"Well?" Jim asks.
Spock nods. "It is as I remembered."
"Best part is, no one will look for us here."
"This is irresponsible."
"We're 33, and haven't had a day off since the day Vulcan got destroyed," Jim points out. "That was eight years ago by the way. I want a vacation, and you promised."
Spock sighs, and then leans in and kisses him. "I did, yes."
"So shut up and enjoy our new digs."
It is nice, a little out-of-the-way planet orbiting a little out-of-the-way sun. They'd found Quara in that second year of their tour, just before it all went to shit and they got recalled so that Starfleet could launch an offense. Spock had stood and looked around silently for a long, long time, and when Jim had asked he had simply said that the terrain reminded him of Vulcan. The people of Quara were reptilian, but welcoming and friendly, and they hadn't minded at all when Spock and Jim had shown up and bought an out-of-the-way house.
Looked at them a bit oddly, but they must have been a sight, sleep-deprived and wild-eyed, not quite trusting that it was all over.
"I'm so tired," Jim murmurs, collapsing into the bed (a real bed!) and falling asleep almost instantly.
When he wakes, sometime in the middle of the night, he jerks awake thinking that something must be wrong—it's too quiet, there's too much silence—
"It is nothing," Spock says sleepily from behind him. "We are safe and whole, go back to sleep."
Jim does, but his dreams are filled with floating bodies in the silence black of space. Jim doesn't dream anymore: he has nightmares. It's just that they're so commonplace he has trouble getting worked up about them. After the first five years you stop caring or become an insomniac, and Jim hadn't had the luxury of being able to afford sleep-deprivation.
His comm chirps at him, and he glances down at the ID screen: Uhura.
He hits 'reject' and heads inside to get dinner.
"You cannot continue to avoid interaction," Spock says, which he's been saying for two months now like he's not a great big hypocrite who is also avoiding everyone. Including his father.
"I can too. Watch me. This is me. Avoiding interaction," Jim points out, grinning slightly and pushing buttons on the synthesizer. "I'm tired. Aren't I allowed to be tired? Do I have to be their father? I mean, that was supposed to be a joke, we weren't actually supposed to be their parents. They weren't supposed to need this much minding."
"You are allowed time to rest." Spock sits at the counter and looks at him like he expects to find something new: evidence of a new wear or tear on Jim. Like they're not living together; like Spock's not spending every second trying to put Jim back together, when Jim's pretty sure he's been twisted into something he's not sure how to manage. Spock weathered this way better than Jim did, but Jim wasn't really stable to begin with, and that last year when Spock was out of the fray and Jim was in the thick of it...that was bad. "You should also be celebrating your victory." He stresses the 'your'.
"I killed a lot of people, maybe I don't want to celebrate that," Jim points out, because his dreams are filled with bodies and screams and silence.
"You saved many innocent lives. Those whom you killed were soldiers, and would have killed you. And if you refer to those under your command, far fewer of them are dead for having you as their Admiral than would have died had it been anyone else, and you are aware of that." Spock doesn't believe in humility: he thinks it's false modesty or something, and that Jim should own his badass.
"I hate it when you're logical," Jim informs him, eating his cheeseburger. It's been two months and they're still not in a pattern of regular eating habits; they eat when they're hungry, but never really together. Jim doesn't come from a family of enforced mealtimes and Spock doesn't seem to care.
"That implies you have hated me since we met," Spock points out, and he seems a little disgruntled by it, which means he's pretty damn annoyed. "That implies you have hated me for eight years."
"Well, for a while you weren't my favorite person," Jim acknowledges, getting water and drinking it down, refilling it immediately. Quara is hot this time of year, and he always is thirsty by the end of the day.
Spock's lips twitch. "It was mutual."
"I only provoked you into a meltdown. You tried to kill me twice. I think if either of us is going to be bitter—"
"That implies that you are not, when it is evident that you are." Spock has the audacity to look smug about this, like Jim hanging onto the fact that he was almost killed on two occasions by Spock (okay, Spock didn't know the Delta Vega thing was murderous and Jim could have stayed in the pod but that's not the point, Spock totally meant it when he tried to choke Jim to death).
