“You don’t comply with the rules.”
“You know, the thing is? I- I know that this is my fault.” Jim’s voice cracked under the strain, breaking a little as he whispered under his breath.
If Nyota hadn’t been gagged, she would have protested. As it was, she attempted to wiggle slightly to somehow convey some sort of sympathy, but moving only aggravated her dislocated shoulder. She gasped instead, eyes filling up with tears.
The thing was- she had never been the kind of girl to give up. She had pushed through the Academy, fighting to remain at the top of her class despite a wide variety of extra-curriculars. When most of her class picked three languages in which to specialize, Nyota chose seven. She liked a challenge; no, she liked to challenge herself. She thrived on it.
Oh sure, she had cringed inside a little at the blatant way she had manipulated her relationship with Spock to ensure that she would be assigned to the Enterprise, but look at where it had gotten her. Five years… five years into the black. She’d seen places that her bibi would not have even dreamed of. Nyota had improved the scope of the Universal Translator to the extent that the newest upgrades had her name attributed to them. She’d invented new diplomatic protocols for over twenty new species, and was considered one of the field’s experts on subtle nuances and voice inflections on multi-syllabic, consonant-rich languages.
But all of that, all of the accolades and hard work had not prepared Nyota for the absolute helpless terror she felt at hearing Jim’s choked whisper. In the twelve days that they had been captured, she’d heard Jim be furious and mocking. She’d heard exasperated, humiliated and disgusted. She’d cringed through hearing him beg.
This? This was the sound of defeat. And it terrified her. Jim was a rock. He’d invented new levels of pure mule-headed stubbornness, and had absolutely refused to give up. When it wasn’t driving her absolutely bugshit, Nyota could admit that she admired that tenacity. Why wouldn’t she? They were a lot alike, she and Jim Kirk.
Nyota grit her teeth and moved her head against the back of Jim’s, attempting to work off the gag. Hell, she didn’t know how Jim was even talking. She’d thought they’d broken his jaw. For all she knew, Jim had chewed through his gag just to be spiteful, but if he was talking again, then Nyota refused to do anything less than be able to answer back.
When they had first been captured, their captors had been almost kind. She and Jim had had food, water, and were kept in a fairly comfortable cell- in the sense that it had a blanket and a cot that with a bit of maneuvering allowed both of them to curl up together, like pieces to a puzzle. When Jim had refused to cooperate, they had slowly taken away their amenities, until they were hungry and exhausted. When they had attempted to use her against him, Jim had responded with a protective fury so absolute that it had left three of their captors dead by Jim’s bare hands.
They hadn’t attempted to touch her again, but neither had they gone easy on Jim. The stubborn asshole had done his best to keep their attention on him, throwing insults and sarcasm until they had broken his jaw to shut him up. She thought.
When Nyota had rather feebly mentioned the ‘Fleet regulations on the duty of lesser personnel captured with commanding officers, Jim had turned that cold fury on her, glaring at her so completely that Nyota had shut her mouth mid-syllable, biting her own tongue in the process.
Jim never did like to follow the rules. In the absolute dark she’d allowed herself to cry a little at the way he insisted that she eat their dwindling supply of food (their captors had hardly been feeding them on a schedule) first, keeping himself between her and the door until their captors had been forced into creativity in order to separate them. Some kind of airborne knockout drug? Nyota wasn’t entirely certain. She’d woken up naked; vulnerable and alone and absolutely terrified.
Nyota didn’t know what had happened to Jim when they’d taken him away from her, but he had refused to meet her eyes when he returned. They’d been thrown a dermal regenerator and Nyota hadn’t been able to hide her tears as she slowly patched Jim up. The second time he’d returned so covered in blood that Nyota hadn’t thought that he’d live through the night. She was out of tears by the third time, almost wanting to refuse to heal Jim, if they were just going to hurt him once they were forced to fall asleep.
The gag slipped and she gasped as her shoulder throbbed. Something unpleasant twinged in her lower back. “Shut up.” She wiggled again, crying out as the rope finally snapped, allowing her to turn in place. Jim flinched away from her and Nyota pulled again on the rope, ignoring how it cut into her wrist until she was able to sit almost astride Jim’s bruised and filthy thighs, cupping his cheeks in her hands. He had chewed through the gag. She could clearly see that he was blind in one eye. The other was dilated so much that Nyota wasn’t entirely certain that he could see her, but the way he flinched away, then leaned into her touch spoke volumes.
