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Eat Your Feelings

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When Jim had been given the Enterprise, it had been the absolute, hands-down, best day of his life. For all of his sad, fucked up existence, Jim had to work harder than anyone to get anything, even things he’d earned and, sometimes, things others got by default. His mom’s attention, good grades, survival on Tarsus IV, a job at thirteen, a motorcycle to get the fuck out of Riverside, enlistment into Starfleet—everything he’d ever gotten was years in the making.

Sure, he’d helped save Earth, but if one were to assign outrageous awards based on that, then practically everyone serving during the Narada mission should have been promoted three ranks just like him. Jim had come off that mission bruised from fights from Romulans and emotionally compromised Vulcans alike, just hoping that saving Earth would keep him from being grounded indefinitely, as he’d broken quite a few regulations to get things done. But then Jim was made captain and given the Enterprise, and he knew damn well he didn’t deserve her, at least not yet.

Even more, the gifts didn’t stop coming. Next came Uhura shaking his hand and proposing a truce, then the approval for a five-year exploration mission, and finally the crowning moment, Spock choosing to stay instead of going to the Vulcan colony. After everything that had happened between them, Spock still chose to serve under him, and maybe that was the best day of his life, because as Spock sat down at the science station and Sulu took the ship into warp, Jim had laughed to himself because the only thing he could think was, I’m finally going to be as far from Riverside as humanly possible.

The worst day of his life was the day they took the Enterprise away from him, a few weeks short of his one year anniversary as captain.

It hadn’t even been Jim’s fault. At least, he didn’t think it was. So far, the only person who believed him, besides himself, was Spock, though in all actuality maybe it was just Spock because sometimes Jim wondered if he was as delusional as they claimed.

Whatever the case, someone had ejected an escape pod during a yellow alert, killing Lt. Commander Benjamin Finney.  Jim knew without a single doubt in his mind that he had put the ship on red alert before ejecting that pod. Starfleet had wanted to avoid trial, wave their hands in the air and say they had simply made a mistake--Jim was too young to captain a ship and had folded under the pressure. Instead of taking a ground assignment, Jim had fought the charges.

The court martial was laughable. The ship’s computer clearly showed him ejecting the pod during yellow alert, his lawyer was an idiot, an ex-girlfriend was the prosecutor, and even Spock’s last-minute evidence that the computer was at fault proved nothing, as Finney was effectively not on board the ship. Who the hell would believe any of them when it was a well-known fact that Finney hated Jim, because during his first year as a cadet, Jim had reported the upperclassman for leaving a flight simulator online too long and almost seriously injuring a couple of students going in to take a practical.

Thus, Jim had been summarily court-martialed to commander and told that he’d either have to retake a few classes for a couple of years and accept a ground assignment or take an extended leave and await further litigation. Momentarily defeated, Jim took the leave and boldly told the court that he planned on fighting this until proven innocent.

Saying goodbye was hard; the ship was needed immediately on some mission Jim was no longer privy to as ex-captain. The only bright spot in the whole clusterfuck was learning that Pike was fully recovered and would be taking over command. It was Pike’s ship first, after all, plus it was better than having some swaggering idiot take command.

The last person he saw before beaming down was Spock, staring at him solemnly.

“I will continue my efforts in exonerating you.” He threw up the Vulcan salute. “Live long and prosper, Jim.”

Jim hesitated before responding, memorizing Spock’s face and wondering how he was going to cope with life when he wasn’t greeted in the morning with warm eyes and a plan of action. He wondered if he could dramatically kidnap Spock as he beamed away. Spock might not even mind that much, so long as Jim let him set up an in-house science lab.

The thought bolstered his spirits enough to give Spock a reassuring smile.

“Right back atcha. I guess I can think of this as a forced vacation.”

The first couple of weeks were the worst. Jim went through a dozen lawyers, each one as useless as the last, all telling him the same thing: retake the classes, earn back your captaincy in a few years, tell them you’re guilty. He stayed up to all hours researching and doing whatever investigations he could, all to no avail. That’s when the doubts set in and he wondered if maybe he did eject that pod. With those kinds of doubts plaguing him and his temporary vacation turning into a long sabbatical, his thoughts turned dark.

It didn’t help that he was back on the farm in Riverside, in the middle of winter when everything was cold and empty. He was right back where he started, and he wondered why he ever tried to leave in the first place. Each day that passed sucked more hope out of him, made him believe that he’d never get back up on that ship again. Not to mention missing his friends and missing Spock most of all.

As he hit wall after wall in getting his life back, he began to realize that it could be months before he saw Spock again, maybe even more. After all, how often did the Enterprise take shore leave on Earth, especially during a deep space exploration mission? After so many weeks of carefully not thinking of Spock, Jim finally lost hope and began to mourn the loss. With nothing else to distract him, it was easier to admit to himself that he loved Spock, and with that admittance came a steadily growing misery.

In retrospect, it was at the one-month point that he stopped believing that he’d ever get his ship back. He hadn’t used any leave time in his captaincy, including the big hunk reserved for those who were traumatized by the Narada mission, so Jim had 10 months of leave he could conceivably take before he was considered inactive. If he was doomed to go back through training just to crawl his way back to his ship serving under Pike, a process that could take a couple of years or more, he felt that taking as much time as he needed to wallow in self pity was justified. He stopped talking to people he knew because he had nothing to tell them. “Nope, no Enterprise yet, still living at my mom’s farmhouse, good day to you too!” He stopped going on his daily runs, stopped going into town, stopped his whole damn life.

Each day it felt like he was fading. He had a recurring dream in which he was dressed in full captain’s dress uniform and different admirals came and tore medals off. Then different faces from his old crew tore pieces of clothing away—a collar for Sulu, a braid for Chekov, a belt for Uhura, and, oddly, a shoe apiece for Scotty and McCoy. Spock was always last, gently peeling away the tattered remains, whispering, “I am sorry, Cadet,” before turning on his heel and leaving Jim naked and cold.

When your life has hit rock bottom, you either head backward or forward. The future was fucked, so Jim found himself asking, “Where did I go wrong? How can I be happy again? When was I happy before Starfleet?”Jim’s old habits of drinking or fucking away the pain were obsolete, not only because he was still an active Starfleet officer with a shoddy enough reputation as it was, but because he always imagined McCoy ranting at him about failed livers and xeno-STIs or Spock just radiating stony disapproval at him.

So Jim just…ate.

It didn’t start off that bad.

From day one he’d indulged in a few luxuries not commonly found in deep space, namely real food from restaurants and grocery stores. When he stopped going into town taking to spending his days at home, he updated the house replicator to provide him plenty of junk and comfort food to get him through endless movie and television marathons. The replicator was always warm, and Jim found that there was a perverse thrill in eating an entire pie in one sitting, not even cutting it into pieces but just digging in with a fork until there was nothing but crumbs left. He even tried his chops at cooking, finding an almost meditative calm from following a recipe and keeping his hands and mouth busy.

When Mom visited after three months of Jim being home, she’d surveyed Jim’s 3-day-old clothes, the mountain of take-out boxes and wrappers, and a Golden Girls marathon with a put-upon expression and decided to stay at Sam’s house instead. Good riddance, because she’d probably have some sort of breakdown if she knew Jim was baking a pan of double fudge brownies and he didn’t plan on sharing.

For Jim’s birthday, McCoy sent him a bottle of bourbon and a holomessage telling him to ‘keep in touch, kid.’ Some of the crew sent some other gifts that he kept in their boxes, and Spock sent him an actual handwritten letter and a small bottle of his meditation oil, to ‘clear your mind when worry and doubt enter.’ Jim read the letter after he figured out that ham goes great with bourbon and tried valiantly not to cry over Spock’s neat handwriting and matter-of-fact way of talking about ship operations.

Four months easily dissolved into five. By then he’d sort of bottomed out on his depression and started seriously thinking about how he was going to get his life back on track. He got information from the academy about all the supplemental command courses he needed to take; it was just a matter of signing up and finishing them, which would take about a year if he worked hard. He might as well wait a bit longer, make sure he was ready for the extra stress and all the negative attention he was going to get as he tried to climb his way back to the top.

It took six months to really miss Spock. Of course he’d missed Spock from the day he left, but this was a different sort of longing. He’d written to Spock a couple of times and Spock had written back double that amount, but it started to not be enough. He wanted to see Spock, wanted to really talk to him again, even if it meant that he had to serve under him to do so. His need for Spock was starting to eclipse his pride, so Jim finally got online and signed up for his first semester of classes. The semester didn’t start for another two months, so Jim took his first major step in getting his life back together and decided to clean house.

It took a week, as Jim realized he’d never watched Happy Days.

*

Three days later, Jim heard the alien sound of his doorbell. It was the middle of the afternoon and thus the middle of his daily session of ‘staring into nothing and contemplating the way dust motes drift in sunlight streaming from windows.’ He went to answer it, hoping it wasn’t anyone important because it was way past laundry day and he was wearing an old Henley shirt that was two sizes too big. Jim fretted a bit in front of the door. He hadn’t seen much sun in the past six months, so he was not only ghostly pale, but also swamped in white fabric and shoeless. He ended up shrugging and opening the door, a sickly ghost ready to topple over at the smallest gust of wind.

Naturally, it was Spock at his doorstep.

“Greetings, Jim,” Spock said, his eyes lit up and voice golden.

It was like the threshold to Jim’s front door was a portal to another dimension, one in which lame things like Jim Kirk did not exist. Spock was dressed in civilian clothes. His robes were still blue, but a rich navy blue and silver, the velvet collar practically caressing its owner’s neck. Jim felt himself staring stupidly at Spock, unable to think of a single thing to say except, you can have me in any position you want, right on the porch if you like.

“What are you doing here?” Jim blurted out, sounding incredibly rude. Spock took the rudeness in stride, probably interpreting it as surprise.

“To visit,” he said, looking pointedly past Jim to the house beyond.

“Oh, c’mon in,” Jim murmured absently, stepping aside unthinkingly. Oh god, why didn’t he close the door and talk to Spock outside? The house looked like something a hurricane threw up. Spock stepped evenly over it all, blithely unconcerned with the mess. Despite Jim’s mortification, he melted a little at the familiarity. Only Spock could behave as if he perfectly fit in wherever he went, from a seedy brothel up to a royal court.

“I’m surprised that you’re actually taking leave time.”

“I possess news that you will no doubt find beneficial.” Spock chose the only seat in the living room without a pile of junk on it, a stool. Jim shoved a pile of clothes on the floor and turned his armchair to face him.

“You came all this way to gossip? Have you been spending time with Chekov and Sulu?”

“I assure you it is not gossip. Benjamin Finney has been arrested.”

Jim gaped at him. “Not the same Benjamin Finney that died a few months ago.”

“One and the same. He was found on Risa, attempting to con vacationers out of their money. Naturally his arrest has shed new light on your once apparent guilt. He was brought before a council who questioned him using a lie detector test. The man is quite disturbed and seems to hold a personal grudge against you.”

“I seem to have that effect on people,” Jim said, raising an eyebrow. Spock nodded in understanding, knowing that he himself had been one of those people once.

“My testimony on your character and the idiosyncrasies of the ship’s computer were re-examined and a ruling was made—you are to report back to the Enterprise, fully reinstated as captain.”

Jim sat, stunned, the words flying around in his head and not really landing on anything. Just like that? They were giving her back after all this time and with nothing in return?

“What’s the catch?” Jim asked suspiciously. Spock frowned.

“There is no ‘catch’, Jim.”

“Then how come I haven’t been told yet?”

“I have informed you as of 1.2 minutes ago. Starfleet should be contacting you officially within a few hours. However, I wished to give you this news as soon as possible.”

