Jesus Christ, it was the best private gym he'd ever seen. A two level, open storage unit ran the length of one wall. It offered cushioned seating along its top but what it held was what caught Jim's attention. Instructional holos from nearly every self-defense and fighting style imaginable spread from shelf to shelf, along with books ranging from 'Instructional Yoga' to 'The Art of War' and hand weights and wrist tape.

Jim was completely in awe. His parents were badass. He had to tell Sam about this. Jim flipped open his comm and spent the next hour describing the gym to his astonished brother. It wasn't until he was loading the washer with a goofy grin across his face that he realized that he had called his brother instead of Bones. Just a week ago, he wouldn't have even thought to share something like this with Sam. It felt strange and awkward and completely right.

With a quick punch of a few buttons, the wash cycle started with a hum and Jim went in search of food with his grin still resting on his face.

***

Exhausted, Jim spilled through the doorway of his parents house and dumped his bags onto the coffee table. The spicy scent of Thai takeout filled the room as he dug into another bag that held an assortment of datapads. His psych eval had been as grueling as he remembered. He’d felt drained and wrung out, just as he had when he’d purged his feelings of failure about Vulcan’s destruction before he’d been awarded the captaincy. Today, however, he'd trudged through years of suppressed memories with a complete stranger all while struggling with the fear that he would be found unfit to return to command.

He lingered in agony over his doubt until Pike cleared him for duty during their lunch. With his fears eased, he had spent hours regaling Pike with the uncensored details of some of the Enterprise's more famous missions. It had been relaxing and the tension of the last weeks eased from his shoulders.

He'd then been pulled into several meetings to discuss face-to-face several requisition requests and damage reports that had gone through in the last few months. The lengthy, boring meetings made him ache for space and the convenience of sub-space communications and their notoriety for being unstable. It was well after 2100 hours now and he still had reports that headquarters wanted him to read and sign off on before the end of the day.

With his belly full and his hand cramped from holding his stylus, Jim reached for the last datapad. It held the most recent reports from the Enterprise's latest mission. He read through them all, saving Spock's for last. The formal, precise wording left an ache in his chest as he signed the form and submitted to HQ. Jim read through the next mission briefing and signed off on that as well. It was a simple supply run that would bring the Enterprise within rendezvous range in three days time. The thought made nausea spread throughout his stomach.

The Enterprise had been in communication range for over a day and now that Jim was able to speak to Spock he found himself unwilling. No, not unwilling. He was incapable. He had no idea what to say. The words needed to bridge the gaping distance that had suddenly sprung up between them would not come. He didn't know how to fix what he had damaged. All he knew for certain was that he wanted to, needed to.

He had sent off a brief, written acknowledgment pertaining to his return to the ship but had not included any personal message for Spock. He clung to his role as captain as it was the only thing he had any confidence in right now. With sickness in his stomach, Jim rolled onto his side and let himself fall into a troubled sleep.

***

Cleaning out his parents bedroom had been going so well. He pulled the curtains and linens and clothing from the room, stripping it of most of its personality in the process. He'd tossed old cosmetics and packaged what little jewelry he'd found to be sent to Aurelan. He had scrubbed, dusted and vacuumed until he felt that pressure ease off his chest as the task neared its completion. That was when he found the box.

It was an innocuous little thing. Plain wood, narrow and shallow, no more than three inches deep. What it contained, however, numbed him while simultaneously ripping him open until he was a raw, bleeding mess. Metaphorically speaking.

He sat on the bare mattress, the contents spread out around him and stared. Ticket stubs, photo's, cards and letters. It was the letters that proved his undoing. They were love notes, not overly sentimental but the emotion was plain to be seen. It was almost impossible but that little box contained and concealed the sum total of his parents relationship. From their first date, a symphony concert in Golden Gate park, to the sonograms of both her pregnancies.

Their love wasn't grand, or extremely romantic. There was no poetry or heartfelt declarations, just simple love that was real and cherished and achingly attainable. Their path, his parents story was laid bare before him and it was one he knew he could follow. It wasn't out of his reach, it was his if only he would hold out his hand and take it. The question that faced him now was whether he was brave enough to do it.

 

***

He never thought he'd see the day when the sight of his girl would make him want to be sick. But here he was, clinging to Bones' arm as they approached the transporter pad aboard the USS Farraday, trying valiantly to hold onto his lunch as they prepared to beam over to the Enterprise. It couldn't have been five days already.