“I’m so sorry. Spock… Spock would kill me if he knew that I had fucked this up so—“
“I said to shut up. Now you listen to me, James Tiberus Kirk. There is nothing. Nothing that you could have done to change one single thing that has happened here. You cannot give them information that you do not know. You have done everything; every. Thing. To keep me safe and you will not give up on me now.” Nyota was horribly aware of her own breath, foul and sour mingling with Jim’s as she breathed heavily, both from the pain of her injuries and what she was saying. Jim’s eyes moved, as though trying to focus on her face. Nyota tightened her hands slightly, pulling him down so that she could gently kiss him on the forehead. “Spock?” Nyota almost had to laugh. “If you think that Spock isn’t doing everything in his power to find you right now, you’re crazy.”
“You mean find you.” Jim’s whisper was so faint that had she been much further away, she would have missed it. “Spock will—find. You. He will.”
Despite the ridiculousness of the situation, Nyota had to roll her eyes. “Jesus, Jim. You really are an idiot sometimes, you know that?”
Jim made an inquiring sort of sound, but Nyota didn’t felt like explaining, because honestly. Nyota shifted in his lap, making herself a little more comfortable. God, they smelled like a cesspool. She had a few more minutes of terror when Jim had passed out again, fearing the knockout gas. Nyota tentatively tested her own injuries as she felt for a pulse against Jim’s carotid. It was thready and inconsistent, but it was there.
Her own ribcage screamed as she pulled Jim’s unresisting body against the cleaner side of the cell, making him as comfortable as she could with the rest of their water. She felt fiercely protective as she curled up against Jim’s legs, arranging her sore and throbbing body so that she could see the door. The dermal regenerator had long since died out, but she figured that she could always use it as a weapon if necessary.
Jim moaned in his sleep, and Nyota bit her lip, allowing herself a moment of panic. Maybe this really was it for them. Since they’d been separated the last time things had gotten progressively more and more dire. Jim shivered, curling into her heat. Nyota rested her hand on his shoulder and tightened her grip on the regenerator, narrowing her eyes against the fond burst of helplessterrorprotectivelove that coursed through her at his movement.
Maybe that’s why she didn’t notice the weird feeling of being transported until she already appeared on the painfully familiar transporter pad.
The regenerator left her hand before she could check herself, flipping with deadly accuracy through the air until it bounced off of Spock’s shoulder. Spock was too stunned to move, his dark gaze jerking from her to Jim and back, as though he didn’t know where to look, taking in every detail with a single stunned blink.
“Jesus Christ. Move! Get that goddamn gurney over there!” Leonard shoved Spock aside, who actually stumbled a bit before catching his balance. The doctor began barking out orders and Nyota had to close her eyes, swaying a little in utter, complete relief as it slowly began to dawn on her that they were safe. Still, she waited until Jim was stabilized and on his way to the Medbay before allowing herself to succumb to her own injuries, passing out almost neatly before the nurse taking her vitals could catch her.
“You don’t take responsibility for anything.”
Leonard McCoy was damn good at finaglin’ people to suit his own purposes. He could be subtle when there was a cause. Lord knew the bull in a china shop method worked wonders. Throw a little sass at some serious eyebrow action at someone and they tended to fold like a house of cards. If neither of those approaches worked then there was always alcohol. But if there was one exception to that rule it was sitting in front of him.
“I know you’re there, Bones.”
“Yeah, well I was hardly trying to be silent, now was I?” Shit. That was just one of the problems with a ship that could anticipate your movements before you made them. Leonard missed doors. Real doors- ones that creaked when the weather was humid. Ones that you could slam when you were pissed off. Ones that you could sneak through when you wanted to observe a friend without the goddamn thing announcing your presence with awoosh louder than a failed field goal at an Ole Miss-Alabama game.