Jim felt the corners of his mouth lift and suddenly he was smiling so hard his mouth hurt. He laughed and leapt from the armchair, taking Spock by the shoulders and shaking him.

“I can’t believe it!” he shouted. Spock almost looked like he was about to smile, which really put the cherry on the awesome sundae for today. “When can we leave?”

“Whenever you wish. I know you are eager to return.”

“God, yes. I’ll have to pack, clean a bit, and get rid of the leftovers so they won’t turn into fridge monsters and take over the house, but yeah, as soon as possible.”

“I will begin with the kitchen,” Spock said equably, rising from the stool and heading that direction.

“Oh no you don’t,” Jim said, darting in front of Spock and spread eagling himself in front of the kitchen door. “Guests do not clean house, especially when said house can qualify as a biohazard.”

“There is much to be done and I consider myself more than a simple guest.” Jim still looked hesitant, so Spock added, “The sooner we can finish business here, the sooner we can board the Enterprise.”

Damn him for knowing Jim’s dual weaknesses: the Enterprise and Spock verbally acknowledging their friendship. Jim swept his arms out in a ‘be my guest’ motion and ran up the stairs to pack.

He felt himself shaking as he pulled a duffle bag from his closet. It was way too much to process. Along with the exuberant joy he felt at gaining back everything he’d lost, he felt strangely terrified. Had he lost his edge over the last six months? Would he be able to handle the stress again? His confidence returned, however, as he heard Spock downstairs loading the dishwasher. Spock would be there—there was no way he was going to stand around here shaking in his boots when there was a Vulcan waiting for him.

After packing some essentials, Jim pulled out his command uniform, lovingly running his hands over the material as he took it off the rack. He pulled on the pants, which felt a little different. When he tried to zip his pants, he was dismayed to find that he couldn’t quite make both sides come together.

"This can't be right," Jim said, breathing harshly through his nose as he tried to zip his uniform slacks.

Remembering something an old girlfriend used to do when she wore skinny jeans, he flopped down on his bed, breathed deeply, and tried to zip up his pants. After a minute's worth of struggling, he gave, up, shimmying inelegantly out of the pants. Why were his pants not fitting? He’d just purchased a new uniform a week ago with the same measurements and he hadn't even washed them yet. He couldn't possibly have gained that much weight in just a few weeks without noticing.

He frowned, suddenly remembering that he'd been wearing nothing but baggy sweatpants and athletic shorts for months. Come to think of it, they weren't that baggy anymore. Jim looked down at his stomach which, until now, he'd only glanced disinterestedly at. His firm abs were no longer firm, but soft and fleshy. He stumbled naked into the bathroom so he could look at himself in the full-length mirror. His legs were no longer skinny toothpicks. He stared in horror at the added meat there, and when he turned to his side, his mouth opened in shock at how his ass protruded obscenely from his body.

He’d gotten fat.

"Fuck."

*

The shuttle ride was awkward for Jim. He spent the entire trip from Riverside to San Francisco in a state of panic. Spock was silent, either lost in his own thoughts or realizing that Jim was lost in his own and was respecting that.

Did Spock notice the extra weight? Oh, who was he kidding? Spock could probably calculate the exact number of extra pounds in one glance. Jim had chosen some once loose-fitting civilian clothes to wear until he got on the ship and could officially replicate a larger uniform size, but his jeans were still criminally tight. He’d caught Spock staring at them as they boarded the shuttle, a slightly preoccupied expression on his face. Jim knew very well how ample his backside was before gaining all this extra weight but now it was plain unsightly. To make matters worse, Jim didn’t think he’d ever really seen a fat Vulcan. With nearly all of them being vegetarian and logical and shit, he figured that Spock found portly humans unattractive and illogical.

His thoughts tapered off from the self-conscious once he met with some of the admiralty and found out that yes, he was indeed being reinstated as captain of the Enterprise and no, Spock hadn’t gotten it wrong. They even issued him a formal apology. After a few more hours of formalities, he and Spock boarded a shuttle and his mind completely wiped of anything except happiness when they finally saw the Enterprise in space dock.

He was home.

*

 “Captain!” Scotty greeted with his customary buoyancy, giving Jim’s hand a hearty shake on the transporter pad. “Welcome back!”

“I hope you kept her in one piece,” Jim joked.

“Just barely, actually! Turns out that something was fishy about the computers, all right. I’ve been having a whale of a time rerouting circuits and keeping her afloat what with all the miscommunication dandying about. I’m only glad we didn’t have any major disasters.”

“How are they now?” Jim asked, tone turning business-like.

“They’re pretty well fixed. We’ve got some technicians going over it as we speak. Starfleet’s not keeping her grounded too long, is she?”

“I don’t—”

“We should be departing soon if our request for a ship audit is approved,” Spock answered.

Jim stood silent, not wanting to tip Scotty and a couple of other crewmen off that he had no idea what was going on. Everything was happening so fast that he hadn’t had time to be fully briefed, but he’d thought that Spock would inform him of something as important as a ship audit. If a commodore or vice admiral was going to be on his ship for a period of time, Jim wanted to know yesterday.

“That’s good to hear, Commander! We’ll be working ‘round the clock to get this lass back out there where she belongs!”

“You do that, Scotty,” Jim said, flashing him a genuine smile. Jim left the transporter, flanked by Spock.

As they walked through the halls and various crewmembers welcomed him back, he noticed something distressing. More than a few had done a double-take upon seeing Jim before they hastily wiped the momentary shock off their faces. God, he’d really let himself go. McCoy was going to have kittens. Pushing those thoughts from his mind for the time being, he waited until they were in a somewhat empty hall before rounding on Spock.

“What is this about an audit? Why have I not been informed, Commander?”

Spock caught his angry tone and managed to look chagrined. “I apologize. The matter was settled quite expediently. Admiral Pike is to stay on board for the next two weeks overseeing the repairs, as he was already assigned to this ship and is familiar with the computer overhaul.”

Jim breathed a sigh of relief. No swaggering blowhard from the brass was going to give him bureaucratic hell.

“Sorry. I’m a bit overwhelmed. I mean, today my big plan was to do some laundry and now I’m here, you know?”

“Of course. You will find that your quarters remain unchanged.”

Jim was touched. “You mean Pike didn’t stay in them?”

“No, he did not. If I recall correctly, he said he found it disagreeable to sleep in another man’s bed without at least being offered an alcoholic beverage.”

Jim smirked at that and continued onward to his quarters.

Spock had been right. He hadn’t bothered packing up most of his things when he’d left abruptly, so his quarters looked just like they did before. Jim felt on the edge of tears as he touched the edge of his desk proprietarily. Spock stood silent near the door, dressed in his uniform again after a quick change at the academy, and the sight was so familiar and dear that he suddenly didn’t want Spock there because he might collapse on the floor and roll around in his emotions.

Spock surprised him by speaking first. “I have a prior engagement with Admiral Pike. I will inform him of your arrival.”

“Thank you Mr. Spock. I’ve got some paperwork to do and I haven’t seen Bones yet. Maybe we can spar later or something.”

Spock tilted his head in affirmation. “I am pleased that you have returned, Captain.”

Spock left swiftly and Jim smiled after him before sighing and moving to the replicator to get himself a uniform. He frowned in confusion when the machine spit up a green shirt. He punched in the code a second time, and again received the same green shirt. He took out his communicator and asked Scotty what the hell was wrong.

“That’s a new one,” Scotty said with interest. “We’ve been having computer glitches left and right. Nothing that would disturb major operations anymore, but little things like resurrecting an alternate uniform design no one wears. We’ll work on it, but I’m afraid it’ll have to do unless you plan on ordering one while we’re stationed.”

Jim cursed quietly. “It’s fine. Just keep this code in mind when you’re deciding which one to fix next.”

Jim put it on. It was a strange shirt, a wrap-around tunic. Unfortunately, it would make him stand out when he wanted to fade into the background as much as humanly possible.

He sat to finish his paperwork. He groaned loudly when the first order of official business was a physical.

*

“My god Jim, is that a fat shirt?” McCoy greeted, whipping out his medical tricorder and running it over Jim. “Strip it.”

“Nice to see you too,” he said sardonically, pulling the offending top off and trying to bat McCoy away as he twirled the tricorder around like a magician. “I’ll have you know that the replicators have goofed up my uniform for the moment.”

“Did they also pump you full of fat cells? I can’t believe the readings I’m getting right now.”

Jim was starting to get annoyed. “Yeah, I get it, I’m fat. Spare me the lectures and let me get back to my quarters.”

“No way, princess. Having extra fat isn’t a bad thing. Hell, a lot of captains are a bit overweight and I’m always telling you that could use a little meat on your bones. Problem is, there is no way you gained this much weight in six months unless you did absolutely nothing, which means you’re out of shape. With how often your brand of command forces you and the landing party to run to save your hides, the problem is clear.”

McCoy was right, hard as it was for Jim to admit. He didn’t know why he was so angry when he was the one at fault here. He could have at least invested in some home equipment and kept up his exercise regime some. McCoy frowned down at his PADD and nodded to himself.

“I’m changing your meal card. We’ll go with a light diet—nothing too terrible or else you’ll go into salt and grease withdrawals. I don’t think you’ve ever been out of shape in your entire life, so make sure you start with light exercise before going back to your normal routine or else you’ll feel like shit all the next day.”

“Gonna write me a prescription?”

McCoy put down his PADD and surprised Jim by wrapping his arms around him and giving him a bear hug.

“It’s good to see you, kid.”

Jim smiled, letting McCoy linger for a couple moments more before mumbling about personal space and doctors needing to get laid.

*

“A light diet?” Jim asked, grimacing at his forkful of salad greens.

“I let you put regular dressing on it, didn’t I?” McCoy said as the bastard bit into a chicken leg. Jim could hear the tantalizing crunch of fried breading and smell the heavenly scent of fried chicken complete with mashed potatoes, country gravy, and hot, buttery rolls. Even Spock’s food looked a bit better than Jim’s--at least his salad had croutons.

“You should try okroshka,” Chekov offered merrily. “It’s mostly made from vegetables. And perhaps beer if you like, though maybe not as using light beer is sacrilege to the dish.”

“There’s sashimi if you like your fish really fresh,” Sulu suggested next, distinctly not eating Japanese cuisine but a submarine sandwich. Oh Christ, was that white American or mozzarella on that thing? Maybe provolone…

“Any Vulcan delicacies that don’t taste like sand?” McCoy asked Spock, gesturing with his fork and chewing loudly. Spock gave off the air of sniffing in distaste at McCoy’s table manners.

“There are few Vulcan plants that are cultivated on New Vulcan. Most of our plants and vegetables are extinct.”

Everyone at the table sat awkwardly except Jim. No one knew how to react when Spock talked about Vulcan, but Jim knew that talking about plants wasn’t terribly hard for Spock when more important things had been lost that day. Spock continued, glossing over their stares.

“However, the replicators are capable of imitating several dishes. Most Vulcan fruits are unpalatable to humans as they are uncommonly sweet to their oral receptors, but a particular favorite of mine is kasa. Would you like to try some, Captain?”

“Gotta be better than the rabbit feed I’m eating now,” Jim said, happily pushing aside his tray in anticipation. Spock retrieved what looked like a plate of small, dark yellow pears. He proceeded to split one and hand half of it to Jim. Jim bit down in the middle, eyes nearly rolling into the back of his head. It tasted sort of like a banana dipped in whipped cream, except there was another flavor added in that he couldn’t place, something alien and spicy.

“Holy fuck, I order everyone to try this.” It was so good that Jim licked the juice off his fingers, trying not to moan. He heard the rattle of silverware hitting a plate and a chair scraping before he looked up to see that Spock was leaving.