The time had flown by, filled with paperwork, meetings, painting his house, dismantling the nursery and painting it the deep red that Spock preferred, and purchasing a desk and chair that he thought would be deemed efficient by Vulcan standards. It was a bold move, he knew this, as there was a very high possibility that Spock would never be speaking to him again outside of a professional capacity. But it was a move he'd had to make after finding that damn box and realized that he had that with Spock already and he wanted to keep it.

The last two days he'd spent in transport toward home aboard the USS Farraday, alternately annoying Bones with his whining and worrying him with his sudden bouts of introspective silence.

Five days. God! He was an asshole.

"Jim. Breathe."

"Easy for you to say. You're not the one about to be eviscerated by an eyebrow. Or worse."

"Such a drama queen. I told you to call him, but do you ever listen to me? No. Now you're worrying yourself sick over shit that could have been resolved days ago. Man up! You're a fucking Starship Captain, for crying out loud."

"He hates me. I know it. I can feel it. Oh God! Why didn't I just call? I should have called. I just didn't know what to say. I still don't know what to say. Oh my God, Bones! What am I going to say?"

"That's simple," Bones said, disentangling Jim's death grip on his arm. " You tell him that you're an emotionally stunted boy with commitment phobias and that you're sorry for ignoring him. Then you give that patented pout and all will be back to normal."

"I hate you."

"Yes, yes. You good now, or do you need a moment to write in your diary?"

Jim crossed his arms and glared at the young ensign manning the control console. Yeah, that's just great. In all of five minutes the entire crew of the Farraday were going to hear about Captain Kirk's near breakdown over his boyfriend. Life couldn't get any worse. At least they hadn’t revealed who that boyfriend was. The last thing he needed was another reason for Spock to hate him.

Jim aimed his sternest glare at the ensign that had him straightening to attention as Jim ordered a curt ‘energize’.

They materialized onto the Enterprise to find an exuberant Scotty welcoming them back with barely contained glee.

"Oh Captain, it's good to have you back. Things have been right quiet without your presence."

Jim tuned him out while Bones, thankfully, jabbered on about Joanna and offered up the bottles of whiskey that he'd procured for the man. The distraction allowed him to absorb the fact that Spock wasn't there. Fuck.

"I'm going to go up to the bridge to catch up and…" Jim trailed off as Scotty shooed him away, not even looking away from the bottles of liquor lined up on the console before him. Jim handed off his bag to his yeoman who, unlike Spock, was waiting for him outside the transporter room, but clung to the steel cylinder in his hand. It didn't seem right to pass off Winona's remains as though she were baggage.

It took less time than he needed to arrive on the bridge, but it turned out fine since Spock wasn't there either. Jim accepted condolences from his crew before quickly making his exit. He wasn't on duty, technically wouldn't be until he discharged his mother's ashes, but he found himself making the rounds on his girl anyway.

It had been too long to be away and he felt the need to reconnect with her moves and sounds. If he kept an eye out for a certain Vulcan while he traversed the ship, well, it was only natural to want to hear an updated report from the Acting Captain.

But he didn't see Spock, and it was with a painful constriction in his chest that he returned to his quarters in defeat. He was being avoided and it hurt like fuck. He knew he deserved it though. After all, turnabout was fair play and all that bullshit. Jim set Winona on his desk, paused to shiver at that thought, then turned on his terminal to access the thousand or so reports that had accumulated in his absence.

He made quick work of sorting through the reports that he'd already completed while on Earth and during transport, and deleting duplicated files that Spock had dealt with in his absence. In little over an hour he was finally able to begin sifting through the ship's internal memos and reports that required his signature. He lost himself in the details and paused only to remove his shoes and toss his leather jacket into a heap on his floor. It went on for another hour before his door chime sounded and he called out an automatic 'enter'. He wasn't prepared to see Spock standing there, cool and polished in his Science Blue's, not after searching high and low for the man to no avail.

"Spock."

"Captain."

Oh. Okay.

"I presume you're here to give your report." If Spock wanted to keep this professional then that's what Jim would do, even if it killed him.

"I…am not. Jim."

Oh. Fuck.