Jim just shrugged, continuing to read through his PADD. Before, Jim would have snorted, or made some sort of smartass comment. But that was before. Now, he was almost perfectly still, typing so quickly that his fingers blurred.
“Did you need something? Kinda busy here, Bones.”
Leonard’s eyes narrowed. There. That was it. That casual dismissal. Leonard took a breath, forcing himself to be calmed. Jim was shakier than a damn colt tryin’ to prove to its momma that it was ready for the big bad world.
Leonard blinked. Hunh. Jim was right. He did use too many damn metaphors. He cleared his throat and threw himself down on the couch across from where Jim sat, still ignoring Leonard for his PADD. Leonard shut his eyes, leaning his head back against the surface, causally locking his fingers on his stomach, the picture of causal innocence.
He didn’t need the pointed looks from Nyota, or the strongly worded reminders about ‘performance efficiency’ from the damn hobgoblin to remind him to do his damn job. Leonard knew when Jim Kirk was hurting, and he’d be damned if he was going to let it slide. There was a certain way of handling him, of coaxing Jim into talking about something that he had no intention of talking about. Not unlike that colt, actually. The problem with working with a ship full of geniuses was that everyone thought that they knew how to do his damn job better than Leonard did.
See? Now Jim? Jim was almost six feet of pure, muleheaded stubbornness. Part of his damn confidence- no, his goddamn genetic makeup was because he was right almost all the time. But. But, when Jim was wrong, he was really, really wrong. The kid literally did not know how to handle the consequences of failing at something he put that fantastic mind to.
So if that meant sitting here and waiting for Jim to talk to him, then Leonard could just clear his goddamn schedule.
“I know what you’re doing.”
Leonard hid a smile at the downright huffy tone. “Relaxin’? It’s a nice room. Quiet. Kind of out of the way.”
Jim tapped particularly hard against the PADD and Leonard silently acknowledged that the sound of pissed-off typing had gone the way of pissed-off door slamming.
Besides. Leonard’s momma hadn’t raised any dummies. Jim wasn’t hiding in his quarters, under a lock that Leonard would have had to use a medical override in order to gain access-a medical override that would then be part of ship’s record. It was kind of like Spock’s not-so subtle hints, ones that were very carefully verbal instead of sent through shipwide comms. No public record here, thankyaverymuch. The place that Jim had chosen was out of the way, but not inaccessible. It was quiet and kind of dim, with the glow of Jim’s PADD putting forth the brightest light in the room. It was easier to tell secrets in the almost dark.
Jim was a genius after all. Now, whether he’d subconsciously or consciously chose this place remained to be seen.
Several more minutes went by before Jim acknowledged him.
“I get it, okay? You’re worried.”
Leonard cracked open one eyelid, not missing the way Jim’s knuckles had tightened around the edge of his PADD. He chose to remain silent, letting Jim get it out at his own speed.
“Look. It’s fine. I’m fine.”
“Hunh. Fine, huh? Good to hear. You know… someone recently told me that ‘Fine’ had variable definitions.” Leonard kept his face blank with difficulty. If Spock heard him quoting him, then he’d never live down the goddamn humiliation.
Jim jerked his gaze up at that, like Leonard knew he would.
“And you know… I think I just clued into the fact that Vulcans even knew how to call bullshit. They’ve just fine tuned it into an art form.” Leonard opened his eyes, meeting Jim’s gaze with a frank one of his own. “You’re not typing the eulogies anymore, so let me just take a quick second to go over all the ways you’re ‘fine,’ then I’ll just skedaddle on out of here and let you get back to your work.”
Time for the bull in a china shop approach.
“You’re damn good at ignoring the fact that when I dosed you with Khan’s blood, it… changed you. Your makeup. You could take a hit before… and god knows you’ve popped up from enough wallops like one of those old fashioned fuckin’ carnival clowns, but now you are literally unhurt by things that would knock my ass out. Then, there’s the fact you and Nyota went through something pretty damn traumatic. I’ve talked to her. I’ve read your reports. And you know what’s missing, Jim? Well, yeah you do. You’re not stupid, kid. You had to know damn well that I’d pick up on the inconsistencies.”
