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An Excercise In Setting Oneself On Fire

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“Have you ever been in love, Mr Spock?”

The question appears to arrive out of nowhere, and Spock takes a moment to disengage from the display on his station.

“Captain?”

“Love, Mr Spock. Have you ever experienced it?” The captain is standing just behind his right shoulder, peering over Spock’s shoulder at the screen. His face is openly curious as he grins at Spock.

“That is a rather personal question, is it not, Captain?” Jim’s face shifts, and he looks a little sheepish.

“I suppose it is. Sorry Spock.” He begins to turn away, back towards the viewscreen and his chair, and Spock finds himself speaking without his permission.

“And you, Captain? Have you ever been in love?”

Jim’s face lights up, and his grin widens. Spock is used to the effect Jim has on him, but still finds himself disconcerted by his lack of control over his body around his captain.

“That’s quite a personal question, isn’t it Mr Spock?” Spock recognises the mocking tone and raises an eyebrow at the captain, prompting a small laugh. “To answer your question, yes, I think I have. I’ve never said the words though.”

“You have never said you were in love?” Spock is confused. Is the captain saying this for the first time?

“No, I mean I’ve never said The Words.” He places a strange emphasis on the last two words, and Spock raises his eyebrows to indicate that he does not understand. “I’ve never said I love you to anyone, Spock. Well, except my mother, of course, but that’s different.”

“Interesting.” Replies Spock, thoughts drifting to his own mother, considering their interactions back on Vulcan. “I have never said as such to my mother.”

Jim’s face is one of shock, and Spock suppresses a small amount of amusement at the scandalised expression.

“Never? You’ve never told your mother that you love her?”

“What reason is there for it? She is perfectly aware of how much I appreciate her. It is not the Vulcan way to profess love for one another as casually as humans do.”

“But she’s told you she loves you though, right?” Jim looks rather concerned at whatever thoughts he’s currently having.

“She has.” Confirms Spock, and Jim nods as though this was the correct answer. Curious. “However, at an early stage in my youth I asked her to refrain from doing so.”

“You asked her not to tell you she loves you?”

“Correct, Captain.”

“Why?”

“You must understand, it was almost impossible to embrace my human heritage whilst growing up on Vulcan. I was… ashamed. I believed that if I could act Vulcan enough, my peers would accept me as one of them.”

“Did it work?” Spock shakes his head.

“No, Captain. It did not.”

“And she hasn’t told you she loves you since?” There is a frown on his Captain’s face and Spock is aware of the other officers on the bridge beginning to glance over. Perhaps this conversation should be kept for another time.

“No. It is unnecessary.” He turns slightly, facing his station but still open enough to hear Jim’s response, if he wishes to give one.

 “You have to tell people how you feel about them though, Spock. You can’t just assume that they know how you feel, you have to actually say the words.”

He says it so emphatically that it seems as though it is not entirely directed at Spock. He watches his captain, full of passion, and feels a fond frustration bubble up inside of him. Once again, his mouth speaks without his mind’s permission.

“Ashayam, I must disagree.”

There’s silence for a moment, and it takes Spock less than a second to realise the mistake he’s made. He allows himself a single moment to close his eyes, before opening them to face his fate.

“I’m sorry, what did you just call me?” The captain’s eyes are shining with interest, though he looks confused. From the corner of his eye, Spock can see Nyota covering her mouth in shock. He ignores her.

“My apologies, Captain. I did not mean to address you in such a manner.”

“Well now I’m even more interested. What was it you said? Ash… asha…”

“Ashayam.” Murmurs Nyota, and Spock spares a minute glare in her direction.

“Right, that,” says Jim, turning to point at Uhura. “Hey, Uhura, what does that mean exactly?”

“It is nothing.” Interjects Spock, quietly cursing both his infuriating captain and his possibly-equally-infuriating friend. “It was inappropriate to address you as such. I would be appreciative if you would forget this interaction.”

“Inappropriate?” And damn Jim for being so inquisitive. Spock can see his face lighting up with glee as he seems to come to some sort of conclusion. “Did you – Mr Spock, did you just swear at me?”