Jim closes his eyes. "Remember the whole avoiding interaction thing?"
"You are including me in this?"
"No." Jim smiles, cracks an eye open. "No, I guess not. If I'd wanted to avoid you, I shouldn't have dragged you with me."
"You hardly took me against my will," Spock reminds him, wrapping his arms around Jim's waist and Jim leans into him.
It was a long war. Short, in the scheme of things, but fucking long to live it. Five years seems like an eternity, and even though it's just a tour it feels like decades when you're fighting for your life and the lives of everyone in your command; of everyone in your Federation (Bones says Jim has a complex, this need to save everyone, but Bones was really drunk a lot of the time, so Jim ignores most of that. Jim was drunk a lot too; sometimes it was the only way to cope).
They hadn't expected it to be the Klingons. They had all expected it to be the Romulans who broke the treaty, who took advantage of the loss of Vulcan and came after the Federation with a vengeance, but it wasn't. It was the Klingons, smarting from the loss of a prison planet and seeing a weakened Federation.
"I should probably talk to Bones," Jim says into Spock's shoulder. He says this every week, but he never comms him. Bones is being a newlywed with Chapel (Christine, he has to remember to call her Christine now) and a dad to Joanna, and Jim doesn't need him, not really. The guy deserves a break. He's fucking earned it.
They all have.
"In a while," Spock agrees, and Jim nods. There's time.
"What did you say to the Romulans?" Jim asks one night.
He'd had to give Spock up. Spock had been promoted over everyone's head to Ambassador (okay, Jim had gone from Cadet to Captain to Vice Admiral in two years, in charge of his own fleet), like his father. Sarek and Spock and "Selek" (who was totally old Spock, and had died in the first raid the Klingons had made) had gone to the Romulans and somehow it had worked; somehow the Romulans had joined with the Federation. "You never told me."
"I drew upon our shared ancestry, and the traditions we have in common," Spock says, and Jim nods.
"And they fell for it," he says, grinning.
Spock leans over and kisses him, slow and languid the way he does when Jim is talking and Spock wants him to shut up. "Yes," he agrees, "they were persuaded by our arguments."
"I missed you," Jim whispers into the shared space between them, close and kept like a secret. "When you were—fuck, I was so afraid."
"I was hardly the one engaging in near-suicidal activities," Spock points out, hand tight on Jim's hip, and it's always a surprise to remember that it's a two-way street. That Spock would be just as worried about Jim as Jim was about him. Maybe more. "You were reckless, and I was forced to hear of it every day and know that only Nyota was there to provide any check on your ambitious plans."
"They worked," Jim points out, and he's not sulking at all. "And Uhura totally kicked my ass all over the place."
"She is a an exemplary officer," Spock agrees. "And unparalleled in her field."
"Klingons never did figure out that she cracked their code," Jim says, smug. It was hilarious that the code never changed, and the Klingons always seemed so surprised when the Federation was there to cut them off at the knees. "She wasn't you, though."
"If I could have been with you—" Spock begins and Jim kisses him, hard and fast because he doesn't want to hear it. He doesn't want to what-if this to death because what happened happened and Jim lost Scotty and Rand and Mitchell and Sulu but he didn't lose Spock, and he thinks at the end of the day that's all that matters.
"You're here now," Jim says, fierce.
"And I am not leaving," Spock agrees, and leans their foreheads together. Jim tries not to cling.
"You are an impossible man to find." Jim looks up and frowns at him, and McCoy scowls back from the doorway. "I don't even get a hello?" he demands. "Not going to ask me how I've been? Worried, by the way, because you disappeared and no one could find you, not even Keenser or Chekov, which, yeah, thanks for that."
Jim steps aside, blinking and manages, "Bones."
"Who is it?" Spock asks from the kitchen. He bought some weird vegetables that Jim won't eat: they're piss-yellow and smell just as bad. Spock loves them, but they take forever to clean.
"Yeah, no, it's just Bones," Jim replies over his shoulder.
"How did he locate us?" Spock asks, standing in the doorway. "Or was he expected?"
"Like I wouldn't have told you if I was inviting Bones," Jim snorts.