Jim started to open his mouth, but Leonard just held up his hand, almost shocked when it actually worked. Jim shut his mouth with a small smack of lips that sounded loud over the quiet hum of the ship’s engines.
“You’re fine- the responsibility of writing to the families of the poor bastards that died under your command can’t possibly be difficult. Especially when you’re so full of guilt that you can’t even look yourself in the goddamn mirror. It completely makes sense to do that now, like a ‘good’ captain would. You’re fine with the completely asinine orders from Command insisting that we not pursue the bastards that kidnapped you two. Fine with pulling away from Nyota so much that even after what you two went through that she’s come to me convinced that she’s fucked something up, nattering on about a ship transfer because she’s got it into her head that seeing her is triggering you.” Leonard winced inwardly at the way he was trampling over a pretty textbook case of PTSD, throwing facts at Jim like breath-stealing punches.
Jim made a shocked, strangled sound.
“Y’didn’t know about that, huh?” Leonard forced himself to continue and folded his arms across his chest, barking out to the computer to lock the door. He very purposefully didn’t use his CMO code, but he could appreciate the fact that if this went the way he was hoping that it would go; neither of them would particularly appreciate the interruption. “You’re so damn tied up with your idea of responsibility that you’re completely ignoring the fact that you can’t do that; can’t take on all the responsibility of being our captain if you’re…” Leonard broke off at seeing the shine of tears in Jim’s eyes, quickly blinked away. He swallowed down the last volley- the word ‘broken’. It wasn’t true. Jim was maybe... bent a little. Some of the bark might have rubbed off, exposing the fragile white underbelly. But Jim wasn’t broken.
“Nyota wants to leave?”
Leonard sighed and stood up, crossing behind Jim’s makeshift desk to the replicator and ordering them both a drink. It wasn’t much of a diversionary tactic, and Leonard didn’t fool himself for a second that Jim didn’t see right through it, but it worked- allowing them both to catch their breath.
“I don’t know how serious she is. She mentioned it in passing. But… Jim I know that this wasn’t your intention at all, but she didn’t stop needing you just because you two are back on the ship.” Something spasmed over Jim’s face and Leonard winced. His granny had always said that pulling off a bandage was easier than lollygagging around with prying it up slowly, and Leonard figured that this was just another instance where it proved that she was right. He tried to gentle his voice as he set the drink besides Jim’s elbow on the desk, settling across from him on the couch and balancing his own sweet tea on his knee. “She said that you were damn near superhuman while in that cage. That you kept her safe for as long as you could; longer than she had any right to hope. That you kept her alive. You know that she wasn’t … er.” Leonard spared his professionalism barely a hiccup of thought before blurting it out. He knew what was keeping Jim away from Nyota, sick with a helpless guilt. “She wasn’t raped, Jim. Kicked around some. They broke two ribs and fractured her one of her lower vertebra. She dislocated her own arm to get out of her binds and go after the moron who thought he could keep her tied down.”
Jim stared at Leonard for three painfully silent minutes before the tension in his body almost melted with relief.
“You know, she thought the same thing about you. Reacted in just about the same way. So whatever relationship you have going there seems like a two-way street. She admired you before, Jim. Now though, she respects you. When you think you can take a second, go talk to her. You’d be lost if she decided to transfer off the ship, especially since she thinks that she’s doing it to protect your damnfool ass. But you know. Sisters. They’re like that.”
Jim carefully set aside the PADD and took a casual sip of his water with fingers that shook. Leonard could have given him a glass full of bourbon for all the kid would have noticed what he was drinking.
Leonard allowed the silence for a few minutes. “As to your orders- well, when you’re ready to discuss that with Spock, I have a feeling that he’s going to give you an earful.” Leonard wrinkled his nose. “And for once, I’m not makin’ fun of the sad bastard. To tell the truth, once we found out why those idiots had taken you, I thought for a moment that your Vulcan was gonna forget that he wasn’t supposed to be so much with the emotion thing. For a few hours once we got the two of you back, and if the ship hadn’t needed him since you were pretty much out of commission, I’m pretty sure that we could have given him a shuttle and a few torpedoes and he would have gone after the rest of the faction himself. The poor bastards never woulda known what hit them.”