“As I said, Captain, it was inappropriate. Please forgive me.” He’s not lying, exactly. He’s just allowing the captain to accept his own conclusion, and surely he cannot be blamed if that conclusion is erroneous?

Jim’s face drops suddenly, and he looks contrite. Spock wonders at the way his side aches at the sight.

“I’m sorry Spock. I didn’t realise you felt so strongly about this; I shouldn’t have pushed.”

“I’m afraid I do not understand. Why are you apologising?” Jim’s brow furrows and he rubs the back of his neck, looking genuinely apologetic.

“You’ve never sworn at me before. I guess I didn’t realise how much I was annoying you.” Oh. Jim thinks he has upset Spock. Though he is unversed in the way of emotions, Spock can say with some certainty that he feels ‘bad’ about allowing the captain to believe this.

The alternative, however…

“You are forgiven, Captain.” He nods, but still seems almost chastised, and that simply won’t do.

“Jim.” Spock reaches a hand out tentatively, resting it gently on his captain’s shoulder. “It is forgotten.”

Jim smiles at him, and Spock feels something in his gut settle, as though he had been ill and had not quite noticed it fully until he was well again.

“Thank you, Mr Spock. I’ll try not to get involved in your personal matters next time.”

Spock nods graciously, although this is rather the opposite of what he wants. The captain seems placated, though, and Spock will accept this for the moment.

As Jim returns to his chair, Spock catches Nyota’s eyes across the room. The look she gives him is incredulous, and yet also unreadable in its own way. She raises her eyebrows at him, but he merely shakes his head in response.

‘Later,’ she mouths, glancing between him and the captain one last time before turning back to her station. For the rest of his shift he feels her eyes glancing over him but he refuses to meet her gaze.

-

“Alright then. Spill.”

Spock does not let his guard down around many people, but he trusts his friend implicitly. He allows himself a small sigh as he settles into a seat across from her.

“Really, Nyota, is this necessary?” He asks, gently setting her tea in front of her and taking a small sip of his own. If he shifts in his seat a little, well, he’s in his own quarters and there’s no one to call him out on it. No one except…

“This is absolutely necessary. You called Jim ashayam. On the bridge, in front of everyone. You’ll forgive me for being a little taken aback.” She leans in a little and lowers her voice, although there is no one else to hear them. “You must feel pretty strongly if you’re already bringing out the endearments.”

“It was a mistake. I have never before referred to him by anything other than his name or rank.”

“Spock.” It’s the tone she uses when she’s calling him out, and he wishes it were not quite so warranted. “That’s a pretty big mistake to make, especially for you.”

Spock takes a slow sip of his tea and deigns not to reply. Nyota copies him, raising her mug to her lips and watching him over the rim of it as she swallows.

“Are you in love with him?” She asks, and Spock feels his heart skip a beat in his side.

“I have never said – or even indicated so much as – that is to say-“ He forces himself to take a few calming breaths, ignoring the raised eyebrow Nyota is directing at him. He reorders his thoughts, and starts again. “I am not in a relationship with the captain. To proclaim my love for him would be illogical, as I have no context in which to view him romantically.”

Nyota smiles, though not unkindly.

“That’s not a no, Spock.” He takes a second, regards Nyota thoughtfully.

“I suppose it is not. However, my point is still valid. I would not know how to recognise love towards James Tiberius Kirk, as I have had no context in which to place it.”

“Full name? Oof. Perhaps you should talk to him about it. Maybe he feels the same.” Spock raises an eyebrow and takes an unimpressed sip of his tea.

“I have no evidence that the captain is physically or romantically attracted to me.” Nyota’s face scrunches up in an undeniably unimpressed expression, but he continues before she can speak. “I will not risk disrupting our work relationship, which is important not only to myself, but also to the running of Starfleet’s flagship. Equally, I will not jeopardise the… friendship that Jim and I share. It is important to me.”

Nyota’s lips twist, and she nods.