“If you will excuse me, I must go over the coding for the bridge consoles with Admiral Pike.”

“All right,” Jim said, speaking for the group and trying not to look crestfallen. “Will you be done in time for a workout at the gym?”

“We may be occupied for the remainder of the evening. Perhaps when there is less work to be done on the mainframe, we can schedule a session.”

“All right. See you later.” Spock left and Jim grabbed another kasa. He noticed that Chekov and Sulu were whispering and laughing to themselves.

“Care to share the joke?” Jim asked. They stopped abruptly, looking at each other as if they’d been caught doing something wrong. Jim frowned, realizing that maybe they’d been laughing at him. He resisted the urge to adjust his shirt.

“It’s just…well, you’ve been gone so you haven’t been around for the live soap opera everyone’s been tuning into for the past couple of month,” Sulu explained.

Jim relaxed and immediately hated himself for automatically thinking Sulu and Chekov would make fun of him for being fat, let alone right in front of his face.

“Gossip? Is that all you two do all day?” McCoy asked, sopping up some gravy with a roll. Jim silently thanked Spock for easing the pain of watching delicious food being eaten in front of him and took another bite of his new favorite fruit.

“And navigate, Doctor,” Chekov said, bright and unrepentant. A silent conversation ensued between Sulu and Chekov. Sulu looked at Jim and back to Chekov, a question in his eyes like he was wondering if Jim needed to know. Chekov shrugged and mouthed something close to ‘go with it.’ Decision made, Sulu faced Jim fully.

“We were laughing at Spock saying that he and Pike were going to be at it all evening.”

“Oh, not this again,” McCoy groaned, rubbing his forehead.

“What?” Jim asked, perplexed.

“That stupid rumor about Pike and Spock dating,” McCoy scoffed.

“What?”

“It’s not stupid!” Chekov declared. “We have several sources that say they saw the admiral with an arm around the commander’s shoulder just two weeks ago.”

“What?” Jim asked, beginning to feel like a broken record.

“Come on,” McCoy scoffed, “There’s rumors any time anyone touches Spock because of the whole Vulcan no-touch law. Well, he’s half human and a few months ago the hot rumor was that Spock was dating Jimbo over here.”

“It was?” Jim asked in a small voice.

“Yeah,” Sulu said, waving if off. “Clearly that’s not right and we’ve got more ammo than just touching with this Spike thing.”

“Spike.” Jim repeated.

“I know, great portmanteau, right?” Sulu continued. “How about the fact that Spock fought to have Pike audit the ship and not a fully trained programmer? The way Spock glows whenever Pike praises him on the bridge?”

“Ya ya!” Chekov said excitedly. No one seemed to notice that their captain was growing paler and might possibly be floating somewhere above the table right now in the throes of an out of body experience. “I served with them for a few months before going on Enterprise, and they were still very sweet with each other. Quartermaster Chambers said that Pike ordered a dozen Vulcan flowers two weeks ago, real expensive ones, and they were next spotted by Commander Spock’s yeoman in his quarters.”

“You can’t really believe all this,” Jim said in the most nonchalant, disbelieving way he could, though it still sounded a little desperate to anyone listening closely.

“You know, they have been spending a lot of time off duty together,” McCoy said contemplatively. God, he was supposed to be Jim’s anchor of reason, not gossiping like a schoolboy!

Chekov crowed in triumph, “And Sulu can tell you that he personally saw Spock leaving Pike’s quarters at 0200, looking quite disheveled.”

“They can’t be together,” Jim exclaimed. The others turned to stare at him. Jim floundered a bit under the scrutiny. “I mean, if there were rumors of us together, then you might be wrong about this too. Plus, Spock would have told me,” he said firmly, sure of that one fact.

“If it were serious he would,” Sulu agreed. “But still, who knows? Maybe they’re not dating and they’re in the flirting stage. Something seems to be brewing, that’s for sure.”

“Yes! I can bet all the snow in Russia that it’s because of rank. After all, an admiral and a commander dating is risky.”

McCoy looked over at Jim, oddly serious, searching for something. Whatever he found made him gather his tray and take leave. “You two can keep clucking like hens over this, but it ain’t fact until you get a straight answer. Jim, stay away from the punching bags.”

Jim stared after him as he walked away. McCoy knew that when Jim was feeling upset, he’d get it out using his fists.

*

Despite all the gossip and uncertainty where Spock was concerned, Jim was actually glad Spock was with Pike right now and not with him. After running three laps, Jim was sweating buckets and his leg muscles were screaming in pain. Fatigued, Jim plunked himself down on a bench, further glad that the gym seemed to be empty at the moment. He would have to come out here during this time from now on because his crew shouldn’t see their captain like this.

*

Jim meandered into the rec room an hour later, freshly showered and feeling like his ass had been kicked by a biker gang, and then subsequently run over with their motorcycles. He’d gone to the closest replicator location available, and so he didn’t expect to encounter Spock and Pike intimately sequestered in a corner of the room with a chess board between them. Jim felt a hot flush of anger. Chess was their thing! Pike wasn’t even doing well and would be checkmated in four moves, tops.

Jim didn’t even think about it—he stalked right over to their game and hovered over them obnoxiously.

“Kirk, as I live and breathe,” Pike said, turning away from the board as if the game was over, which it pretty much was. Spock frowned minutely, and Jim hid a smile because Spock hated leaving anything unfinished.

“Back and ready to give you more gray hairs, sir.”

Pike laughed and reached over to another table’s chair and pulled it over next to him. Every bit of ill will he’d harbored against Pike since listening to Chekov and Sulu’s shameless gossip melted away at the small consideration. He turned the chair around and straddled it eagerly.

Despite the fact that Pike might be making moves on his first officer, Jim couldn’t find it in him to actively hate Pike. He was sort of like the cool uncle giving his nephew awesome things that his parents wouldn’t approve of. Hell, Pike not only talked Jim into enlisting in Starfleet, but later made him first officer even after Jim ignored his academic suspension and snuck aboard his starship. In retrospect, saving Pike’s life had barely been enough payback.

“You doing okay?” Pike asked, hazel eyes scanning Jim’s face intently. Jim knew Pike meant more than just the present moment. After all, besides Uhura, Pike had been the only person on this ship to see Jim bleeding on a barroom floor and he remained the only one who had looked at that inebriated fuckwit and thought hey, command material.

“It’s good to be back,” Jim said simply, meeting his eyes. Pike nodded minutely, understanding that he didn’t want to talk about it right now.

“Glad to hear it. There’s six months of missions to go over, if you have the time. I’ll even buy you a drink.”

Jim marveled at the wordplay. Pike had a way of communicating that flew so far under the radar that if you didn’t know him, you’d miss the whole point. Apparently, he’d worked out that the last six months of forced leave had been just as rocky for Jim as the years spent in bar brawls.  That little drink barb was pretty impressive, but Jim thought he could do better.

“So you want to buy me a drink so you can sleep in my bed, is that it?” Jim returned, remembering Spock’s earlier comment about Pike’s opinion on taking over the captain’s quarters.

“Come on, we both know the drink’s for show. I’m already invited.”

Jim puckered his lips and blew a small kiss, laughing easily as he did so. Spock cleared his throat, which shocked Jim because translated into human emotions, that was equal to Spock slamming his hand down on the table.

“The imbibing of alcohol is prohibited on duty.”

Wait a second—was Spock jealous of Jim? Just for playfully flirting like he did with everyone? And holy fuck, Spock was near glaring at Pike, an almost betrayed look on his face. Pike tilted his head at Spock in a gesture of contrition.

“So it is,” Pike said, keeping his eyes steadily trained on Spock. “Which means we’ll just have to postpone our fun until later in the evening, Captain.”

Did Jim really just witness Spock getting pissed at Pike for flirting and Pike silently apologizing to him for doing it? Had Jim fallen down a rabbit hole somewhere? Did he die choking on a Slim Jim in his dirty living room and was now in a hell in which he was fat and Spock was smitten with Pike?

“Let’s skip the drink and do it now,” Jim said, unsaddling the chair and getting to his feet. “I mean, let’s go over those missions. Not drinking and other sundry activities.”

Spock’s expression was akin to cold marble. Jim knew he was being petty, stealing Pike away to get a rise out of Spock, but he felt entirely justified at the moment. Out of the loop and being handled like he was stupid and couldn’t take the truth.

“That’s all right, Kirk,” Pike said, getting to his feet as well. “I’ve got a crapload of reports to go over. See you tomorrow.”

Pike left, and with nothing to say to Spock that wasn’t completely insane with jealousy and stupidity, Jim left as well.

*

Jim estimated that his chances of sleep tonight were somewhere in the decimal range. He lay supine on his bed, wondering why life gave as much as it took. Here he was, back where he belonged, and yet it felt like the world had upended itself while he was away and he was trying not to fall from the ceiling.

It couldn’t be true. He tried to imagine Spock and Pike kissing and beyond the tight, hot coil of jealousy was a sense of wrongness with the picture. Wasn’t Spock’s type Uhura? That made sense, at least. Jim had resigned himself to the fact that he wasn’t a pretty and empowered woman. But Pike was more like Jim than Uhura—male, laid-back, tended to leap before looking. Pike would never admit that last one, but he was a regular cowboy in comparison to the other stuff-shirt admirals.

Was it the age thing? No, that couldn’t be it because Uhura was Jim’s age. Did Spock just like older males and younger females? Was it Uhura who wasn’t Spock’s type and that’s why they broke up in the first place? If Pike was Spock’s real type, did that mean that Jim could conceivably have a shot? And right there was the kicker, the whole point of having a type—if  Spock didn’t have a type, just went about life choosing people based on some unseen number of personal factors, that meant there was something about Jim Kirk that Spock didn’t want.

Jim held onto the fact that Spock wouldn’t lie to him about anything. But would he keep a relationship secret? Spock was pretty damn good at keeping his cards close to his chest and yeah, Spock rarely volunteered even the most mundane of personal information, so it was pretty likely that he could keep his mouth shut until doomsday unless you provoked him enough.

Or you know, stopped being a complete coward, went up to Spock off duty, and just asked if there was something going on.

Jim thunked his head against the pillow over and over.  There was no way he could ask Spock because he was terrified that the answer was yes. Jim was pretty good at keeping his cards close to his chest too, but not when it came to Spock. No, when it came to Spock, Jim was a pot brimming over with liquid love and his lid didn’t fit too well. If Spock looked at him and said that he had feelings for Pike, or worse, that they were seeing each other, Jim would boil over and Spock would be the one that got burned.

At least all this worrying was keeping him from thinking of how damn tired and hungry he was.

*

Jim woke to the sound of his door buzzer. He called out groggily, automatically sitting up even though the action made his body scream ‘NO’ and protest by seizing every last muscle.

“Morning, sunshine,” Pike called out, sounding too damn cheery for the early hour of…0720. Huh, Jim had slept well past his first alarm.

“Blow it out your ass,” Jim greeted blandly. A heavenly scent wafted under his nose and Jim instantly changed his tune. “Bless you.”

“Don’t thank me. I’d sooner let you shake it off, but Spock insisted that you’re much easier to deal with when you’ve had your fancy princess coffee.”

Jim took a drink, oblivious to everything but the liquid gold in his hand. Oh god, it was perfect and warm and sent a flush of welcome heat down his spine.

“Tell McCoy nothing about this,” Jim said, smiling dopily at the white chocolate mocha latte with whole milk. Jim swore that Spock had an eidetic memory because he’d only mentioned this drink in passing months ago when he and the bridge crew had been daydreaming about all the foods the replicators failed at making. He felt warmer than what coffee alone could accomplish.

“Are coffee runs standard procedure while in space dock?” Jim asked.