“Yeah, well…” Jim shrugged, as though to say ‘Vulcans. What can you do.’
Leonard knew very well what one could do with Vulcans, but he didn’t feel that this was the proper venue to tell Jim exactly what the hell was going on on that little front. All seriousness aside, it would be amusing as hell to watch the two of them dance around each other a little longer.
“Yeah. Well, he’s not exactly reasonable when someone even mentions that megalomaniacal popsicle to him , so you really can’t blame the guy for going apeshit. I can’t imagine why that faction thought that you knew where Starfleet was keeping Khan on ice, let alone would tell them, but…”
Jim sputtered on his drink, choking a little. “Megalomanical pop---” He broke off with a full belly laugh that did funny things to Leonard’s heart. Damn kid.
Leonard grinned, and then buffed his knuckles on his uniform. “What? Graduated at the top of my class. I’ve always had a bit of a way with words.”
Jim laughed until he cried, then folded in on himself as he lost control, breaking down silently except for a few heavy, almost soundless sobs. Leonard left him to it for a minute, breathing a sigh of relief at the fact that Jim was letting him witness this at all. He reached over and clasped the kid’s shoulder for a second, before sitting back and giving Jim the space he needed.
After a while, Leonard reached over and took the PADD, raising his eyebrows at Jim until he nodded, flicking his fingers in a ‘help yourself’ gesture.
Jim and Nyota had been dirtside on some planet, tapdancing through some diplomatic something or other when the ship had been attacked. Spock had already been in a snit about being ordered to stay on the ship, but when he realized that the attack was a simple diversionary tactic to completely separate Jim and Nyota from communication links, he had been so coldly furious that Leonard had been a little afraid of what he would do. The attack had left their warp core crippled, their hull breached, and twenty-eight crew members dead or sucked out into the black. The two member security detail that had been assigned to protect their Captain and head Communications Officer had been found eviscerated with a single message spelled out next to them in blood:
“Superior Ability Breeds Superior Ambition”
It was only chance that had Leonard in Spock’s presence when he’d realized that it had to be a remnant of one of the Eugenics factions- what amounted to groupies for the idea of a superior race of human augmentation experiments- that had orchestrated the attack and subsequent kidnapping of their ship and officers, but Leonard didn’t ever think he’d forget the look on Spock’s face. Spock was not a big fan of Khan, to say the least.
Leonard’s heart broke a little when he realized that Jim had taken the time to personalize each one of the thirty messages to the bereaved families with a heartfelt explanation of what had happened, instead of the rather unemotional standard Starfleet message. He’d done it when he was still struggling with his own guilt and rage at being unable to prevent the attack. Hell, they hadn’t even seen it coming. The Eugenics wars were hundreds of years ago. Who knew that there were still some whackadoodles around who thought the Augmentations were actually in the right? Leonard certainly hadn’t. Hell, that shit had been fought hundreds of years before he was even a thought in his daddy’s eye.
“Jim.” Leonard stopped, looking up at where Jim had collapsed against his chair, looking as though at least ten pounds had been lifted from his shoulders. “You know that you don’t have to do this now. Or that any one of your senior officers would help you if you needed them to. You don’t have to shoulder all the responsibly for this yourself.”
Jim shrugged with his eyes still shut. “Pike said---“
The non-sequitur had Leonard straightening up, staring purposefully at the damn kid in front of him. “Pike?” Oh yeah, he knew about Pike. He’d heard what the Admiral- nearly the only damn person that Jim had had any respect for- had said when he was angry with Jim’s little stunt on Nibiru. Leonard jerked up his chin, unsurprised at the spurt of protectiveness that surged through him at his captain’s words. “You know, Jimmy? Just because Pike’s dead, doesn’t mean that what he said is right. You might be unconventional… but that don’t mean that you’re irresponsible. There’s certainly no other captain that I’d trust to keep me safe with all the crazy shit that we see.”
Jim froze in place, eyes popping open in surprise.
“So take a break. Get some sleep. Jerk off or something, I don’t know. Come back to this when your brain’s not completely beaten into sludge. Come talk to me tomorrow and we’ll get to the actual medical business instead of the touchy-feely feeling business. But seriously, Jim. Get some damn sleep.”