“I can understand that, Spock, but I still think you should speak to him. He cares about you. I think you have more of a chance than you realise.” Spock inclines his head, but declines to respond in the affirmative.

“I will consider it. Now, I believe you wished to talk about your own fledgling romance?” Her face lights up, and she leans in close over the table.

“Okay, so Christine and I were talking….”

-

“Spock, my darling, how are you?”

“I am well, Mother. And yourself?” On the vidscreen in front of him, Amanda beams brightly.

“I’m wonderful! I just saw T’Pau this morning – I know she seems very stoic, but she really has the most wonderful sense of humour.”

“I am glad.” Privately, Spock thinks that his mother seems to find humour in a lot of seemingly rather unhumorous things, and wonders if T’Pau’s apparent hilarity was intentional or merely a side effect of the human tendency to find odd things humorous. “And your meetings with the educational board?”

“Ah, those.” His mother regards him with a wry smile. “I’m winning them over, I think. You Vulcans are so insular; I think if I can get them to agree to these cultural exchanges, it could do a lot to help with culture shock, on both sides.”

“And the board agrees?”

“Oh, the board thinks that young impressionable Vulcans shouldn’t be anywhere near any other race, lest they be distracted from their studies. But it’s still early days, and I’m sure I can win this eventually. Vulcans need to connect with others more. I’ve lived here for a long time; I know what lack of interaction with other cultures can lead to.”

Spock finds himself worried by this assertion, but keeps his face in a mask of practised calm.

“Have you experienced difficulty interacting with others in your time on Vulcan?”

“Don’t worry, my darling.” As usual, Amanda sees straight to the feeling behind what Spock is saying. “I get on well for the most part, and I have plenty of friends here. In fact, I had a group over the other night for tea. Did you know T’Pring and Stonn are expecting?”

“I did not.”

“Mmhm, their first. She’ll be a good mother, I know it. She’s got the instincts for it.”

Spock raises an eyebrow but declines to comment. This, at least, is an area on which he considers his mother better suited to pass judgement.

“I see. I am glad you are doing well.”

“Your father’s doing well too. He’s been busy at the embassy, but he’s helped me put together some strong arguments to present to the board.”

“I am glad to hear that.” And he is. His mother always tells him how his father is doing, and it saves him from the confusing tangle of emotions he feels when asking.

There’s a pause, in which Amanda smiles at him like she knows he has something on his mind.

“Has father ever told you that he loves you?” Her eyebrows shoot up and her mouth drops open, and Spock has a feeling that wasn’t what she had been expecting. He immediately wishes he had not asked. “Do not answer. It does not matter.”

“No Spock, it’s fine. Can I ask what prompted the question?”

“The captain and I were speaking.” Her face changes, as though she knows something he doesn’t, and Spock feels an odd urge to squirm in his seat like a child. He stifles it. “He believes it is important to communicate such a thing.”

“And you disagreed.”

“I did. I believe that if love is obvious in a relationship then it need not be verbalised.” She nods thoughtfully.

“Your father has never said the words to me, it’s true,” Spock nods, but Amanda continues, “but the bond is far better at portraying that kind of thing anyway. In human relationships, it can be important to say things like that because you have no way of knowing exactly what the other person is feeling, but of course it doesn’t work like that with Vulcans. Your father has never told me that he loves me because I’m always able to see what he is feeling. Does that make sense?”

Spock takes a moment to think it over, before nodding.

“It does. However, I must ask: do you ever wish he would say it?” Amanda smiles softly.

“It doesn’t matter to me. It would be nice, I suppose, but I know what he feels for me, and that means more to me than words ever could.”

“I see. Mother?”

“Yes, Spock?”

“I love you.”

He doesn’t think he’s ever seen his mother look so emotional, nor so fond. The sudden sheen of her eyes would be cause for mild alarm, had he not become used to such emotional displays during his childhood. He feels it anyway.

“Oh Spock, baby. I know. I love you too.” He’s about to change the subject when Amanda asks, “and Jim?”

Spock stiffens.

“What about the captain?”

“I’m your mother Spock, you can’t hide from me. How do you feel about him?”