"Oh." Jim wanted to smack himself because he's a fucking genius. He knows words. Why couldn't he find them? Where did all the fucking words go?

The room felt small and suffocating, what with all the awkward tension filling it. Jim wanted to break through it, claw his way out of the silence and reach out to Spock. He wanted so many things but he was paralyzed with fear. Seconds ticked away and with each one the tension seemed to grow. It would soon be impossible to breach. He watched Spock shift his footing and the sight nearly broke Jim's heart. His Vulcan never fidgeted, not ever. The words finally came to him, but they seemed to rise to his mouth at such a rate as to jam at the bottleneck of his throat. Pressure built inside his head until all he could hear was the frantic beating of his heart. Then Spock stiffened, nodded tightly and turned to leave. It was too much and the damn broke with the weight of all that lay between them.

"Spock, wait!" Jim was frozen in his position of half-leaping over the desk, hand stretched out to the man standing too far away to touch. But his words had halted Spock, had him turning around, if not moving closer. Jim sighed and fully stood from his chair only to find the grain of the faux wood suddenly fascinating. "I don't know what to say."

"I would not force you to share with me that which you find too personal. I only thought to assure you that should you desire a conversation I will be available." Spock's words were clipped and almost spat at Jim. It was a loss of control and Jim felt guilty as hell for being responsible for causing it. Silence fell again as Jim castigated himself for being inadequate, for dragging Spock into a relationship Jim was too damaged to maintain. Spock again shifted toward the door and the move brought forth a sudden fury, directed at himself, yet unleashed on the innocent Vulcan.

"What the hell do you want from me? Am I supposed to cry on your shoulder while you quietly freak out about having to deal with my human emotions or should I snap and try to choke you in my grief?"


Spock snapped straight, more rigid than seemed possible. Green stole across Spock's cheekbones as anger and hurt flooded his oh-so-expressive eyes.

"I would like you to inform me directly of the termination of our relationship. If you find me so inadequate as a partner you need only tell me instead of ignoring my deficient offers of consolation." Spock's voice hitched at the word 'inadequate' and he averted his eyes, but not before Jim saw the sheen that covered them. Jim deflated and sunk heavily back into his chair. He couldn't look at Spock. He was ashamed at what he had said, ashamed of being so broken that he was hurting the one person he cherished above all others.

"I don't-" Jim sucked in a ragged breath and kept his eyes trained on his clasped hands. "I don't find you inadequate."

"It is the logical conclusion."

"Fuck. I'm sorry. I can't-" Jim shook his head, trying to clear the fog that had settled over him. He felt numb, like he was in a waking dream and if he could force himself to concentrate he'd wake up, and none of this would be happening.

"You need not explain. I understand, Jim. It was expected." That brought Jim's head up quick, quick enough to catch the tremble in Spock's lips before they were pressed into a thin, hard line.

"You don't understand! You can't understand and that's the problem." Jim lowered his voice and kept his eyes on Spock when he finally had his attention. "How could you understand that I'm not sad that she died? That I don't grieve for her as she was but for what could have been. I'm fucked up, Spock. I can't talk to you about my past because you can't understand what it's like to be a burden, a reminder of what was lost. You can't understand what's it's like to be shipped away because you were just too much to handle. And if you knew, really knew what I- You'd leave me. If you knew me and all I've done, you'd leave me and you'd be right to."

Jim couldn't hold Spock's confused gaze any longer and pushed himself up only to collapse on his bed a few feet away. He felt drained, like he hadn't slept for days, weeks. He curled over his legs and rested his head on his arms, trying to keep it together until Spock left and he could break down completely. He felt the bed dip next to him and froze in shock at Spock's unanticipated move and quietly spoken words.

"I had a half-brother, Sybok. He is of my father's blood and ten years my senior. His mother died at his birth and my father, at that time, spent much of his working hours on Earth in his role as Ambassador. Sybok spent his formative years among humans and various other aliens. As a result, he never adhered to the teachings of Surak and was openly expressive.”

Jim turned his head to stare at Spock as the man spoke, but he couldn't equate the pained expression he saw with the stoic façade he was so familiar with. Spock sat, slightly hunched, hands loose between his knees, eyes focused on memories from his own troubled past.