Seeing Jim Kirk absolutely speechless was worth all the other uncomfortable emotional shit. Leonard turned back to admire the view before unlocking the door and stepping out into the corridor. The doors had barely slid shut behind him when he saw Spock and Uhura, both completely failing at nonchalance, peering at him from the cross-corridor. Leonard rolled his eyes.
“You two… are just about as obvious as a case of Orion herpes.” Leonard sighed. “He’s … fine.”
Spock opened his mouth, and Leonard shot him a dirty look before he could say it. “Mostly fine. Better, anyway. Give him a little time. You said we’d be at Starbase H-12 in what, about three days at the rate we’re limping along?”
“That sounds about right. Just… give him a bit of time to work through everything.” Leonard smirked. “Doctor’s orders, okay?”
Nyota nodded, resting two fingers on Spock’s inner elbow. Spock’s whole body straightened and he gave two very precise tugs to his uniform before nodding once in agreement. “Understood. Now, if you will excuse me, Doctor, Nyota, I believe Mr. Scott requires my assistance in engineering.” Spock turned on his heel and escaped. There was really no other word for it, and Leonard had to chew the hell out of his inner-cheek to keep from busting a gut right there and then.
“That’s gonna be… interesting.” Leonard jerked his gaze after the hastily fleeing Vulcan.
A strange, sad, but hopeful smile changed Nyota’s face from compelling to utterly beautiful. She blinked a few times and Leonard raised an eyebrow at her, patient. When she spoke, her voice was amused. “Interesting? You have no idea.”
Yeah. That was definitely one word for it.
“You don’t respect the chair.”
Spock refused to acknowledge the strange, fluttering feeling in his stomach as what Nyota would undoubtedly call ‘nerves’. He took a deep breath and took a half-step forward, activating the ship sensors that opened the doors to the bridge. Jim had requested to see him privately, and while normally the bridge of a starship would be the last place that one would go for a private moment, Spock knew that the bridge would have been emptied during the repairs.
He blinked twice at seeing Jim, not in the captain’s chair as was his wont, but sitting with his back to the viewscreen with his head tipped back so that the fragile flesh of his neck was bared. His eyes were shut. “Hey, Spock.”
“Hello, Jim.” Spock opened his mouth, then closed it again, feeling foolish.
“Because of your walk. It’s pretty distinctive. Efficient. Precise.” Jim opened his eyes and met Spock’s gaze, forcing a brittle smile.
Spock did not care for that smile. Doctor McCoy called it his “Jimmy Kirk Smile of Utter Bullshit” and privately, while Spock would never dare to use such a vulgar colloquialism, he believed that the doctor had named it rather aptly. Following that was the rather curious thought that that meant Jim knew what his walk sounded like. Spock tightened his lips. This was utterly asinine. He felt like he was re-entering his adolescence. He took a moment to ensure that he had indeed regulated the tone of his own speaking voice (for a moment Spock was so discombobulated that he feared it would squeak) before speaking.
“Yup. You do that you know. You have a pissed off walk, too. I hear that one a lot. And Bones says you have a Violent Vulcan walk, which I don’t think I’ve seen. But it sounds kind of hilarious.”
“I find the good doctor’s regard for alliteration alarming, captain.” Nyota once told him that deflecting with humor was not Spock’s strong suit- an observation that Spock fervently shared. Yet Spock found himself clenching his own hands behind his back so that he would not react to the way Jim’s brittle smile softened at his purposefully humorous words.
“Me too, Spock. So what do you think?”
Spock raised an eyebrow.
Jim rolled his eyes. “Specifically. I know. Jeez. What do you think of the job they did on my girl?” Jim pat the hull almost fondly. “Pretty nice, huh? You can hardly tell that she was knocked to shit.”
Spock snapped to attention so fast that had he been fully human, there would have been the sound of several joints popping into place. His chin jerked up so that he no longer met Jim’s gaze, looking carefully at nothing, just over Jim’s shoulder.