Spock’s hands clench and his heart beats slightly faster, thumping heavily in his side. He dislikes feeling so seen, but if anyone will be able to help…

“I… I called him Ashayam on the bridge today.” Amanda gasps and her hands fly up to cover her face.

“Oh my gosh. I didn’t think you were together! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“We are not together.” Saying it out loud makes his stomach feel unpleasant. Spock wonders absently at how emotion makes his body rebel against him.

“Then… oh, Spock. Have you spoken to him?” He hasn’t. As soon as alpha shift had ended he had retreated to his quarters, avoiding the captain’s eyes, and had shamefully wallowed in embarrassment until Nyota had come knocking.

“No. There are many good reasons to keep this from him, the best being that he has given no indication that he feels the same.” Amanda smiles at him kindly.

“Jim is a good man, and a good captain. If you haven’t given him any reason to think you’re interested, he’s not going to try and make a move. He’s your superior; you know as well as I do how much that limits him. Actually, you know better, I should think.”

Spock stills. She has a point. Logically, though their difference in rank is such that it would not prohibit a relationship, it would be highly unprofessional for a captain to seek a relationship with anyone under them.

“I can see you’ve got something new to think about.” Amanda smiles at him, wide and genuine. “Whatever you do, baby, I’ll support you. But I suggest you talk to him. You never know, he might surprise you.”

“Yes. Of course.” He murmurs, distracted suddenly by the influx of thoughts going through his mind.

“Perhaps we should finish catching up some other time?” Amanda suggests. “I recognise that look on your face. I won’t inflict conversation on you when you’re so clearly occupied with something else.”

“You are not ‘inflicting’ anything on me. If I did not wish to speak with you, I would not do so.” Amanda’s smile is warm.

“I know, Spock. That’s not what I meant. I just mean that you have a lot to consider, and I think you’d rather be doing that than talking to your mom.” A strange guilt spreads in Spock’s gut, and he refuses to allow himself to look sheepish. Of course, he also can’t deny that what she’s saying is true. “Go on, Spock. It’s okay. I’ll still be here later.” Spock nods reluctantly.

“I will speak with you later, Mother.”

“Goodbye, Spock. And good luck, though I don’t think you’ll need it.”

With that, the connection cuts off, and Spock is left with a racing mind, and a lot to ponder.

-

The next alpha shift is… strange, though Spock would be hard pressed to explain why. The bridge is running as efficiently as always, and aside from Jim being an uncharacteristic five minutes late, all is as it has been since setting out on their five year mission. Work is completed in a timely manner, and the quiet pervasiveness of chatter fills the air. The captain even makes his usual rounds, getting up from his chair every now and then to check in on his crew.

If he stands approximately two point six inches further away from Spock and makes thirty six point three percent less eye contact, then surely this is an anomaly that will quickly right itself.

Spock tells himself this every time the captain stands by his shoulder, every time he watches Jim hurry away after an almost fifty percent decrease in the length of their normal conversations. He tells himself this when Jim asks for an update and accepts his answer with only a nod and no additional commentary (and if he looks in Jim’s direction for eight seconds longer than he should as he waits for a conversation that will never start, then the only one who notices is Nyota, and her face is all sympathy.) Spock tells himself this repeatedly, until alpha shift ends and the captain hurries into the turbolift, eyes downcast, and disappears.

 Nyota begins to approach him, but when their eyes meet, he shakes his head. His stomach is roiling and there is a knot of tension at the base of his skull, and he hopes to spend his evening in meditation. She nods, smiles sadly at him, and takes her own absence from the bridge. Spock has no doubt that she will immediately make her way down to sickbay, to meet nurse Chapel as she finishes her own shift. Nyota is a good friend, and Spock finds it satisfying that she has found a partner who makes her so clearly happy. If he were human, he might wish that his own circumstances were more favourable. Alas, he is not human, and wishes can make no difference to his current circumstances. He forces himself to think only of his evening plans as he makes his way towards his quarters.

They seem as fine plans as any, as far as his days go, and he would have found such an evening perfectly acceptable, even satisfying, if only they had not been interrupted by an unexpected figure waiting at his door.