“My mother loved him instantly and he her. She used to say that they took to each other like ducks to water. It was an illogical phrase but it suited them. When I approached my seventh year, the year of bonding, Sybok breached Vulcan law with a transgression so sever that he was banished and disclaimed."

"What‘d he do?" Jim cursed himself and mentally withdrew the question. He had no right to ask when he, himself, offered nothing of his own past. But Spock seemed determined to finish his tale, but for what purpose, Jim did not know.

"Sybok has a gift. He is able to take onto himself the pain of others, releasing them from that which cages their minds. He was approached several times by the High Council to study with the Adepts of Kolinahr to become a healer. He was uniquely skilled at the easing of disorientation that came from severed bonds and even the madness of-" Spock swallowed heavily. "He was very skilled."

Jim watched as Spock drew in a ragged breath and his hands itched to reach out, to touch and comfort. Realization hit hard and Jim felt a puff of air escape him. This was how Spock had felt. Spock had seen his pain and had tried to comfort, had offered in his subtle vulcan way and had been rebuffed. Jim felt nauseous at the thought and shifted so that his thigh bumped along Spock’s, needing the point of contact to ground himself as well as to urge Spock to continue.

Jim had half expected Spock to withdraw from him but he just pressed back with his own thigh and continued his tale quietly.

"He entered the mind of his betrothed and severed their link without permission and without forewarning. He was not properly trained in the art and there were complications." Spock drew himself up and crossed his arms over his chest and stared hard at the deck. "He damaged T'Serr's mind beyond repair. She succumbed to her injuries within two standard days of the incident. The sentence for such a crime is death, however my father argued Sybok's case and, as Sybok was not yet of age, his sentence was reduced. My mother disagreed vehemently with the decision and stood firmly at Sybok's side. At seventeen, Sybok was without clan, without a homeland, and stripped of his name. We were not to speak to him or of him. It was as if he had never existed."

Spock’s shoulders curled over his torso and Jim braced himself for what was about to be revealed, knowing by that one action that the worst had yet to be said.

"As a result, tension arose between my parents. Ten months after Sybok left Vulcan, my mother took me to Earth and filed for legal termination of her bond with my father."

Jim sucked in a sharp breath at that revelation. He would never have believed that such an experience marred Spock's childhood.

"Spock-"

At the shake of Spock's head, Jim bit off his words. There was more and he would listen.

"We were on Earth for five standard months before my father followed. There were discussions. No. They argued, loudly and with anger. I had never heard my father speak in such a manner. It took him three weeks to convince her to return with him. When we did return to Vulcan, she was considered outcast and open to ridicule for her emotional actions, and I was taunted for my lineage for the first of what would become many times. It was a less than pleasant existence after that. We never heard from Sybok again, other than his query as to our survival of Vulcan. That query came through Starfleet indirectly and we were not provided a means to contact him in return."

"Couldn't he sense you through your familial bonds?"

"No. As part of his sentence, an Adept severed all existing links Sybok housed. He left Vulcan utterly alone."

"Jesus." Jim had no idea what to say to that.

"Jim." He startled at being addressed directly for the first time and looked up into Spock's soft-brown eyes. "After Sybok left, I faced much derision from my peers and the elders I interacted with. I was often required to defend my mother's name and even that of my father. It was discomforting and brought my emotions readily to the surface. I was unstable for much of my youth. The only way I could counteract the emotions forced from me was to suppress them. I immersed myself in the teachings of Surak and became, to the best of my ability, as fully Vulcan as possible. I hurt my mother with my efforts, but I believe she understood my reasons. I apologize for hurting you. I did not wish to appear lacking in your eyes but I fear that I have failed in my efforts regardless. I cannot be Vulcan enough to please my race nor human enough to satisfy you."

"Spock, no. Just, God. No." Jim pulled Spock to him and embraced the shuddering Vulcan. He hadn’t thought that story was an apology but it turns out Jim was wrong. Spock had laid out his past heartache as a reason for his failure to be what Jim needed and that was unacceptable. Jim squeezed his arms tighter around Spock. “You don’t have to be anything other than you.”

Shaking arms wrapped around Jim and pulled him onto Spock's lap. Jim accommodated the move by swinging a leg over Spock's and cradling his dark head to his chest. He pressed kisses to Spock's crown and caressingly stroked Spock's back in an attempt to sooth him.

"It's okay. Spock, it's okay."