Bones is looking at him sharply now. "Jim…"
"How's Christine?" Jim asks as Spock sits beside him, Bones sitting in the armchair Jim's never really liked but Spock insists his mother had one just like, so…whatever, Jim indulges the man. They survived, Jim can put up with ugly fucking furniture. "And Joanna?"
"Fine, fine. Christine's pregnant, actually, and pissed to hell with me," Bone says. "Takes two to tango but fuck if she wants to hear about that."
"After all the warnings you gave me about double-bagging it," Jim sighs, grinning a little because it's always easy to be around Bones, even if it feels a little strained.
"Yeah, well, you weren't married," Bones points out. "And when you were you were both men and neither one of you ran the risk of pregnancy."
"So this is just a social call?" Jim asks when the silence starts to stretch awkwardly. Spock's knee brushes against Jim's.
"Actually—we're all kind of worried about you, Jim."
"Look, it's—maybe it's none of my damn business, and you get to mourn and I get that, but you're so fucking far away from everyone and you didn't resign so much as you vanished, and—"
"And I needed time." Jim breaks in, almost startled by how hard he sounds. He's not trying to pick a fight here.
"Time's fine, no one thinks you don't deserve it, hell, no one is saying that you haven't earned time away, it's just…you're kinda isolated out here."
Bones' eyebrows snap together. "You and…who, Jim?"
"I...Bones, you feeling okay?" Jim asks, glancing at Spock, who is raising an eyebrow at McCoy in concern, and Jim realizes Bones hasn't looked or acknowledged Spock once.
"Jim," Bones presses.
"Spock, Bones," Jim snaps, waving a hand at him. What the fuck is wrong with—
"Spock," Bones repeats. "Jim…you can see Spock?"
"What the—this isn't funny."
"You're damn right it's not funny! Spock died, Jim. Three months before you went batshit insane and won the fucking war because even the goddamn Romulans were too afraid of you to not back you up!" Bones yells.
Jim feels like someone punched him in the gut.
"Spock got them to back me up," he disagrees, shaky and not sure why because Spock's hand is warm around his and you can't hallucinate that and god, why does he even think that he's hallucinating at all? "I remember that—"
"No, Jim. You took the Enterprise and were going on your own and Sulu followed and Pike followed and…and the Romulans followed because you said you'd go after them next, and they fucking believed you." Bones' voice is gentler now. "Spock was killed when the Klingons went into Romulan space and intercepted his transport vessel. He was on his way to join us."
"No—that's—" Jim looks at Spock.
"Perhaps he is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," Spock suggests, surveying McCoy.
"Bones, you're—Spock's right, maybe you have PTSD, but that's not—that's not how it happened." Jim tries to be gentle.
Bones looks sick.
"Well?" they all ask, all of them worried and frightened and Leonard doesn't know that he has it in him to tell them that Jim is so far gone that he's hallucinating. That they're going to have to go ahead with the memorial service for Spock without Jim there because Jim's sure that he's fucking living with Spock.
"He thought I was crazy," Leonard says finally. "He and Spock think I have PTSD."
"He and—what?" Uhura demands, frowning. "What?"
"He is—" he breaks off and clears his throat. "Jim thinks that he's living with Spock."
"Is is possible that—his Katra is somehow stored with him?" Leonard asks T'Pring, who shakes her head. "Because of the bond?" he presses.
"No," she says. "There is no documentation of that, and the method for transferring one's Katra must be done within approximately ten hours of one's death. There is a specific psi-touch required, and Spock had no contact with Jim for eighteen months preceding his death."
Leonard looks at her, something roiling in his gut.
"Can't you check?" he demands. "Can't you…fucking meld with him and make him see that he's fucking delusional?"
"You were down there for 3.7 hours," she points out. "What do you suppose I can do that you, his most beloved friend, could not?"
"He thinks Spock is alive," Uhura says, because she seems mostly caught on that.
"Fuck alive, he thinks Spock is living with him. Thought Spock was right there in the goddamn room with us."
"So what do we do?" Chekov demands.