“Spock and I had a final meeting at headquarters about the ship’s computers and I figured we could swing by.”

The drink turned bitter in his mouth. This coffee had been bought at a terrible price. He set it down carefully, his mind practically on fire with questions. Did you two sleep together last night? Did you hold hands with Spock while ordering my fucking coffee? What makes you think you can come in and steal Spock away from me?

“You two regularly go on coffee dates?” Jim asked as lightly as he could, hoping Pike attributed his sudden shaking to the two shots of espresso.

“Only if he puts out the night before,” Pike said offhandedly, poking around Jim’s desk for something.

“Did he?” Jim blurted out. He immediately wanted to take it back at Pike’s sharp, surprised expression.

“You wanna run that by me again, Captain?” Pike asked slowly. Like a switch being turned off, Pike’s voice dropped its playful cadence and went into full command mode like Jim had announced that the ship was under attack. It was easy to forget that Pike was his superior officer and Jim was close to insubordination with his remark.

Jim floundered. “Sorry, just heard some strange rumors, that’s all.”

That relaxed Pike enough to sit across from Jim’s desk. Jim dragged himself from the bed and sat at his side of the desk with the coffee, ultimately deciding that it was so good that he would probably continue drinking it even if a Klingon had been the barista.

“You probably also heard that I wear silk panties at night,” Pike muttered.

“I haven’t heard the best rumors, sir.”

Pike smiled a little and Jim felt forgiven.

“This morning was actually the longest time I’ve spent talking to Spock in a while.”

Jim squirmed in his chair. It didn’t escape his notice that Pike hadn’t denied the rumor and he might very well be discussing his relationship troubles with Jim.

“Well, you played chess last night and are always working on the ship’s computer with him, so maybe he’s a little human-tired.”

Great, now he might be giving relationship advice. He might as well hand Pike the lube and tell him to go to town.

Pike scoffed. “Silent chess games are as entertaining as you’d imagine, and don’t tell me you haven’t noticed Spock’s extreme work ethic.”

Jim was busy trying to fit the pieces together, because that was strange. Spock always talked during chess games and as for work ethic, Spock had once assured Jim that he could simultaneously hold a conversation and compute warp drive calculations in his head. Jim knew how much Spock liked and respected Pike, so it made no sense why Spock would be so reticent around someone he cares about.

Unless, of course, Spock was harboring some pretty strong feelings toward that person.

It painted a wholly new picture of the situation. Spock was probably hiding a Vulcan-sized crush for one Christopher Pike. Poor bastard. That was the real reason Spock had wanted Pike to audit the ship and why he’d been glued to Pike’s side—when the audit was over, Pike would leave and the relationship was doomed.

Curiosity was killing him, so Jim decided to test the waters.

“What about the rumor where Spock stumbles out of your quarters in the dead of night after some hot, raunchy sex?”

“Are you sure you didn’thear the best rumors?” Pike asked sardonically. “That one’s partially true. At least the part where he left my quarters in the dead of night.”

“Gamma shift problems are the worst,” Jim offered, hoping it really was that innocent.

Pike hesitated before he reluctantly divulged, “He fell asleep in my quarters.”

“Uh huh,” said Jim, all his jealousy centers lighting up.

“Rather, he passed out in my quarters.”

He guiltily pushed aside the jealousy and was dismayed when it was replaced by the ‘Spock-is-hurting’ worry mode.

“Is he all right? What did Dr. McCoy say about it?”

“I didn’t tell McCoy.”

“How could you—”

“Spock told me not to. He said he was just fatigued and needed to get some rest.”

“That’s bullshit. Vulcans can go weeks without sleep if they’re stressed.”

“Think I don’t know that? Thing is, I believe him. I did what any worried senior officer would do if they needed to observe a crewmember without breaking his confidence.” Pike grinned roguishly. “I borrowed a medical tricorder and checked his readings while his back was turned on the bridge. Turns out he hadn’t been sleeping.”

Jim’s mind reeled. This was only more proof to his burgeoning theory. Jim knew two things that stressed Spock out: the safety of his friends and repressed emotions. No major confrontations had occurred to put the ship in danger and Jim himself had been safe back on Earth, so number one was out. That meant that Spock was suffering internally, and Jim knew exactly what unrequited love did to your stress levels.

He was experiencing some of that right now, in fact.

“Maybe we should still get McCoy to check him out,” Jim said.

“Just so he can tell us that Spock is stressed and needs sleep? It’d only stress Spock out more, which is the opposite of what we want. He’s actually looking better lately, so I wouldn’t call the cavalry just yet. The best cure is rest, which considering our next mission is a supply run, will be easy for him to get.”

“I guess for the sake of his health I’ll pretend to be happy about that,” Jim said mulishly, annoyed that his first real mission after months in exile was a milk run. “Thanks for letting me know about Spock. I’ll get him in a bed somehow.”

Pike raised a curious eyebrow before changing the subject to the first mission Jim had missed.

*

The ship left Earth’s orbit just before noon. Jim decided to skip lunch, guilty over his egregious morning latte. One long shift later, Jim was presented with a plate of steamed vegetables and grilled chicken by his yeoman, which did fuck all in filling him up.

An hour after that, he found himself loitering at Spock’s door, even though he had vowed to stay away until Spock took the initiative to seek him out. Jim was too pathetic to wait that long. Two hungers fought for dominance as Spock buzzed him in and Jim got a gander at Spock clad in his meditation robes, serenely kneeling in front of a burning firepot.

“Greetings, Jim.”

“Hey there. I’ve been up to my elbows in reports and thought I’d drop in and see how you were.”

“I am well. If you will allow me to finish my meditation, we can converse momentarily. I find that I am unable to finish my evening meal and would not object if you wished to indulge yourself.”

Jim leaned over to check out Spock’s tray, and was surprised to see a bowl of tapioca pudding next to some disturbed greens. Spock rarely ate desserts and the only reason he liked pudding in the first place was because Uhura had made him try it on shore leave once. Jim eyed the pudding sidelong, weighing the dangers. If he did a few crunches before bed, he’d probably be fine.

“Thanks. You won’t know I’m here.”

Jim savored the pudding and let the cloyingly humid air fill his senses. A small modicum of peace stole over him and he allowed himself the luxury of staring at Spock unnoticed. In that moment, being in love didn’t seem so bad. As unfair as the world was at times, he was at least grudgingly glad that Spock might feel the same way Jim did, even if it wasn’t for Jim. Spock deserved that.

He wondered if Spock ever felt like this around Pike, like the rest of the world faded into non-existence and the only thing he’d ever needed was this one person, like if he could just be with this one person he’d never feel alone or unwanted ever again—

“Captain? Jim?”

Jim startled, realizing that Spock had been trying to get his attention for quite a while. He also seemed to have teleported inches from Jim.

“Sorry. Must have blanked out.”

The look of concern didn’t leave Spock’s face.

“Are you well?” he asked quietly.

Great, now Jim had to look right at Spock and, fuck, there it was. That look of utter innocence, the one that had the power to kill any sexual arousal he might be experiencing. That face which earnestly said, I am your friend and I worry about you. I want to take care of you and make you better. Never would I imagine myself being anything other than your loyal companion and proving myself worthy of your trust and respect. One day we will be each other’s best man and our respective children will be the best of friends as well. We will send Christmas cards each year and will occasionally visit the other until we are old and in rocking chairs, reminiscing about the good old days and how satisfying our lives have been with the other in it.

It made Jim sick to his stomach to think of tainting that wholesome bond with sex and romance. He felt like a pervert and unworthy of Spock’s esteem.

“Just tired,” Jim answered, sighing minutely.

“Perhaps it would be wise of you to retire early for the night.”

“You just don’t want to get your ass kicked in chess again,” Jim said archly. Spock gave him a final onceover, nodded in satisfaction, and divested himself of his robes. Jim looked away, face burning stupidly hot even though he knew Spock always wore his uniform underneath his robe. The sight of something just out of regular view caught Jim’s eye and he nearly gasped aloud when he recognized it.

A vase of tall, red flowers with thorns emerging from the pollen. Mark another rumor as verified.

 “You know what,” Jim said, “I’m pretty tired. We’ll do this some other time.”

He rose from the chair, carefully avoiding Spock’s near-disappointed face as he halted setting up the chessboard. 

“Very well. Good night, Captain.”

“Thanks,” Jim muttered, retreating from the room.

Jim blindly walked through the halls, only managing to find his room on pure muscle memory. When the door hissed shut behind him, Jim’s legs gave out and he slid down the wall. He buried his face in his hands, forcing himself not to do something stupid like cry. After a few moments of his thoughts and feelings going through the mental equivalent of a blender, he took deep, calming breaths and started rationalizing.

It didn’t mean they were dating. After all, a lot of the senior officers had given Spock Vulcan-related gifts since the day the planet was destroyed, Jim included. Flowers were more Sulu’s thing, but there could be a dozen reasons why Pike gave them. That almost lifted Jim’s spirits, right until he remembered that Spock hadn’t chosen to display the flowers on his desk or his shelves like all the other gifts, but had specifically set them at his bedside. Jim could remember questioning Spock’s room during one of his first visits to Spock’s quarters

“So you’re comfortable sleeping with sharp blades and freaky demon statues hanging over you, but you don’t put pictures or books where you sleep?”

“You are aware of Vulcan’s violent history. Raids would often happen in the middle of the night—therefore, a Vulcan’s most priceless possessions were kept within arm’s reach, should one have to flee. Modern Vulcan domiciles reflect this practice and will keep bedside tables barren save perhaps for one treasured item.”

Jim had nodded in interest and warmed to him a little, being that Spock’s bedside table back then had simply held a picture of his mother. Now he felt his gut clench as he thought of Spock’s mother being joined by Pike’s flowers while Jim’s lame jar of dirt sat on the edge of Spock’s desk like Spock wanted to pretend it was a soil sample.

Dejected and miserable, Jim commed McCoy.

“You finally decide it was time for your physical?”

“Bones,” Jim croaked, head thumping back against his door, “I’m jealous over a clump of weeds.”

Fuck, he shouldn’t have said that because McCoy knew about the rumor. McCoy sighed.

“Yeah, I thought you might be. I’ll be in my quarters in ten minutes with one of my best friends. Care to join us?”

*

Fifteen minutes later, Jim found himself slumped miserably against the headboard of McCoy’s bed, holding a tumbler aloft for McCoy to fill.

“This particular brand got me through most of my divorce,” McCoy remarked, ending the steady pour and affectionately sealing the bottle shut.

“What brand helped you through the rest of it?” Jim asked.

In a tone of forced lightheartedness, McCoy answered, “James Kirk, aged 22 years.”

Jim looked up sharply, naked shock on his face.

“Are you dying?” Jim asked wildly. McCoy laughed, breaking some of the seriousness of the moment without taking away the sincerity.

“I figured if you were going to suddenly be honest about something that mattered, I’d might as well repay the favor. Also, I’ve had two of these already,” he said, rattling his glass.

“So you figured me out, huh,” Jim mumbled, uneasily shifting against a pillow.

McCoy expelled a put-upon breath, perching on the edge of his cluttered desk. “Took me a bit. I mean, it was hard being in the same room with the pair of you when you started giving each other moony eyes and flirting like you were a married couple that wanted to hurry upstairs and get frisky. Frankly, it took longer than it probably should have because I couldn’t get over my mental block of mommy and daddy having sex.”

“You make it sound like we both have feelings, not just me,” Jim said morosely, downing half his drink.

“I swore you two did,” McCoy said, shocking Jim and reminding him of the rumors that had gone on before Pike ones, the one where people believed he and Spock were an item. The thought titillated Jim, made him stupidly hopeful, because maybe if others could see it, then something must be real. Of course common sense had to rush in and be a killjoy, so Jim made like a Vulcan and repressed that shit.