“Captain.” It was only a lifetime of practise in control that kept the word from being an exclamation as it left his mouth. He paused as far away as he could without seeming rude and dropped into parade rest. “I was not expecting you.” Jim snorts.

“Yeah, I hadn’t exactly planned on this, but if I don’t do it now, I won’t do it at all.”

“Captain?” Spock’s heart feels as though it’s sprinting in his side, and the tightness at the back of his throat reminds him of the last time his body had found it necessary to perform emesis. At this point he begins to wonder if a visit to the medbay may be a prudent choice. After all, his body has never before reacted with such violence to such an innocuous statement.

“Sorry, I’m talking more to myself there than you. Are you – Spock, are you alright? You look a little pale.”

“I am fine, Captain.”

“You sure? We don’t have to do this now if you’re not feeling well.”  Jim’s eyebrows are deeply furrowed, and if Spock were in the business of lying he might take the out so kindly provided.

If only he were in the business of lying.

“I am fine, Captain. Perhaps we should continue this discussion inside?”

“Right, yeah.” Jim drags a hand over his face and glances around, as though he had forgotten that they were still in the hallway. Spock steps forward to enter his code into the door, and it opens with a quiet hiss.

“Would you like a drink, Captain?”

“No, no, that’s alright, thank you.” Spock nods and seats himself in the chair he usually sits in when they play chess, gesturing politely to its counterpart across from him. Jim sits. His hands are never still, rubbing over each other, then up and down his arms, which he then crosses, and uncrosses. He has not made eye contact with Spock once.

“Is all well, Captain?” He ignores the churning of his stomach in favour of the rising worry for Jim’s wellbeing.

“Yes, yes, it’s fine.” Jim falls silent again, eyes flittering over everything in the room but Spock.

“Captain, I-“

“I looked up the word.”

He rushes the words out like he can’t hold them in any longer, and Spock feels his stomach drop. He does not need to ask which word Jim is talking about.

“… I see.”

“Spock, I-“ Jim reaches towards him and he stands swiftly, knocking over the chair he was sitting in in his haste. He cannot bear to feel Jim’s touch, not now. Not when his heart feels like it’s calcifying in his side. He forces himself into his best parade rest stance and dons the most unaffected face he can.

“Please accept my apologies, sir. As I said at the time, it was inappropriate to address you as such. I understand if you feel uncomfortable –“

“Spock-“

“- as a result of this, and I will endeavour to exert more control over these emotions. I hope you feel you can still work with me –“

“Spock-“

“- however, if you feel it necessary to have me moved to a different ship, I fully understand –“

“Spock!” Spock is forced out of his monologue as Jim pushes up from the table and his hands descend upon his shoulders. “I’m not going to kick you off the ship, for god’s sake.”

A knot in Spock’s chest loosens a little. He hadn’t realised how much he feared that Jim would ask him to leave until now.

“Thank you, Captain. As I stated, I will attempt to control these emotions. Given enough time to meditate, I should be able to purge them completely. I apologise for not doing so earlier.” It’s not a lie. He should be able to purge them. The fact that he isn’t able to is irrelevant.

“Spock… why didn’t you?” Their eyes are finally meeting, and Spock finds he does not have the strength in him to look away. “If you could get rid of them, if you were so sure I wouldn’t feel the same – I mean you thought I was going to kick you off the ship, for god’s sake!” He laughs, but there’s no humour in it. “Why hold on to something that must hurt?”

“Because you are James Kirk, and you are spectacular.” The words wrench their way out of him before he can stop them. “One may think a star beautiful, may go to great lengths to see it and know it and learn all one can from it, may stand at a safe distance and be satisfied with one’s place relative to it. But to expect it to love you back is still an exercise in setting oneself on fire.”

“To love – I think you had better expand on that, Mr. Spock.”

“I love you.” The words tear something in his chest, as though his lungs are being dragged up his throat with them, and yet as he says them his body seems to quiet. His heart slows to its normal pace and his stomach calms. It is a feeling not dissimilar to knowing that an important decision has finally been made, although he cannot shake the feeling that he was not the one to make it.