"Do not leave me, Jim. Please. I will try harder."

Jim pulled back and pressed his forehead to Spock's.

"Listen to me, Spock. Listen. You don't have to change. You don't. I love you as you. Not Vulcan. Not Human. Just Spock. Just as you are. I love you so fucking much I can't breathe sometimes and I say stupid shit and run away with Bones because I don't know how to do this. But I'm gonna learn, I promise. I'm going to be the best fucking boyfriend ever because that's what you deserve. I swear it. Please, believe me. I'm sorry I hurt you, that you're hurting still. Fuck. You should totally choke me again because I'm a fuck up and I need to fucking learn to deal with shit instead of running scared all the damn time."

Jim felt Spock’s hand clench into his shirt to hold him there, pressed together, sharing each other’s air.

"Jim."

Jim felt something well up inside him. It suddenly felt wrong to have not trusted this man with all he was, and he felt everything he'd hid, everything he'd held back burst forth.

"She left me, Spock. She left us both, Sam and me, because she couldn't deal with life anymore. She ran away and we paid for her weakness. She didn't care what happened, or maybe she just didn't care enough. She was gone and her brother liked to drink and kick us and lock us in fucking closets for days. Sam took it all onto himself for as long as he could before he left me, too. Then it was just me and I asked for it. I begged for every fist and boot because at least when he was wailing on me I was seen. I was invisible for so long. But I pushed too fucking hard and instead of leaving, Frank sent me away. Shipped my ass to Tarsus, right into the middle of a fucking famine."

The words tumbled forth on a frantic wave. He couldn't hold them in now that he had finally started talking. He just burrowed his face into Spock's shoulder while strong Vulcan hands soothed him in long, gentle strokes. Their roles reversed, Jim purged his soul while Spock listened and offered comfort.

"I did things there that I may never be able to tell you. I'm sorry, but it's too dark and it pulls at me and I feel like I'm drowning with it. I was hurt in so many ways, so many things happened that I-" Jim didn't realize he had started crying until he felt snot start to run from his nose. Snuffling and thinking that if his past didn't scare Spock off, the mucus staining his uniform might do the trick, Jim burrowed deeper against Spock.

"I went hard. I cut myself off and didn't think. I just went into survival mode and did so many horrible things. I never thought I'd get out alive, but I did. I survived and was sent back to Frank to get kicked around some more. I was so disconnected from everything normal that I just reacted. I started fights, fucked around, drank and snorted my way through the aftermath until I woke up one day and realized I'd pissed the better part of ten years away. That's when Pike found me.”

He felt those caressing hands freeze against his back and the body underneath him stiffened. Jim clung tighter, knowing what was coming and bracing for the rejection he’d always expected. Knowing it was inevitable didn’t stop him from trying to apologize and hope for forgiveness.

“I should have told you. I'm sorry. Before we started anything I should have warned you, but I just wanted you so badly. And when you wanted me too I thought I'd won the fucking lottery because you're so good and kind and fucking brilliant. Then it was too late to tell you because if I lost you after having you I wouldn't survive. I can survive just about anything but not that."

Jim finally ran out of steam and slumped against Spock, snuffling against his neck. Those still hands took to motion again, sweeping up Jim’s sides and over his shoulders to settle around his biceps. Jim felt his heart stutter as those long, elegant fingers tightened around his arms and began to separate their bodies. Spock pushed Jim back just far enough to reach up and run his hand under Jim's nose and over his lip, removing the worst of the wetness and wiping it on his own pants.

"Jim. Ashayam. You are more than I thought I would ever have in my life. I- the words are not easy for me but,” Spock closed his eyes for the barest of moments before opening them and focusing on Jim with such determination and brimming emotion that Jim couldn’t breathe at such a sight. “I desire you to know that I will never leave you under my own power. I could not. You are T'hy'la. You are Jim. You are mine."

The ball of anxiety that he’d carried around since Spock first reached out and shyly brushed his fingers against his all those months ago disintegrated at those words. He couldn’t stop the giddy burst of joy that burst from him any more than he could halt the sudden light-headedness that overtook him at his relief.