“Then again, I’m not exactly a master at spotting someone in love or I’d have been divorced a hell of a lot sooner,” McCoy added. “Of course I could still be right. Why are you jealous over those damned flowers? Have you ever thought that Pike gave them to Spock because the guy’s missing his planet?”

“Sure I did, but that was before Spock put them on his bedside table.”

McCoy stared evenly at him. “So he likes waking up to the smell of some goddamned daisies—that’s reason enough for you to roll around in sackcloth and ashes?”

“Do you want a Vulcan culture lesson?”

“God, no. I haven’t finished my third drink yet.”

Jim’s lips quirked sardonically. “Well, just know that it means Spock is completely smitten with Pike and I can’t even be sure if Pike doesn’t feel the same way. I mean, what if he does? Pike’s leaving soon—what if Spock leaves the Enterprise to go with him?”

“You mean, what if he leaves you,” McCoy said in an almost kind tone.

Jim swallowed hard and stared at the floor. The fear had been in the back of his mind since, oh, the moment Spock became his first officer. Six months of court-martial hell had only exacerbated that old fear and doubt. 

“I wouldn’t blame him.”

I would,” McCoy huffed. “Bastard still needs to make up for that time he shot you out of an airlock.”

“I forgave him for that,” said Jim. “We figured it up and decided that we were split even in the douchebag department. And I mean ‘figured up’ literally. Spock came up with this formula where C equals—”

“No gushing about how adorable Spock is. There is not enough booze in the quadrant to get me through that. Now, getting back on the subject you were so eager to leave, I doubt Spock would leave.”

“Gee, are you officially against Team Spike, Bones?”

“Cut the crap. I’m being wise over here,” McCoy groused. “Just because Spock might not want to be your Valentine doesn’t mean he’s willing to pack his bags and follow someone else like a lovesick puppy. You’re a pretty big incentive for him to stay. There’s also Uhura, the science team that worships him, and what this ship itself represents to him—loss and life, endings and beginnings, a new home. If he goes, a part of him gets left behind, and he’d have to be pretty head over heels in love with Pike for that kind of sacrifice to be worth it.”

“And if he is? I’m pretty good at saying goodbye, just haven’t gotten the hang of letting go,” Jim said quietly, finishing his drink in one fell swoop, waving away McCoy offering more.

“Who the hell is? Why do you think there are so many sad sacks in the world like us? Maybe mutual love is a rare and precious gift, but loving someone who doesn’t love you back is a goddamn cliché and you’re delusional if you think your feelings are wrong or not real just because you’re the only one who has them. Now, thank god I eventually fell out of love with Jocelyn, but I can’t say that I was never really in love with her because I was, god, I was. I still remember what it felt like, loving her. Maybe in a few years you’ll get over it, maybe you won’t, doesn’t matter. You’ll always remember this feeling, even if it’s not there anymore. I can’t tell you that you’re lucky because I know I didn’t feel lucky and would dearly love to erase all the times I acted like an idiot over a woman who stopped loving me years before I did. It changes someone as much as death or having a child can. Widower, parent, in love—they’re all just words until they happen to you.”

Jim was quiet for a minute, absorbing everything. He soon found that McCoy had sneakily cheered him up and grinned slightly.

“Keep drinking and you’ll cure the common cold.”

“Tried that in medical school. I can drink enough to forget that this conversation took place, but I’m on duty tomorrow.”

“I guess I’ll save all sexual fantasies for shore leave.”

*

McCoy did more than just remember their conversation. The next morning, a landing party of 14 was beamed to the designated coordinates. They were currently in the process of erecting heated tents because the backwards colonists had decided to have the meeting in the tundra. McCoy, bundled up like the little brother from A Christmas Story, sidled up to Jim and announced, “Big Ears is single.”

Jim stared indignantly at McCoy.

“How the hell do you know?”

“I performed an extensive reconnaissance mission.”

“Bones.”

McCoy rolled his eyes. “I asked him.”

What?” Jim exclaimed, springing to his feet. “You can’t just ask something like that!”

“Sure I can. And I did,” McCoy added, giving not one fuck for subtlety.

 “How did you even get on the topic?”

“I cunningly stopped him before beamdown and asked if he was dating Pike. He said no.”

“‘No?’ That’s it?” Jim asked in disbelief.

“Nah, he had this adorable soft shoe routine to go with it.”

“Hilarious. What did he look like when he said it?”

“Like he was sucking on a lemon,” McCoy deadpanned.

“Do you think he was upset about it, then?”

“He always looks like he’s sucking on a lemon.”

“No he doesn’t,” Jim defended earnestly.

“Look, maybe you can read every wrinkle, eyebrow tilt, and stray nostril hair,” McCoy said, frustrated, “But the rest of us have to make do with what he tells us.”

“Spock’s nostrils are always kept clean,” Jim sulked, staring into the middle distance in thought.

“I guess I chose the right place to talk Vulcan hygiene,” Pike said from behind them, smiling as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Even if Pike wasn’t dating Spock, he still might want to date him, which was enough of a reason for Jim to hate his existence. He gave Pike the smallest smile since the evolution of the human mouth and moved away to have a good sulk. McCoy, of course, was hot on his heels.

“Don’t you start getting rude and jealous over this.”

“Don’t you start mothering me. Besides, I wasn’t rude.”

“You were, and even if he doesn’t know it, I know it. Stop taking your feelings out on Pike. He has yet to do anything wrong except take good care of the ship in your absence and not date the hobgoblin.”

Jim scowled and busied himself with moving a couple of supply containers into a newly set-up tent.

“Like you’ve never been irrationally jealous before,” Jim mumbled.

“I was actually a lot worse,” McCoy admitted, leaning against a steel pole. “Imagine if you actually married Spock for years and he suddenly stopped giving a shit about you.”

Jim cringed, face contrite enough that McCoy nodded at the implied apology.

“I’ll play nice,” Jim promised, not sure if he would be able to keep his word for long.

Sighing, Jim opened up his travel bag and grabbed a piece of kasa fruit. He was just about to bite down when McCoy plucked it neatly out of his hands and summarily chunked it outside into a snow drift.

“Hey!” Jim said, outraged.

“Nice try slipping alien fruit by me,” McCoy said unrepentantly and nudged Jim away from the open tent flap.

“What, is there something dangerous in them?” Jim asked, genuinely curious.

“Of course you would gorge yourself on an alien food without reading up on it,” McCoy scoffed. “I did, and did you know those things are the avocados of the Vulcan fruit world? One fruit has around 300 calories. You had about five in that bag that I saw, so say hello to 1500 calories.”

Jim was floored. “1500 calories? I’d have done better bringing a piece of cake.”

“Not really, since cake has all sorts of bad shit in it. At least the fruit was still good for you and wouldn’t give you diabetes.”

“Diabetes? Really, Bones?” said Jim, exasperated. “Why don’t you just say cake will give me cancer, or the plague?”

“You know what I mean. Heart disease is still the number one killer for most humanoids despite modern medicine. So if you’re that hungry, replicate a rice cake with a side of grapefruit. And while I’ve got you standing still, I’m taking a quick reading to see how you’re doing.”

Jim didn’t make a fuss, curiosity trumping any irritation over being handled.

“You’ve gained 1.15 pounds.”

“Wait, I’ve gained weight?” Jim exclaimed.

“It’s only been three days,” McCoy reminded him, preparing to rattle off more stats.

“Three days in which I’ve been starving myself and working out every chance I could get!”

“It didn’t help eating all that fruit, and losing weight takes a while. You’ll get there.”

Jim slumped a bit, tuning out the terrible numbers McCoy had resumed firing off. That fucking fruit. Didn’t Spock know Jim was on a diet? It wasn’t like he’d advertised that fact to the crew, but wasn’t his waistline an obvious indicator that drastic measures had been taken? You wouldn’t see a man on fire and think there wasn’t a need for a hose, would you? Hell, maybe Spock just thought Jim wouldn’t down a dozen of those devil fruits a day. He sighed heavily.

Spock chose that moment of vulnerability to enter the tent, temporarily stopping Jim’s heart because tiny snowflakes had fallen in his hair and his cheeks were flushed a light olive green. McCoy took one look at Jim and rolled his eyes heavenward. Jim really hated that McCoy knew now. At least it prompted Jim to wipe all traces of Spock adoration from his face a few beats faster than usual.

“Captain,” Spock greeted almost warmly. You would think Spock was fresh from a stroll on a sunny spring day instead of a cloudy winter morning.

“Status, Mr. Spock?” Jim asked by rote, managing to not make that sound like take me on the worktable, big boy?

“Our base camp is near completion. We have not been contacted by our hosts yet. As we are a half hour early, that is not entirely unexpected.”

“Excellent.”

Spock appeared discomfited when McCoy hovered closer to his side, and Jim remembered that McCoy had been asking about Spock’s love life like an old biddy not too long ago.

“Nice of them to meet with us in a snowman’s armpit. 95% of this planet is temperate, you know.”

“I am well aware of Promion’s climate, Doctor,” Spock answered, as exasperated and indulging as a Vulcan could possibly get. “What concerns me is not the location of our meeting, but the manner in which we were invited. I find it unsettling that we have been unable to establish communication with them or our ship.”

“Well, we are pretty far north, so magnetic poles?” Jim suggested. “And anyway, there could be a dozen reasons why we can’t establish communi—”

Jim was interrupted by the sound of phaser fire from the other side of camp.

“You were saying?” McCoy asked dryly as all three of them ran out of the tent to see what was going on.

It was an ambush. From what Jim could see in the seconds he had to assess the situation, the attackers were well-hidden behind bare trees and rocks. Jim ducked low to the ground and snatched a phaser from a supply crate. Already the crew was following protocol and leaving the area. Jim privately hated retreats, but there was truly nothing you could do against an attacker you couldn’t see them, and survival came before heroics.

Spock and McCoy were at his shoulders, Spock expertly choosing his own weapon and McCoy grabbing one as confidently as he’d grab a poisonous snake. All three got off a few shots as they booked it out of the area, Jim switching positions so that McCoy was now flanked on each side. McCoy was a great doctor and could handle himself in emergencies, but he wasn’t the best shot in the world, as he’d only taken the bare minimum of training Starfleet required.

A shout reached them from up ahead. Lt. Commander Giotto was rushing back, presumably to make a short sweep of the camp to make sure everyone got out.

“Captain!” Giotto shouted again, eyes worried but face professionally clear of any panic. “Admiral Pike went missing up ahead. We think he was taken.”

Jim immediately sprinted ahead, hoping their attackers were only on foot. Spock matched his speed as usual, both of them crashing through the brush and eventually leaving McCoy behind. The freezing air made it harder to breathe and both of them were unaccustomed to running in snow. Jim’s started to burn far too soon, and he remembered in one horrifying second that he was still out of shape. Trying to ignore the feeling of his lungs imploding, Jim fought to keep level with Spock, but Spock started to pass him. Jim kept Spock within sight, tree branches smacking into his face and slowing his advance even more. Eventually, Jim had expended all his energy and he sagged against a tree, absolutely hating himself.

He peeled himself from the tree after about half a minute, remembering that Spock could be facing hostile enemies by himself. He set off at a determined jog when what his body really wanted was a nice collapse. He breathed out a heavy sigh of relief when Spock returned with Pike draped in his arms, managing to tamp down any ridiculous jealousy because if Pike couldn’t walk, he must be hurt pretty bad.

McCoy caught up to them, much sooner than Jim was used to since Jim had shamefully taken time to rest. Spock gently put Pike down, took off his winter coat, and transferred Pike to the coat so he didn’t have to lie in the snow.