“I assure you that the attack by the Eugenics faction was entirely unprovoked. As you are aware, our shields were---”
“Oh, whoa. Wait!” Jim quickly and ungracefully scrambled upright, almost tripping in his haste to get to his feet. “Spock, I didn’t mean...” Jim trailed off and swore under his breath. Prior to Jim and Nyota’s capture, Jim would have plowed through such social niceties as personal space by clapping Spock on the shoulder or arm in a gesture of camaraderie. Now though, he stopped a painful distance away. Spock watched as Jim took a deep, shuddering breath. “I keep doing that. Blurting out bullshit. I didn’t mean to imply that you did anything wrong.” He scratched his head. “You know, it’s not like they. I mean... Jesus. I ...this is so stupid!”
Spock had heard verbal evidence of Jim’s frustration on numerous occasions. He had no hypothesis as to why this particular example made his throat tighten. Spock quickly sorted through the rest of their conversation and spoke quickly. “I am unclear on how emotion can be attributed to a particular walk.” Nyota would have rolled her eyes at this blatant untruth. She had told him later that she had told Spock to go after Khan. Spock had no recollection of this conversation. When he had confessed this to Nyota, she had flinched as though Spock had said something painful and found a task with which to occupy herself. It was not long after that Nyota had ended their intimate association.
His rather innocuous question gave Jim a moment to compose himself. Spock felt strangely cold as he watched Jim turn on his heel and cross back to where he had previously sprawled, carefully arranging himself in almost the same position. Spock watched as Jim pat the deck beside of him a few times, then give Spock an expectant look. Spock knew the non-sequitur would serve as a filter for Jim’s quicksilver mind, allowing the human to order his emotions while answering the fairly simple question.
“Well, yeah. You just sort of.. sound different.”
Spock crossed to where Jim sat and lowered himself to sit on the deck, mirroring Jim’s position exactly. It was not nearly as comfortable as it looked. Spock allowed himself a small frown and shifted into the more familiar meditative pose, legs crossed and back perfectly straight. “I can think of only four instances where my forward ambulatory motion was suggestive of emotional compromise.”
“Hm?” Jim’s shoulders relaxed as he shifted one buttock for optimal comfort.
“The day I declined the position at the Vulcan Science Academy, the day of my mother’s death, the day I realized that I had compressed the muscles and tendons in your neck so completely that you almost ceased to breathe, and when I watched you...” Spock stopped. Took a deep breath. “The instant I realized that Khan was wholly responsible for your demise.” Spock was fervently appreciative that Jim had no cause to watch his emotional breakdown in engineering. While he was not ... embarrassed of his reaction (how could he be when the only thought in his entire katra was that Jim was lost to him forever) neither was he proud of his lack of control.
Jim’s gasp was loud. Spock raised his eyebrow, ignoring the way that the tips of his ears had flushed a dark green. Perhaps he should not have spoken so plainly? With almost every other human of his acquaintance Spock knew how to act. With Jim he often found himself cast adrift. It was a rather annoying realization.
Jim was quiet for several minutes. Spock had absolutely no use for small talk. He found the practice a complete waste of time that could be better spent with far more interesting pursuits. Now though, he found himself casting rather frantically for another topic. He was just about to mention the fact that Lieutenant Sulu had found a new species of plant life when Jim spoke.
“You know? I remember that. Parts are gone, and I’m not sorry. But I remember being so fuckin’ scared... and seeing that you were there. And I wasn’t... as scared anymore. I was so proud of you for... for everything.”
Spock found himself blinking with a .34 increased blinking rate for a few moments, unable to even begin to imagine how he was supposed to respond.
“You know- it’s kind of fucked up.” Jim shifted again so that they were touching at shoulder and hip. Spock was viscerally aware of the heat from Jim’s body, and it was only several years of almost iron control that kept him from reaching out and... touching. Spock found himself licking his lips and immediately stopped, feeling utterly foolish.
Spock’s eyes narrowed.
“Wow, you really don’t like that dude, do you?”
“I do not.”
Jim snorted. “Well, you can thank him. Or hit him I guess. If he didn’t go crazy...uh. Crazier, then I wouldn’t have gotten his blood. And without his blood, I would have been toast. Of course, without his blood they wouldn’t have turned me into a DNA factory, either.”