"Jesus, if that's not a declaration of love I don't know what is." At the questioning eyebrow from Spock, Jim just leaned in and kissed him. Spock’s reciprocation was mechanical and precise. One hand moved against the back of Jim's head and the other to his waist while Spock tilted his head to the exact angle necessary for full contact. It lasted all of seven seconds before Spock hummed and sunk into the kiss, fisting Jim's hair and pulling him fully against his body. It was like magic. Jim pushed with his knees and levered his weight against Spock until they both tipped back against the bed.

With little effort, Spock had Jim on his back, Jim's shirt sailing through the air and his own half off before Jim registered the move. When he did, his hands went to Spock's pants and began pushing them off the narrow hips holding them in place.

"Missed you. God, want your hands. Need you."

A hot mouth descended onto Jim's chest, nipping and licking at his already hardened nipples. Jim arched off the bed at the contact, clutching at Spock's hair to hold the Vulcan to him. Spock couldn't be held and continued licking and kissing and biting his way down Jim's tremulous body. His hand came up and entwined with Jim's, sending a bolt of connection through them. It had never been this strong before, not through simple touch. A door had been thrown open tonight and Jim was consumed by Spock and Spock by Jim.

"K'diwa." Vulcan words caressed Jim's suddenly exposed groin, and he hardened fully at the rush of hot breath over his cock. Without warning, Spock stood from the bed and pulled Jim's pants down and off in one quick tug before shoving his own down to pool at his feet. Jim couldn't wait for his Vulcan to return to him, and he rose to his knees to meet Spock in the middle of the bed, mouths colliding as bodies pressed and hands touched everywhere. Their bare cocks slid together and with a hissed breath, Spock fisted both hands through Jim's hair and claimed his mouth with startling possession.

His tongue filled Jim's mouth, skimming his teeth, lapping at the sensitive roof and causing a shudder to flow through Jim's body. Jim's own hands slid around Spock to dip into the crack of his ass and fondled the opening there. Need flared through him and Jim pushed Spock back until his legs were over Jim's shoulders and that hidden haven was in front of him. Fuck, Jim wanted that and wasted no time in teasing. Leaning forward, Jim covered Spock with his mouth and sucked and swiped with his tongue until his jaw ached and Spock was mewling from the sensation. The skinny legs draped over him jerked with each thrust and twist of Jim's tongue until Spock cried out and dropped his legs to the mattress.

Grabby hands pulled at Jim until he was over Spock, then under him and a hot mouth engulfed Jim's cock while a slicked finger entered Jim's ass. Jim moaned at the dual sensations and was torn between pushing down on Spock's finger and thrusting into his mouth. Instead of either he writhed with indecision and moaned a wordless plea. He was rewarded with another finger and a subtle scrape of teeth that nearly finished him off.

"Fuck, Spock! So good. Not gonna last. Want you in me." That earned Jim another finger, a slight burning stretch and a wicked scrape of fingernail across his prostrate that shot his come hard down Spock's swallowing throat before Jim could cry out. Jim could only pant as his spent cock was released from Spock's mouth and Spock moved over him into position.

"I wanted to come with you in me." It wasn't a whine, really. He was gasping too hard for air to actually whine. It was more of a plaintive comment. Spock didn't seem at all concerned and licked over Jim's ear and whispered 'you will' before thrusting forward as his fingers connected with Jim's psi points.

Lustdesirelove swirled into Jim and awoke his cock anew. It was instantaneous and fucking brilliant. Jim hitched his legs up higher over Spock's hips and clung to his shoulders as the thrusting increased in speed and force. His breath was hitching out of him on every forward plunge, perfectly in sync with the grunts Spock was releasing. A kaleidoscope of color exploded through his mind as Spock stilled above him, his hips jerking spasmodically, setting off Jim's own orgasm. Spock extracted himself from within Jim's mind and body and curled around him until they were a tangle of limbs. It filled Jim with such a strong sense of belonging that he felt tears prick behind his eyes.

"I love you." Spock's shuddered words brought them forth and all Jim could do was clutch Spock tighter as the euphoria faded into the blackness of sleep.

***

Jim awoke to a cold and empty bed, panic racing through him as he sat up, blinking into the dimly lit room. A creak of metal caught his attention and he turned to see Spock, wearing a pair of Jim's pajama bottoms, sitting at his desk with the cylinder in his hands.

"Spock?"