McCoy worked his magic, running a medical tricorder over Pike. Based on his expression, Jim knew that Pike was going to make it.

“Looks like he fell from a long distance. He’s got some internal bleeding I can stop in a minute and he’s got a concussion.”

“Try and wake him up,” Jim said, earning himself an offended look from McCoy that clearly said, ‘gee, why didn’t I, the goddamn chief medical officer, think of that?’

They waited with bated breaths, Jim carefully avoiding Spock’s eye. God knows what Spock thought of him. He felt himself being watched, and reddened under the scrutiny. Spock was probably deciding the best way to gently suggest that Jim adhere to a tighter exercise regimen.

“The admiral should regain consciousness soon. It is unlikely that he will suffer more than a modicum of injury,” Spock said, almost robotically. Jim wondered if Spock was trying to reassure himself of that fact or if he thought Jim was both fat and stupid now.

Pike indeed came around a few minutes after McCoy fixed the internal bleeding and started going over some nasty scrapes with a dermal regenerator.

“Sir,” Spock said with a touch of relief in his voice that Jim couldn’t help but notice, “What happened?”

Pike groaned, not bothering to open his eyes. “Bastards grabbed me from behind. They looked like colonists, which is gonna start some fun diplomatic relations, let me tell you.”

“How did you escape?” Spock asked, clearly settling in for a harrowing story of bravery from the dashing prince of his heart.

“They saw my rank stripes, argued about whether to kill me or not, and finally threw me off a cliff.”

Jim turned his head and scowled. Pike’s short hostage experience was far less cooler than 99.9% of Jim’s hostage experiences, yet Pike was currently basking in the glow of Spock’s adoration where Jim’s excursions were met with chilly disapproval. It didn’t help that, admittedly, Pike had managed to survive being thrown from a cliff while Jim hadn’t been able to run a mile without needing a break. It was probably a small cliff, he consoled himself. A hill, really.

Other crewmembers had poured in as Pike spoke and after a few minutes, everyone had regrouped. Their attackers were probably getting reassembled and plotting a new course of action, now that the element of surprise was gone.

“All right,” Jim said, switching to survival mode the instant the last person was accounted for. “We can assume our communication to the ship is cut off, though I still want you guys to keep trying. We have no idea how many are out there or if more are on the way, nor do we know what their agenda is. For now, we find shelter and come up with a plan.”

They began a slow trek through the woods, purposefully moving in an erratic pattern to make themselves less of a target. Most of their supplies were abandoned at the camp site, but Giotto had cleverly nicked a few rations, water being easy to get when you had phasers and an unlimited amount of snow. Jim spent the trek bone-tired, badly wanting to sit and ease the constant ache in his legs, but pride kept him moving. It didn’t help Jim’s mood that Spock was carrying Pike bridal style again and murmuring softly every hour to wake a slightly concussed Pike. Jim felt it was entirely unnecessary, even if McCoy was wary of fixing any brain injuries without proper equipment and believed in letting minor injuries heal naturally.

Finally they found a cave to settle in for the night. There were no sleeping bags, so everyone stayed in the same small area and partnered up for body heat. Jim was momentarily excited despite the circumstances, because he always buddied up with Spock on missions and he’d finally get in on the Spock cradling action.

Unfortunately, McCoy ordered Spock to spoon Pike and forced Jim to the ground with him, all the while heartlessly going on about Vulcans being able to ramp up their body heat more than a human and how it made much more sense for him to lend some of that to their favorite injured admiral. But Jim was not a logical being and Jim refused to look at McCoy as they spooned a few feet away from the happy, snuggly couple.

“You have now been dubbed ‘Dr. Cockblock.’”

“Oh grow up,” McCoy groused, clearly wanting to sleep and clearly deluded if he thought Jim was going to let him have his way.

“No, you don’t get to be annoyed with me, not after the day I’ve had. I’m inexplicably getting fatter, my first official mission since coming back has failed hard—and is it just me, or do the bad guys just wait for me or something?—Pike was injured and might have sustained worse injuries if it was up to my flabby ass to save him, I had to watch Spock cradle Pike in his manly arms all day, and now they’re probably over there whispering sweet nothings to each other and realizing they’re in love and I’ll be receiving an invitation to their wedding before the week’s out.”

McCoy absorbed Jim’s pain for all of five seconds. “I can hear Pike snoring.”

Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen earlier. Perhaps they’re resting blissfully after they discreetly made love under their coats.”

“Well you should know, seeing as you’ve been glaring over there for the past couple of hours.”

“Maybe there’s still hope,” Jim said with a touch of hysteria. “Maybe he’ll get jealous if I’m with someone. Come on, rub your hands around on my back and get really close so he’ll think we’re making out over here.”

“Just how much pre-warp television did you watch in the past few months anyway?” McCoy asked suspiciously.

“Enough to recognize a classic winning scheme when I see it,” Jim said firmly, snaking his hands over McCoy’s shoulders.

“Get your hands off of me before I break them,” McCoy growled, heterosexual shields going up. Jim, defeated, bundled his hands close to his stomach and concentrated on staying warm. The plan wouldn’t have worked anyway, given that Jim had kissed two women in front of Spock before, and in both instances Spock had remained utterly nonplussed.

Because Spock was just his friend and there was nothing for him to be jealous of.

“Hey,” McCoy said in a soft voice, sensing the shift in Jim’s mood. “It’s gonna be okay. Next time you’re stuck with Spock in an ice cave and must spoon for survival, I won’t make a peep.”

“Knowing my luck, that’ll probably be soon. Thanks, Bones,” Jim whispered, tired in all ways possible but fiercely glad he had McCoy there. “So you admit to being a blocker of cocks?”

*

They woke before dawn to a small skirmish. There seemed to only be five of them, which made Jim wonder if the attack was an offensive measure by a small group or if they were a scouting party for a larger group.

Either way, they packed swiftly and headed southeast. Pike could walk again at first, but quickly grew fatigued as the day wore on and their pace never slackened. So with a resigned air, Jim pushed hard to stay at the front so he could block out Spock and Pike entirely.

Halfway through the day, they chanced upon an abandoned farmhouse. After securing the perimeter, they cautiously crept in, mindful that this could either be a base of operations or a trap. It turned out to be neither, as it appeared that no one had disturbed the place in years. It had that old, abandoned house smell of mold and urine, the wallpaper peeling off and floorboards shrieking in agony.

They spent the hours until dusk cleaning out the most offending trash, taking inventory of what the house had, and setting up whatever equipment they had on them. On the plus side, there was lighting and some food. The house had never been wired for electricity, so they found plenty of oil lamps and candles. Though the ice box and cupboards were bare, a frozen river 200 meters west of the place made for good ice fishing, even if the fish were strange-looking and possessed too many teeth.

The downside was, of course, room arrangements. Six bedrooms and a couch for 14 people, and he didn’t even have McCoy to blame for this one.

“The admiral and I can share, Captain,” which was just great.

Jim dejectedly chose a room for him and McCoy, staring oddly around at the almost opulent bedroom with nice paintings of fruit and architecture and a king-sized bed of dark red velvet. Jim flopped onto his back, and stared in horror at himself in a mirror above the bed. This place was an abandoned bordello. Spock and Pike were sharing a bed with mirrors above it.

Jim grabbed a pillow and attempted to smother himself with it.

*

When it grew dark enough for them to risk turning on a couple of lamps, Jim finished his watch and went into the den where he found McCoy and Spock. McCoy was behind a bar, checking out the stash of alcohol there. Spock was on a sagging love seat that might have been white once, diligently working on their communicators with a small set of tools he’d collected in a shed outside.

He looked up when Jim came in, gave him that soft almost-smile, scooted over a scant couple of inches, and went back to work. Jim warmed from how inviting Spock was being, but as he moved to join in, his brain caught up and reminded him that after Spock retired for the night, he was going to seduce Pike in a whorehouse.

He darted for the bar instead, ignoring McCoy’s knowing and exasperated look.

“I’ll have the strongest potion you’ve got,” Jim muttered.

“I’m not actually a bartender, you know,” McCoy said, but he brought out a shot glass willingly enough.

Jim downed the shot and brooded for a bit.

I’ll share with the admiral. We always share, Bones. He’s going to leave.”

McCoy shook his head and just passed Jim the bottle itself, more a gesture since they both knew Jim wouldn’t drink that much during a mission.

“He won’t leave. So he’s sharing with Pike, big deal. He’s been our captain for the last few months, so Spock’s probably used to it now.”

“Mirrors. Above. Bed.”

“It’s not like Spock installed them, you know.”

Jim plunked his head down on the bar and squeezed his eyes shut. He tensed when he felt a hand grip his shoulder.

“Three sheets to the wind already?” Pike asked mildly, inadvertently making Jim want to rear up and punch his face.

He slid into the seat next to Jim and accepted a drink from McCoy.

“Gotta say, this sure beats all the paperwork I waded through every day at Starfleet HQ,” Pike said, piquing Jim’s interest. “I’m trying to figure out how I can get demoted just enough to get a ship again.”

“You miss being captain?” Jim asked, already knowing the answer. His least favorite class at the academy had been diplomatic relations, and while he didn’t know everything that admirals did daily, he knew there was less action and more talk of maybe doing some sort of action in an unspecified time in the future.

Pike hummed in affirmation. “Let me give you some advice: Don’t let them promote you.”

“Promote me? I’m struggling to keep the rank I have.”

“You’ll be balking at the admiralty sooner than you think.”

Jim blushed at the complete honesty and belief in Pike’s voice. The man was completely deluded, but it still felt good that someone fully expected him to do great things.

“Besides,” Pike continued, “I’ve been driving Robin up the wall and she’ll be glad to get rid of me from time to time.”

For a moment, Jim stupidly thought that Pike was talking about the Robin of Batman fame. McCoy, thankfully, was more attentive.

“Who’s Robin?” he asked.

Pike looked incredulously at them both, like they didn’t know who Santa Claus was and who had brought Pike the bag of toys last Christmas.

“Robin Lefler. Oh right, you probably know her as Number One.”

A wild hope flared in Jim’s chest.

“Robin, right. So, the two of you getting on okay?” Jim asked. Stupidly, if he was reading McCoy’s irritation right.

“Better than okay, actually. We’re getting married next month.”

Jim let out an incredulous laugh, slapping Pike on the shoulder. He faded out for a minute while McCoy scooped up the conversation, attempting to gather his swirling thoughts. So Pike really wasn’t into Spock at all. McCoy had started in on wedding plans, and Pike was glowing like he’d won the day.

“Congratulations, Admiral,” Spock said solemnly from across the room.

Jim’s happiness abruptly shriveled up and died. Spock’s face was blank, but his eyes held a trace of genuine sorrow. Had Spock not known either?

“Thank you, Commander,” Pike returned, holding up his glass in thanks.

Spock returned to his work. There was nothing Jim could celebrate in that moment with Spock clearly hurting, so he congratulated Pike again and set off for his room.

*

Four hours later, Jim wandered directionless around the bordello, disturbed by some of the rooms he came across. His favorite so far had been the room with a depiction of horny satyrs chasing naked nymphs painted on the ceiling. He ended up in the kitchen, which just figured, really.

Promion had four moons, two of which were full at the moment and bathing the kitchen in a soft glow. Jim lit an oil lamp and sat on an ancient dining room table on a chair that threatened to collapse underneath his weight. Jim was almost not surprised when Spock appeared a few minutes later, halting at the door and looking in like he wasn’t sure of his welcome. Jim waved him in, and Spock stood at parade rest at the head of the table.

“Can’t sleep either?” Jim asked.

“Negative. I noticed the light in this room. I am pleased to find you here, even if I would rather you be at rest.”