Leonard pinches the bridge of his nose. Shit, fuck, goddamn motherfucking Jim. This is—
His eyes are stinging and he wants to cry or sob or scream because this isn't how this—it shouldn't—
"He's happy," he manages finally, not looking at any of them. "I don't know, we can—except, you can't, can you?"
T'Pring looks at him, and then she says, "You wish to say that James Kirk has perished. You want to lie."
"Yes," Leonard says, harsher than he means to but not as harsh as he wants to. "He's not—"
"That's fucked up," Uhura snaps. "He needs help—get Selek—I mean, Spock—"
And, well, that's an idea. Maybe…maybe he can…
"I will contact him," T'Pring says, and moves to the communication console. Chekov stares at Leonard like his heart's broken.
"Will it work?" Chekov asks, looking so much like a little kid and not the Captain he is. "He—"
"I don't—I don't know," McCoy says. He wants to…he wants to save Jim, wants to leave him there, wants him whole and happy—twenty-six and captain of a starship, exploring the galaxy and laughing all the time.
If wishes were horses.
Jim doesn't hear anyone come in, wrapped up in bed in the lull of sleep, and then there's the sharp jerk of a meld—clumsy, not Spock—and he's falling, jerking through memories and watching Spock die his body float in space
This is what is real.
Jim jerks awake, stares at Selek, and chokes hard, it's all there—Spock dead and losing his mind and—
Spock's hand tightens on Jim's shoulder. "Jim?"
"Oh god," Jim gasps, hunching over, Selek's hands on his wrists and Spock's on his shoulders and Jim doesn't know—doesn't know which one of these is real, knows what he wants but doesn't know if wanting is better than reality or if wanting is reality or—
"We are trying to help you," Selek says gently, so very old and so kind, eyes almost teary as he watches Jim closely. "Jim, you must return to us."
"What is it?" Spock asks, starting to sound worried. "Jim—what is the matter? Are you awake?"
"It is perfectly understandable," Selek presses, "but it is time for you to let him go, as I once had to let you go."
"No," Jim says. "No, no—" because no, fuck no, it's a nightmare, because Bones put all that in his head—shit, Bones they should do something for him, call Christine or—no, Bones came by ship, so someone must be with him, watching, but if Bones came by ship then…
"Jim, wake up," Spock says, kissing his neck, the knob of his spine, and Jim shudders. That can't be a dream—that can't be delusion, the faint wet spots left by Spock's lips cooling in the night air, the press of skin against skin, the bite of his nails in Jim's shoulders, the worry in his voice.
Jim turns to look at him, and Spock says, "Are you awake?" because Jim has these, these nightmares that spill over into the waking moments. Dreams that leave him twisted and confused, gasping for air.
"Yeah," Jim says, turning back and seeing only empty space. "Nightmare. I was—god, I dreamt you—did Bones come visit last month?"
Spock furrows his brow. "No."
"Oh god," Jim gasps, leaning back against him. "Oh thank god. Shit."
"It's okay. I'm okay. I will be—I'm getting there," he amends, and Spock holds onto him, and Jim thinks yeah, he's going to be—he's going to be fine. It was just a nightmare. Just another nightmare.
By the time they get up to have breakfast, Jim doesn't even remember it.
"That tea smells horrible," Jim says, and Spock lifts an eyebrow, and things are normal and quiet and no one is dead. No one is dying.
They can stay here and things can be fine.
There is a man, the children of Quara will tell you, who lives in a house. He came years ago—when the war was over, he came and he lives in the house.
He has smiles and stories, and he speaks to the air. Some say that he lost something in the war, and he never got it back, and others say that he is mad—plain and simple.
The adults tolerate him, this strange alien, and the children wonder and try to get a peek; go silent and stare as he walks by.
Sometimes other aliens come to Quara to talk to the man, and there are always whispers about how he does not see them; how they can touch and talk to him and he sees through them—past them. The other aliens always leave in rages and tears, and after decades pass they stop coming.
If you are very good, and you catch him in the right mood, he can fix anything from a broken toy to a broken PADD.
The children of Quara will tell you that he is harmless, this alien from far away who came after the war. He is just a bit strange, and friends with the air, but he is happy, and tells fantastic stories.
Surely that makes him a bit wonderful.