For Spock, the months building up to this moment did not flash, so much as explode before his eyes. Months of experiencing and courting and falling in love that he would never describe as agonizing—even if, in fact, that is what it had been. The root, certainly, if he were to allow himself to think too deeply on such things, would certainly fit; agony.
Agony, the definition for which read, “anguish of mind, sore trouble or distress, a paroxysm of grief.” Agony, which in extended use referred to emotion, never logic, and was therefore too human an idea to encompass this experience. Agony, which was almost definitely too timid a word to describe what he was feeling at this moment, as that mouth formed the words, “I can’t think of a single reason not to.”
At first, there had been nothing to which he might apply such a term as agony or agonizing. Captain Kirk was just that, his Captain, his superior officer. An impudent young man, to be sure, and invasive, but one determined to curb the universe into a shape of his liking with the sheer force of his (impressive, by standards Human or Vulcan) will.
Spock had rationally, conscientiously applied his mind to the task of measuring the merit of the man under whom he was considering serving, and found him adequate. Will, he thought. Unmitigated, galling will, a force to be reckoned with—a force in need of tempering. And Spock knew he was up to the task of tempering James T. Kirk; knew it, and had logically decided that his alternate self, his Prime, was correct. Starfleet would need Spock there to curb the Captain, to reason him from the inevitable, maddening, energetic precipices of his own determination and force, to make of him all he could be. And he thought, too, that maybe his Prime had also been correct in inferring that so too would Spock benefit from the Captain, from his wildness and his innovation, from his nerve. Though, he’d thought at the time, somewhat acerbically, perhaps not as much the latter as the former.
And so it had begun, and Spock’s determination had eventually, gradually, become admiration, respect, the tentative beginnings of friendship. James T. Kirk—“Damnit, Spock, call me Jim!”—had come alive in the stars, and before Spock’s very eyes, he had become a Captain. Spock’s Captain.
It had happened so gradually, that at first, he had not noticed the change. Jim Kirk was still his Captain, his superior officer. He was still impudent, and invasive and his will was still inhumanly strong. But he was, Spock could see now, also brilliant. Brilliant, the figurative meaning of which applied to “qualities and actions: Splendid, illustrious, distinguished, striking the imagination.” Brilliant, which in extended use seemed certainly to be rightly applied to Jim Kirk, to his Captain. Brilliant, which put Spock’s logical, intelligent mind in an awe near to rapture.
Over dinner in his quarters one night with Nyota, he commented on the singularity of this word.
She blinked. “Brilliant?” No sound followed for a moment, and she slowly lowered her spoon into her bowl. “Brilliant. Really.”
He tilted his head in acknowledgment. “It seems a fitting word for the Captain, Nyota. He has a fascinating mind, capable of great leaps of both knowledge and intuition.” It was Spock’s turn to blink, his only outward expression of his surprise, as his companion stiffened slightly. He fumbled, an all-but-unnoticeable misstep, over his concluding statement: “He…his mind is fascinating. To me. I had not yet observed in Humans the ability to so easily move from one form of thought to another. To blend them so easily.”
Nyota was quiet a moment. And then, “Never?”
“No,” he answered slowly, aware that something had shifted, but unsure as to what or how. “I have, of course, observed the propensity in Humans to supplement logic with emotion, and I have met Humans of incredible talent—Humans with minds far superior to those of their fellows.” He extended the statement as a tentative apology for the sudden strain to their conversation. Nyota continued to watch him steadily, undeterred.
“But,” she said, and her eyes seemed more intent even than usual, in the light of his rooms, “but you would not ascribe the word ‘brilliant’?” It was not really a question. “What distinction are you drawing, then, between those minds,” her mind echoed in the still air, clear and unspoken and when had this conversation become so uncomfortable and out of his reach, “and Kirk’s?”
Spock had no immediate reply. He was a man of careful meaning. Words were immeasurably valuable, immeasurably powerful, both weapons and tools of communication. They should always, he believed, and had espoused to Nyota on many occasions, be employed with precision. No word was ever ill chosen, every word was deliberate. In light of this philosophy, Nyota’s queries made sense, became as scientific a quest for knowledge as that in which the Enterprise was currently engaged.