Jim smiled and motioned for Spock to sit. Spock obeyed, sliding a bag he’d been holding onto the table. They elapsed into a companionable silence. Jim suddenly remembered that oh yeah, Spock was his favorite person in the world. It was supposed to be easywith Spock. Jim abruptly realized that he hadn’t been comfortable around Spock for months.

If Spock knew about all this, he’d probably say something like ‘evolution would suggest that a natural ease of tension occurs once an animal has finished marking territory and fighting off potential competition to their chosen mate.’

“I’m sorry I’ve been a bit distant lately,” Jim almost mumbled, guilt filling his throat and nearly choking him. “I’ve had some personal issues to work out. So, how’ve you been?”

“Adequate.”

Well, that hadn’t sounded like Spock was holding back a flood of pain at all, did it? Jim was a terrible friend. He floundered for better, more distracting conversation, finally devolving into outright subject changing.

“What’s with the bag?”

Spock readily accepted the new topic, opening the bag with a bit more gusto than he normally would.

“I saved a portion of my rations for you.”

Spock produced a bar of chocolate. The easy grin on Jim’s face slipped away as he took in the proffered treat. Dots began to connect and the picture they made was not a pretty one.

Fancy coffee. Calorie bombs disguised as fruit. Out of character pudding. Candy

“You know, I have some degree of self-control.”

“Pardon?” Spock inquired, eyebrows crumpling in the face of Jim’s abrupt words.

Irritated and not just a little bit hurt, Jim shot out of his chair and rubbed a hand over his face.

 “You don’t have to keep slipping me treats. I know you probably think you’re being nice, but it’s actually unhelpful and demeaning.”

Spock’s face was doing that thing where he was processing all the data and trying to come up with a solution. Jim wanted to calm down because it wasn’t like Spock was being purposefully malicious or insulting, but it was like a tiny floodgate had opened and a towering wall of pent-up frustration and anxiety was crashing through and taking the entire dam down.

“If my actions have caused you distress, why did you not bring your concerns to my attention earlier?”

“Did I really have to? You know I’m on a diet.”

Spock frowned slightly. “I know that Dr. McCoy changed your meal card and suggested an altered exercise regimen to acclimate your body to Starfleet standards of fitness.”

“Why yes, that’s the precise definition of a diet, thank you.”

Spock rose from the table. Calculations were over—Spock knew Jim was upset.

“I apologize for any undue stress my gifts have caused you.”

“Oh man, don’t do that,” Jim pleaded, deflating a little. “It’s this whole…weight thing, not your fault.”

“On the contrary—some blame must be assigned to me as well. I am intimately aware of your self-perceived faults and insecurities. I should have known that this single variable would become a source of intense focus and loathing.”

It seemed to be Jim’s turn to stare in confusion. “Come again?”

“In simpler terms, while you are dissatisfied with your recent weight gain and slight physical limitations, you are intelligent and know that these concerns are fleeting and you will undoubtedly regain your standard measure of fitness in a matter of weeks. Instead, you are using this relatively minor problem to act as a bulwark against much deeper anxieties, most notably your fear of being inadequate and therefore not wanted.”

Jim blinked. It was downright scary when Spock did this—scary and a tad embarrassing, because damn it, he was right.

At least he was for a few seconds, until he hesitantly followed that up with, “You were also concerned with being physically attractive to Admiral Pike, though I sympathize with this now being a moot point.”

Jim could only gape at Spock for a while, which Spock must have taken for agreement because he just kept going.

“I am confident that—were the admiral not engaged and demonstrated any attraction to his own sex—he would certainly relish your advances and reciprocate in like kind.”

“Dear god, please stop,” Jim said, shuddering at the thought of Pike trying to hit on him. “I am not interested in Pike. Never was.”

Spock reeled, data processing kicked up again. Jim rolled his eyes, inordinately amused that Spock had really believed that Jim had been competition. He moved close to Spock, feeling exceptionally fond of the guy.

“That weirdness aside, I forgive you for unintentionally fattening me up. It’s hardly your fault that I have no self-control.”

“On the contrary—I believe that you adhere to a stringent set of principles as a captain, despite my initial opinion.”

Jim smirked. “You haven’t seen me eat a pie for breakfast.”

“A pie, sir?”

“One pie, one fork, one sitting. Not a bit of meringue wasted.”

Spock appeared nonplussed with this bit of gross information. Actually, upon closer inspection, he looked kind of intrigued.

“There are few Vulcans that eat more than what their body needs to sustain itself. I find overeating to be something of exotic interest.”

Jim barked out a short laugh. “‘Exotic interest.’ Guess you can always write a paper on me.”

“I believe a field study would prove more enticing.”

Jim, still laughing, reached out to hold Spock’s upper arm. Spock didn’t even tense up at the intrusion, just watched Jim with dancing eyes.

“I’m honored you’d study me with the same curiosity as that Denevian slime devil you had in the lab a few months back.”

Spock’s good humor left and took Jim’s mirth with it.

“You should not demean yourself so.”

“Come on,” Jim said, sliding his hand off Spock’s suddenly stiff arm. “Weight issues aside, things just go better when I’m not in command. I mean, I’ll try, I’ll fucking try and won’t quit ever, but I don’t get why it’s so hard for me.”

“Have you ever considered that it is more difficult for you because of your inexperience and personality?”

There went Jim’s equilibrium. Moving dangerously close to Spock’s face, he was strongly reminded why it was never a good idea to yell within punching distance of Spock, but let loose anyways.

“Yeah, I have considered all that. Why don’t you just come out and say it already? I’m unfit for command. Pike did a far better job of it than I ever could, and he was only doing it for six months. Not even a week on the job and here we are squatting in an abandoned whorehouse, waiting to be picked off by unknown terrorists. I couldn’t have made up a better metaphor for my life if I tried.”

“I have said none of that,” Spock said. His face was an avalanche waiting to spill over a mountain. “There are captains with decades of experience who are less capable than you. Admiral Pike is simply a seasoned officer. Moreover, Starfleet gave the admiral fewer potentially volatile missions while he was in command in your absence, as he had just returned from a long medical leave and required light duties.

“As for my comment on your personality making your captaincy more difficult, that was meant solely as a compliment. You do not ‘play it safe’, nor do you take your decisions lightly. You truly care about the impact you make on all those around you, and every consequence weighs heavily on your mind. You are my captain,” Spock boldly stated, “That is why I worked so hard to get you back on our ship.”

Jim flushed warmly at the possessive edge to ‘our ship.’ He regained control of his feelings when something occurred to him.

“You were trying to get me back in command? How’d you do that?”

Spock darted his eyes away, hesitant. “I was not content with the court’s ruling. However, there was little I could do without proof and without the authority to obtain that proof. In my off hours, I scoured passenger manifests and material shipments on all planets and space stations within reasonable distance from Starbase 11. It took 5.78 months before I found an anomaly.”

“You were the one who found Ben,” Jim said in awe. “That’s why you haven’t been sleeping?”

Spock nodded. “Lt. Commander Finney, under the alias Adam Cohen, made the mistake of using public transport upon arrival.”

“You actually watched the arrival of every person in every possible location within radius of Starbase 11?”

“Not every location. I simply calculated the odds and method of escape and was able to narrow it down to six possibilities.”

Jim let out a little laugh of disbelief. “So you’re the reason I was exonerated. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I had no reason to bring my involvement to your attention. You never questioned the acquittal, therefore there was no motivation on my part to explain my involvement.”

Spock had said that entirely too quickly, like he’d rehearsed it before.

“Uh huh. And you’re telling me now because?”

“I had hoped that you would cease degrading someone I care for greatly.”

Jim’s breath hitched. It doesn’t mean what you think it means, the functioning part of his brain warned. But the larger, more confused and pathetically in love part was purring in contentment from being someone Spock cared about, so much so that he’d worked himself to exhaustion trying to get Jim back. Spock had believed in him, had rejected all the evidence and even Jim’s own doubts because he’d trusted Jim’s character above everything else.

Jim hadn’t realized how close he’d gotten to Spock, but he sure as hell noticed when his body swayed a crucial inch too close. He was lost, and here was Spock who cared so damn much for him, and so many lines were blurred in that moment that it made it easy to let the white noise flood his mind, lean forward, and brush his lips against Spock’s mouth.

It lasted maybe a second before rationality took over he pulled away. Good fucking god, he’d kissed Spock and was now staring stupidly at him in shock. Spock was staring equally shocked back, and fuck, this was a disaster.

Quick! His mind screamed, laugh it off! Peck him on both cheeks and claim it was some insane human quirk! Stop staring at his lips and save your friendship!

“Ahrrmthmm,” Jim’s mouth said, clearly trying to obey orders without having a single thing to say. Spock was still staring, and Jim wondered if he could just flee into the night and hope the enemy took him out before Spock inevitably outran him.

Spock’s surprise was wearing off and being eclipsed by some other, darker emotion. Jim braced himself for whatever was coming next.

Spock roughly pulled Jim flush against his body and kissed him hungrily

Jim was allowed one startled intake of air before he was backed against the rickety table and introduced to Spock’s tongue. Jim groaned deliriously in pleasure, wrapping his arms around Spock and delving deeper into his mouth. Jim’s only plan at the moment was to take everything Spock was giving, and Spock was being quite generous, gripping Jim’s ass and hauling him onto the table like he weighed no more than one of the kitchen chairs.

Jim groaned in delirious pleasure and used the momentum to straddle Spock’s hips. He worried that he was being too presumptuous with that move, but then again, Spock was the one currently doing the dry humping, so Jim figured he had slipped into another, hotter, dimension and went with it.

Spock started to slow down, his mouth pulling back to leave the barest pressure on his lips. Jim had the sudden fear that Spock was going to pull away any second and realize what (and who) he was doing. Jim opened his eyes a little to see, widening them when he saw that Spock was actually savoring the kiss, face serene and hands clutching Jim’s back covetously.

Jim was able to let that go on for about a minute before excitement stole over him and he took Spock’s mouth hard while tightening his hips. Jim felt Spock’s hardness and shivered, because no matter how fucked up this situation was, he at least had proof that Spock wasn’t repulsed by him or anything.

The shiver seemed to set something off in Spock, because Jim’s world tilted and he was lifted into the air and deposited on the counter a few feet away. Jim turned his attention to Spock’s neck, which was enticingly close. Spock gasped in surprise when Jim began running kisses down his neck. Moments later, Jim felt a hand snake over his waistline and magically his shirt was gone, yanked over his head and to the floor like it was on fire.

Jim stiffened, mouth pulling away from Spock’s skin. He’d almost forgotten to be modest, but it swam back as cool air ghosted over his more rotund belly.

“Thank god we’re doing this here instead of under a damn mirror,” Jim grumbled.

Spock, however, didn’t seem to be listening all that much. His hands greedily spanned over what seemed like miles of bared skin. Jim moaned against Spock’s neck, which in turn made Spock moan, setting off a thousand nerve endings Jim had never known existed.

Spock continued his fevered exploration while Jim took the more direct route of tracing the shell of Spock’s ear with his tongue. Spock hummed in appreciation but clearly wanted to up the ante by dipping his fingers below Jim’s waistband.

Jim’s breathing went shallow, so he was left breathless when Spock suddenly heaved Jim off the counter and threw him down to the floor. Jim was about to complain loudly but was interrupted by a blast of phaser fire shattering a window and blasting through a cabinet.

“I do believe we’re being attacked, Mr. Spock,” Jim panted, silently nodding his thanks to Vulcan genetics

“Indeed,” Spock responded crisply, quickly passing Jim his shirt and readying his phaser.

Jim shrugged the garment on and marveled at the wonders of adrenaline. The possibility of death withered arousal like no one’s business. More shots were fired through the broken window, but now Spock was firing back, Jim joining him almost immediately. They stunned four in all, but Jim could hear several more shots from different parts of the house, so they raced off.