Jim seems to be experiencing the opposite effect – his breathing has quickened and Spock can see his heart beating a hummingbird’s pace in his throat. Jim reaches out to him, and in his odd calmness, Spock accepts him without question.

“Do you really…” Their faces are so close that Spock can see the wetness of unshed tears on Jim’s eyelashes, can feel the warmth of his breath fan across his face. “Say it again. Please.”

“I love you.”

Kissing Jim is both surprising and obvious, as though he has come to the conclusion of a very difficult sum, only to realise that the whole thing could be boiled down to two plus two. It feels like an answer he should have known, and at the same time feels like an unexpected gift on a birthday he did not think anyone else had known about.

Jim cannot know, when he grasps Spock’s hand, that he is kissing him in another way, but the sensation makes Spock gasp anyway. He’s so distracted by the feel of it, of kissing Jim in a way that appeases both sides of him at once, that it takes him a moment to realise that Jim is pressing his hand against the side of his face.

“Jim, what –“

“Do it. Do it, I want you to see –“

And Jim cannot possibly know what he is asking but Spock is lost anyway, fingers finding the right places by muscle memory alone, mind slipping into Jim’s as easily as Jim’s hand had slipped into his.

In a way, it’s no different from the kiss, a surprise sort of homecoming. In every other way it is nothing like the kiss. Jim’s mind is warm and bright and so perfect that Spock can feel the distant prickling of tears in his eyes. It’s a sense of such rightness  that the tugging sensation almost doesn’t register for a moment. It’s a feeling not unlike someone pulling on his sleeve, an insistent ‘follow me!’ that Spock is unable and unwilling to resist. He goes easily, follows the tugging to a door. Jim smiles at him in a way that has nothing to do with his physical form, and throws the door wide open.

Spock has never felt anything like it. It’s a similar warmth to the rest of Jim’s mind but this he feels in his bones, feels it as surely as if it belonged to him. It feels like certainty, and joy, and an acceptance that Spock is certain is entirely new to him. He knows what this is, knows it as surely as he knows his own name.

Jim Kirk is in love with him.

When the meld begins to fade and their consciousnesses gently separate, Spock realises that he has no idea how much time has passed. He and Jim are on their knees, holding each other. Their eyes meet and Jim huffs a soft laugh as Spock raises an eyebrow at him.

“Well damn. Guess I should be glad you didn’t do that on the bridge.” Spock crooks a small smile at him and watches the greedy way Jim’s eyes drink it in.

“I assure you, the meld is not often the result of an accident.”

“I should hope not, if it feels like that.” Jim leans forward, closing his eyes and resting his forehead against Spock’s. “I think I could sleep for a week.”

“It is not always that… intense. I believe if we melded again, it would be a calmer experience.”

“That’s good to hear, cause we are definitely doing that again.” He raises his head and grins brightly. “If that’s alright with you, Ashayam.”

Without thinking, Spock slides his fingers between Jim’s, leaning forward until he can once again feel his breath.

“Say it again.”

“Say what, Spock? I don’t think I know what you’re referring to.” Jim smiles as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Spock narrows his eyes.

“You know. Say it again.”

“Hmm.” Jim puts a finger to his chin and pretends to think. “Now what could it be you want from me?”

“Jim…”

“Yes, Ashayam?” Spock tackles Jim to floor with a playful growl and Jim laughs delightedly. “Well if this is the reaction it gets, I’m certainly going to use it.” Spock hums, burrowing his nose into the space behind Jim’s ear and breathing deeply.

“You are a tactical genius. You will use everything you possibly can against me.” Jim laughs again, and the sound is so pure and joyful that Spock can’t help but press a smile against his hair.

“And to think all of this started with a word. You know I’m gonna start using human pet names, right? I’ll call you sugar and honey and babe on the bridge and you won’t be allowed to complain because you started it.”

“Of course, T’hy’la.”

There’s a pause.

“Alright. What the fuck does that one mean?”