"I wish to know you, Jim. I desire your thoughts and memories. I want to bond you to me and feel you in my mind and seek solace within your own. I do not know what you desire from our relationship, but I do know that I ask too much. We cannot join in the manner I need and still allow for the privacy you crave." Spock set the cylinder gently atop the desk and turned the chair to face Jim. "I do not know where to go from here. The urge to link our minds together nearly overcame my control during intercourse. I would not force you into something you do not want, but I do not believe myself capable of resisting the lure of holding you to me permanently."

What the hell could he say to that? Jim watched his hands fiddle with the edge of the sheet draped over him and tried to think of a response. He wanted what Spock wanted, what was being offered, but the fear of having Spock see into him, exposing his dark secrets was still overpowering. Doubt and childhood insecurities flooded him and he cringed at the thought of Spock being tied to him and despising him for what he truly was.

His breathing was becoming ragged and his control was slipping. He wanted Spock in every way imaginable. He wanted a future with him and knew that couldn't happen without a bond. But bonding would open him up and make him vulnerable to Spock's rejection even more than he already was. His thoughts circled back to Sam and what his brother had asked of him. It was, in the end, all Jim could honestly do.

"I told Bones."

"Jim?"

"I told Bones about us. I didn't realize that I was in love with you until he pointed it out to me. I, uh, didn't take the news well, at first. Then I told Sam and he figured out that I was in love with you even faster than Bones. Loving you, it's easier than breathing. I want to try. I want you to know me, Spock. I want to know you, all of you." Jim drew in a deep breath before meeting Spock's wide eyes. "How do we do this?"

“If we proceed a link will form between us. It will grow with every joining until we complete a full bonding or have it severed by a healer.”

Jim heard the warning and understood. He didn’t want an out, though. Jim took a shuddering breath and nodded his acceptance.

Spock stood slowly, his eyes never leaving Jim's as he crossed to him and settled across his lap. His hands carded through Jim's sleep tousled hair and he kissed Jim's forehead, his chin, his mouth. They rested like that for a few moments, mouths open and sliding against each other, breathing each others air. Jim tightened his hands against Spock's hips and sighed into his mouth. Then Spock's fingers ghosted over his face and he was suddenly there, inside of Jim, filling up every corner of his mind with his intoxicating presence.

It was too much, Jim felt lost, adrift on the waves of affection coursing through him, yet it still wasn't enough. Then memories crashed through him and he felt the intense heat of Vulcan beating down on him as an older boy ran across a red desert, carrying him on his back and laughing at his own startled laughs. And a woman held him after a nightmare, easing his shame at experiencing illogical fear and poring love into him through her gentle hands. A man, Sarek, looking stern and telling him he married his mother because it was logical then retracting his statement in the aftermath of so much loss. Arguments were heard despite his parents attempts to hide them from him and he watched Sybok walk away from them, head held high even as tears coursed from his eyes. And he watched himself provoke such anger and pain and felt the complete loss of control as he tightened his hands around his own throat, intent on killing him.

Then there were Uhura's smiles and Bones' biting words and Chekov's eager expression. And there were his hands on 'his' shoulder, 'his' back. His smile igniting a spark within that was unprecedented and craved. The touch of lips and fingers and that first incredible joining of bodies.

And then Jim's own memories tumbled forth and he could feel Spock absorbing them greedily. He lay on the couch, curled next to his mother as she read to him from Peter Pan. He and Sam laying in the field watching a meteor shower in quiet fascination. The first sign of what was to come as Frank laid into Sam in the living room and Sam leaving and the car and the impact of a fist to his sternum.

Tarsus swam up into his mind and painfearhorror filled him as starved bodies cried out to him for help. The exhaustion of keeping guard over the younger children, the taste of moldy bread sticking in his throat followed quickly by the taste of bile and an incredibly hollow feeling within his stomach. Blood, warm and sticky, spurting up at him from the body beneath him. Then years of emptiness momentarily filled with a stranger's body and booze and bloody fists. Pike, Bones, Starfleet. Belonging. Spock. Spock. Spock.

Jim came out of the meld gasping. Spock was wrapped tightly around him, his body shaking, dampness against his shoulder where Spock pressed his face. Sorrow tickled through him, rage at what he had suffered and a possessive need to tear those who had hurt him asunder. And it clicked. Spock was still there, in the back of his mind, stroking him from within, loving him still.