The battle turned out to be a lot less dangerous when he found out that there were only twenty insurgents, tops. The difficult part came when they released these half-wolf, half-cat animals into the house. Jim immediately dubbed them ‘Wolfats’. They weren’t that big, only coming up to Jim’s knees, but they were vicious and liked to jump.

One of them caught Jim by surprise in the front hallway by leaping at his throat. Jim managed to stun it and was so ticked off that he stunned it three more times.

“I think it’s unconscious,” McCoy drawled, and how he managed to sound that cool and condescending in the heat of battle was a mystery he’d probably take to his grave.

“What’s going on at the east side of the house?” Jim shouted, because he had priorities.

“Spock and Giotto have it covered. It’s worse over here, and frankly I’ve been in worse attacks at the breakfast line when we get a shipment of real bacon.”

“Doesn’t mean we can relax,” Jim gritted out, taking aim again.

“You gonna tell me why you’re taking out your frustrations out on the local wildlife?”

“No, because you really don’t want to know.”

“I fight better when I’m not thinking about dying,” McCoy countered. Jim doubted the veracity of that statement, mostly because they were winning and it was a falling-off-a-log-easy battle.

Wickedly, Jim gave in. “Let’s just say you are no longer the king of the cockblockers anymore, Bones.”

McCoy was confused for a whole two seconds before his face morphed into one of abject disgust.

You had sex with Spock?”

“Shh! Would you keep it down?” Jim hissed. “No, I didn’t, because we were shot at from the kitchen window. Pay attention.”

“You were making out with Spock in the kitchen?” McCoy spluttered, barely lowering his voice at all. “People eat there, man!”

“I like how you focus on the least important detail.”

Three Wolfats skittered through the broken remnants of the front door. They quickly stunned those and moved further into the house, taking a left into the front lounge area. Together they overturned a large sofa and hunkered down behind it.

“You watch the rear,” Jim ordered, resolutely keeping his own sight on the front.

“I guess congratulations and I-told-you-so’s are in order,” McCoy said.

“No, they’re not. It sort of happened fast and I don’t even know why Spock would…oh my god.”

“What?”

“Oh. My. God.”

McCoy rolled his eyes hard. “Just spit it out.”

“I’m a rebound fuck.” McCoy just looked at him in exasperation. “No, really. I mean, isn’t it a big coincidence that this happened the same night Spock found out about Pike’s engagement?”

“You really think Spock would use you as a rebound?”

Jim’s resolve wavered but didn’t go away entirely.

“I don’t think he planned it or anything. Love makes you do crazy things, right?”

“And you’re the poster child for that,” McCoy deadpanned.

“I mean,” Jim continued, gracefully moving on. “I didn’t think he’d date a student or have a sense of humor, right?”

“Jury’s still out on the sense of humor.”

Jim’s annoyed scowl turned into a wince as phaser fire flew over his head and shattered a vase. McCoy stunned their assailant swiftly.

“They don’t even have their phasers set to ‘kill’,” Jim noted. “These guys might be the lamest adversaries we’ve ever faced.”

“Only you would want the bad guys to be more dangerous.”

“I don’t know, I think Giotto and Pike would agree with me. Spock would, but only if I wasn’t in danger.”

“Oh, he’s not sweet on you at all. My apologies,” McCoy simpered, sarcasm turned up to eleven.

“Look, we can drop it now, it’s not that big a deal. Even if it was probably the best almost-sex I’ve had in my life.”

“Why thank you, Captain,” Spock said from over his shoulder. Jim shouted in surprise, nearly dropping his phaser. McCoy was snickering, and Jim would kill him later for not warning him.

“Eavesdropping isn’t really in your purview as first officer, you know,” Jim said petulantly.

“Quite right, Captain. If I might ask for future reference, do you often engage in intimate relations with a partner while later discussing the encounter with a third party?”

“If you mean does Jim kiss and tell,” McCoy said, barely reigning in his smug amusement, “That’s a no. Your honor would be kept intact with him.”

“Bones!”

“Thank you, Doctor,”

Spock sprinted off toward the back door, clearly having heard something they couldn’t.

“See? He’s into you.”

“Come on, it’s not like that. Even if he was still riding whatever combination of hormones and pheromones started all this, he’ll come to senses soon enough.”

“Need I remind you both that we are in the middle of a serious mission?” Pike said from behind them.

Jim shot a heated glare at McCoy. You’re watching the flank for a reason. McCoy shrugged unapologetically.

“No sir. The good doctor here was giving me a quick medical report, sir.”

Pike looked between them. “Fair enough. We think we’ve got all of them. They had communicators on them, so we’re working on finding a channel to contact the ship. We could use your help rounding up our captives, though.”

“An excellent suggestion,” Jim said, getting off his knees and to his feet.

Pike stopped at the door and turned to casually say, “By the way, he’s totally into you.”

 With a devilish grin, he swept away.

“Ha!” McCoy said, pointing a finger triumphantly at Jim.

*

The cleanup turned out to be more of a bitch than the actual battle.

The Promions who had attacked them turned out to be a small political faction gone rogue. Their entire plan was to capture a couple of low-ranking officers so they could ransom their own government for their return.

Jim worked through the night and through most of the next day in the conference room, speaking with representatives of the Promion government and Starfleet. Spock was there as well, keeping facts in order and being a general mother hen, making Jim Jim stop to eat and nap, assuring Jim of the logic that a Vulcan who can go days or even weeks without sleep can temporarily take over and apprise his captain if anything should go wrong.

They finally stopped when Pike, fresh from proper care in sickbay, volunteered to beam down with a team to continue the peace talks, this time with the right coordinates. Jim agreed reluctantly, suspicious of the wink Pike shot both of them as he beamed away.

Jim silently walked with Spock back to their rooms, the awkwardness practically ricocheting along the corridor. They reached Spock’s door first.

“Well, good night, Mr. Spock,” Jim said, trying for light.

“Jim,” Spock intoned. “I wish to speak with you.”

Jim sighed to himself, but followed without protest when Spock entered his quarters. He wondered if Spock would move the flowers now that he knew Pike was off limits. Jim’s jar of dirt had moved behind a stack of PADDs. If Spock owned actual paper or stationary, he could use it as a nice paperweight.

There was Spock’s Christmas gift sorted out.

“I am certain you have foreknowledge of what I wish to discuss.”

“You could say that,” Jim admitted, wishing there was something he could do with his hands. “You know, we can forget about the whole thing, really.”

Instead of the relief Jim was expecting to see, Spock looked almost crestfallen. Jim let out a hollow chuckle, because of course Spock couldn’t forget anything.

“Do you regret your actions?” Spock asked. Jim appreciated the wording, because that was easy to answer.

“Yes.”

Spock nodded severely and transferred his gaze to the left of Jim’s shoulder. Something was off here, and Jim thought that, knowing Spock, it was a well of misplaced guilt. Against his better judgment, Jim quickly sought to assure him.

“Hey, humans do this stuff all the time. I know you’re Vulcan and you might see it as something shameful, but it’s really okay. Bones won’t tell a soul and humans are just as capable of stupid lustful romps as they are forgetting things that happen. So,” Jim said, shrugging. “We had a snack, the bad guys attacked. I think that actually sounds more believable.”

Spock was silent for a moment. Then, in a great display of collecting oneself, straightened the bottom of his uniform shirt and said, “Your recollection of the events of the previous evening is sound.”

“Thanks,” Jim said, smiling gently. Jim took the cue to leave, moving towards the door with heavy steps. He stopped at the threshold, something about Spock’s mood itching the back of his skull.

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re stupid for wanting something you can’t have. Who knows, maybe you could still get it. I mean, it’s not like Pike’s married yet.”

“Pike?” Spock asked, like Jim had mentioned the species of fish rather than the man.

“Yeah, tall guy with the admiral braids? Apple of your eye, man of your dreams, Prince Charming?”

Spock’s mouth quirked. “You are under the impression that I harbor romantic feelings for Admiral Pike?”

‘Well yeah,” Jim said. “I mean, you’ve been attached to his hip ever since I got back, you acted weird around me before you found out I didn’t want him, and you keep his flowers by your bed. I’m not blind, you know.”

Spock walked across the room, something like understanding dawning on his face.

“Blind, no. Unfathomable, yes.” Spock stopped just short of Jim. “While I understand your first two criteria, I fail to comprehend the third.”

Jim mentally rewound the conversation. “What, the flower thing? You’re the one who told me that Vulcans keep their most treasured possessions by their bedsides.”

Spock stared evenly at him. “I would think it obvious that my family does not always follow Vulcan traditions.”

Oh, the human mother thing. Jim almost did a double take when the realization hit him.

“So the flowers are really just for decoration?”                        

“For once tonight, you are correct,” Spock said cattily.

“Wait, so you don’t want Pike? Then why…what was last night?” Jim asked, voice gone small.

Instead of answering, Spock walked to his desk and retrieved Jim’s dirt jar. He walked back and, holding the bottle between his hands, explained.

“I keep those items I hold dearest close in hand. I spend much of my time working at my desk, therefore those things migrate there.”

Jim looked incomprehensively beyond Spock. Now that he was looking for them, he realized that Spock was being completely honest. On the shelf behind the work area was that disturbing statue of an ancient Vulcan god that Spock somehow found soothing. To the right of that was a Swahili necklace, courtesy of Uhura. Underneath the desk was a rug knitted by his mother.

Jim looked at Spock again, undone by all this new information.

“You like the dirt?”

“I like the dirt,” Spock confirmed, the barest hint of a smile forming. “I love you.”

Jim froze for maybe an entire moment, like if he moved the perfect reflection of what he himself felt would distort like a funhouse mirror into cold reality. Then a crazed laugh escaped his throat.

“You can’t be—” Jim stopped, laughed again, and placed his hands on his hips. “Go Team Spork.”

Spock tilted his head like a curious bird. Jim broke, guffawing so loud it echoed back at him, sounding like the canned laughter of a studio audience of old.

“That means,” Jim confided, reduced to small chuckles, “You’re going to be a terrible dieting influence.”

Spock, brilliant person that he was, got Jim’s meaning instantly and did something Jim had never thought he’d see—smiled a full grin, a hint of teeth showing.

“On the contrary,” Spock said, bringing his expression back under a tenuous control. “There are three reasons why I will be a perfect influence.”

“Oh?” Jim said, a dizzying joy infused in his words. “What are they?”

“For one, I am adept at monitoring a situation and coming up with the best possible solutions based on a number of scientific factors.”

“So you were serious about the field study, weren’t you?” Jim playfully countered, enjoying all the banter, all the flirting, because he could now and they both knew exactly what it meant.

“Secondly,” here Spock stopped a pace from Jim, mood gone serious. “You can never truly fail, because I will want you in any shape or form you take.”

Speechless, Jim reached out and drew Spock closer.

“And the third?”

Spock’s smile turned wicked. “You will be kept too physically exhausted to think about food.”

Jim lashed out and kissed Spock, rejoicing at being able to have this again. It was so much better, because now he got to keep it. Spock pulled back some, but he pulled Jim forward, so that was okay.

They reached the bed and Spock pushed lightly at his shoulders, politely refraining from jumping Jim. Jim, however, was not so nice as he yanked Spock on top of him and continued from where they were so rudely interrupted the other night.

A glint of something caught Jim’s eyes and he moved slightly away, Spock pressing soft, searching kisses down his neck. When Jim realized what he was looking at, he nearly died laughing.

Spock—likely when Jim was napping—had somehow found a mirror and affixed it to the ceiling above his bed.

“I take it back,” Jim said magnanimously. “You are going to be a great influence.”