Spock’s whole being almost vibrated with the question. It was only the bright burst of pain from his hastily bitten tongue that kept him silent.
“Oh? Bones didn’t tell you? Or Nyota?”
“Tell me what?” Spock felt his control wavering, slippery and slick and barely restrained by the cage of his fingertips.
“Oh. well, they. Uh. The faction? They wanted me because I guess it got out how Bones was able to save me. I mean, I’m not ... like him. Badass or anything. There’s a little girl in London though, and we have the same sort of symptoms. Both heal much more quickly. Our reflexes are crazy quick. I can’t tell you if my brain is better, because it was pretty damn awesome to begin with, but I don't get as bored as I used to when doing shift reports, so that’s something I guess.”
Spock relaxed in minute, miniscule amounts. Before he could speak, Jim continued:
“So they had a hard-on for my blood, basically. I guess ‘til they sort out that stuff with her dad, that little girl is so locked down in Starfleet HQ that her grandkids won’t know what the sun looks like, so they thought that I would be an easier target.” Jim shrugged. “It started out all nice, you know? They had food for us. Nice food too. But then they threatened Nyota, and I went a little-- uh. Well, I took out three of them. Went a little crazy I guess.”
Spock privately thought that Jim’s reaction was quite reasonable under the circumstances.
“That pissed them off of course, so they stepped it up.” Jim’s words fell from his lips in a verbal torrent, flooding Spock with conflicting, confusing emotion. “So then the kept insisting that I give them Khan’s blood. They wouldn’t understand that I didn’t share the same DNA. I mean, there’s remnants, sure. But it changed me, not just absorbed his into mine. So they took my blood, my fingernails, my snot and tears. Even made me co--.” Jim stopped and flushed. “Er. Ejaculate into a cup a couple of times. It was fucked up and weird, but not ... I mean. It was more medical than sexual I guess. But... I can’t stop thinking about it. How if I hadn’t saved Khan then nothing of this would have happened. I mean, think about it, Spock.”
“I do not believe that there would have been any other outcome that would have kept you alive and whole, physically and mentally. And I find myself... grateful.” Spock closed his eyes for a moment, terribly aware that his next words could result in him being summarily transferred to another ship. “Nyota recognized my.. regard for you before I did. She insisted that she wanted the chance to eventually find someone who.” Spock huffed out a tiny, nervous breath. “Held her in such high regard as I do you.”
Spock felt Jim freeze completely besides him. He was terribly, painfully aware that Jim did not breathe for .29 seconds. Spock had just enough time for his eyes to drift shut before he felt Jim’s fingers brush against his own in a very tentative Vulcan kiss. Spock wondered briefly if he had strained any of the muscles in either of his eyelids with the force of their sudden opening before he slowly stroked Jim’s thumb, the callus on his finger rough against the surprisingly smooth skin of Jim’s wrist. He kept his own gaze on Jim’s leg, now pressed fully against his folded one.
“Jim.” The register of Spock’s voice sounded at least an octave lower than his normal speaking voice.
“I uh. Nyota and Bones said some stuff. It took me a bit to clue in on what they... er. What I thought they were saying. Pretty sure I’m right. God knows the two of them were smug enough. But... uh. If you don’t want. I mean, If you aren’t ready for something that...”
Spock didn’t answer verbally, but instead allowed his fingers to tangle with Jim’s, listening to the way both of their hearts beat frantically, arrhythmic for several seconds before slowly relaxing into the rather aesthetically pleasing sound of both of their hearts beating in perfect synchronization.
Years later, Spock would never admit it out loud (and why would he need to do such things with Jim’s own consciousness so perfectly entwined with his own), but the still picture Nyota took with her PADD was, along with an ancient copy of The Little Prince that had belonged to his mother, was one of his most prized possessions.
Nyota had been very clever, overriding the sound of the ship’s door so that she could observe the two of them. Given the events of the previous weeks, Nyota had been worried. Still, her quick thinking had captured both he and Jim resting against the viewscreen with their legs sprawled in front of them, fingers still intertwined. Jim was curled into Spock’s body with his head resting on Spock’s shoulder. Spock had his own head tilted slightly back, with his eyes closed, the small, secret smile on his face bare to the world.