For the first time, Jim felt an untainted swell of happiness fill him and allowed himself to revel in it.

***

Jim fidgeted with his tie and felt absurdly awkward as he headed toward C-deck's airlock. It had taken six days to reach the site of the Kelvin's destruction and now that they were here, now that the time for his final goodbye had come, he felt unaccountably small and fragile. Spock was finishing up in the lab and would meet him in a few moments time, but the steady trickle of love and assurance streaming through their link was comforting as Jim entered the turbo lift to find Bones, in his fiercely hated dress uniform, waiting for him.

It took him aback and brought a rush of affection and gratitude. He blinked rapidly to stem the emotion welling in his eyes and stepped next to his friend and offered a shoulder bump in appreciation. A dry, calloused hand captured his and squeezed before sliding away. The short ride was silent, the cool steel of the cylinder a heavy weight in his hand. They exited the lift in sync and made their way through the winding corridor until reaching the tiny airlock that sat next to an observation window. Jim just stood, absorbing the pattern of stars and waiting.

The sound of someone approaching had him turning and biting back a startled sob. His crew, his friends approached him, with solemn looks and formal attire, settling behind him in a protective circle. His eyes burned and he quickly nodded before turning to face the view port in an attempt to rein in his emotions. Then warmth settled along his left side and he felt Spock before the man stepped up into his line of vision. Well, it was time then.

Jim opened the airlock and carefully poured the ashes onto the smooth surface before resealing the compartment. He thought he should say something about service and duty or maybe share something pleasant that he remembered. But in the end all he could say was a whispered 'goodbye' as he released the ashes into the vacuum of space.

He didn't know what he'd expected, but the act was very anticlimactic now that it was done. There was no sign of two souls reconnecting, no bursting star to signify the importance of a life finalized. Well, this wasn't a fairytale and Winona was no princess. There, of course, would be no fairy dust or magic. There was a hug from Bones and quiet sniffling from his friends behind him. And there was Spock beside him, and a warm hand slipping into his, holding him for all the world to see. His world, Jim's world. Spock was making a declaration and Jim accepted it with all that he was.

A wake had been set up by his crew, a private affair in the officers rec room, with sandwiches and Scotty's whiskey offered up. Jim nodded to his friends as they drifted away, promising them to be there soon. Bones lingered behind the group and sized up Jim and Spock and their clasped hands.

"It's about damn time." With a forceful clap to Spock's shoulder, he grinned and strolled away, hands in his pockets and whistling a low tune.

"Jesus. You know, by time we get to the rec room everyone will have had time to absorb the significance of this," Jim raised their joined hands in explanation. "And we'll be inundated with questions and comments."

"It is of no concern. I see no reason to hide a facet of my life that is of such importance. Unless…"

"No. I don't care what they say or think. I'm happy, Spock. You make me happy and that's all I really care about."

"That is most pleasing to hear, Jim. Especially in light of our next assignment."

"Orders came in?"

"Yes. As you will be returning to command tomorrow, I thought I would take this moment to inform you that we will be traveling to New Vulcan to assist with delegations bidding for exclusive trading rights with the colony. The High Council has requested our presence during negotiations as we have personally dealt with many of the Ambassadors that will be present and will be able to provide valuable insight to assist them with their decision. Also, I have concluded that this is an acceptable time to inform my father and the council of our intent to bond."

Jim had been nodding along as Spock spoke but that last line had Jim starring at the composed Vulcan beside him with barely controlled panic.

"What? You want to what?" Jim saw the twitch at the corner of Spock's mouth, more importantly, he felt Spock's amusement through their link.

"Have no fear, Jim. I will protect you from my father." Spock opened his hand and adjusted his hold on Jim until their fingers were entwined. Jim could only gape as Spock tugged him along toward the rec room where their friends awaited them and into a suddenly frightening future that included a terrifying father-in-law.

"You're lucky that I love you. I wouldn't put up with a scary Vulcan in-law for anyone else."

"I am incredibly lucky indeed, Jim." An extraordinary surge of love filled Jim's mind and warmed him with a blinding light. He felt, at that moment, as if the shadows of his past ceased existing and returned the feeling as best he could. Bring it on, he thought, and crossed the threshold into the rec room and laughed as the interrogations began.

Happiness, he thought, was a very strange and wonderful thing.

The End.