And yet, brilliant. The word rose up between them, surprisingly important, surprisingly vicious. And he had no idea why.
“I suppose,” he said after a long moment, “that where I would describe those minds as unparalleled, and unmatched,” and he had, his words implored her to remember. He had said those things of her mind, of her talents. “I would call the Captain’s mind…unique.”
“Unmatched.” Her voice was tin, hollow. “Not matched or equaled; matchless; unrivalled. Not provided with something equal or alike.” She looked to him for a confirmation that was unnecessary. She knew that the definition was correct as well as he did.
“Unique.” The voice was still hollow, but brittle, somehow. Corrugated iron, to match the prevailing element in the blood he could now hear pumping harshly through her veins, so quiet everything had become. She swallowed. “Unique,” she said again, and there was no mistaking the anger in her voice, now. “That which is or forms the only one of its kind; having no like or equal; standing alone in comparison with others, frequently by reason of superior excellence; unequalled, unparalleled, unrivalled.”
He waited for her to tell him where he had offended, where he had erred. He knew she would do so.
She did not disappoint. “The mind that is unmatched is unrivalled, Spock, because it has not been ‘provided with something equal.’ But the mind that is unique,” and here she spit the word out. A weapon after all. “It is unrivalled because it has no equal. Can never be equaled.”
He digests this as slowly and deliberately as he has done everything else. And there is no disputing the truth of what she has said. “Yes.”
To his surprise, Nyota simply nods. “Brilliant,” she says ironically. “That’s brilliant.”
It is when the Captain places his arm on his shoulder in consolation for their parting and his body starts to hum with energy and warmth and awareness and right that Spock understands which particular definition of “brilliant” Nyota found so initially unpalatable—“a species of firework.”
By the time they have reached the eighth month mark in the five-year mission, Spock and Nyota have settled into something that resembles ease with one another. They are friends again, relearning the terrain of existing in the same time and space without intimacy, or rather, with intimacy of a kind that is less explosive but equally necessary. She has begun charming the Southern McCoy into something approaching romance, but which isn’t quite there yet because, as she says, “he’s prickly for such a marshmallow.” Spock has only the vaguest idea of what makes McCoy resemble a piece of confectionary, but he believes that “prickly” sums up the estimable physician quite nicely. “Indeed,” is the response he decides upon, in the end.
For Spock, romance provides different challenges. His near-eidetic memory has kept the memories of that dinner with Nyota fresh in his mind, and he is too Vulcan to allow himself the respite of denial. He knows, now, why and how it is that he considers the Captain brilliant. And he knows, too, how he responds to his touch. He needs only to make the decision to do something about it.
At which point, he begins thinking. Agonizing. Hypothesizing the various ways in which this could go wrong, and all of various reasons for Jim’s own indifference to his First Officer’s…affections.
It has taken Spock months to get to that point, but at last he arrived, and once there, he could not but follow through.
The first time, it is tentative. They have been called to the planet Al’mighadra, where Chancellor Bar’ienos of Clan Ch’nor has begun the systematic ethic cleansing of all planet inabitants from Clan M’rrni. He has started with the women, children, and the old, to demoralize the M’rrni men.
The Captain is sitting in his chair, his fingers tensed, channeling his energy through the arm rests into the body of his lady beneath their feet, a harsh grin stretching the muscles of his too-handsome features, and the blue of his eyes electric as they stare at the older man on the screen before him. “My name is neither ‘boy,’ nor ‘bastard,’” his response to the barb of the previous moment is deceptively pleasant. “I am Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and I will say this one. More. Time, Chancellor.” He leans forward, slightly, and Spock can practically see the shimmers of rage in the set of his shoulders, the tense line of his long back. “You will cease your attack on that settlement, or I swear to God, I will end you.”
The man sneers, and communications are abruptly ended. The firing resumes on the M’rrni settlement from the Chancellor’s shielded compound.
The Captain’s eyes close, briefly, and the fingers tighten. “Red alert,” he is cold and calm and Kirk again. “Mr. Sulu, take them out.”
After it is over, and the refugees from the broken settlement are tended to, Spock reaches out, slowly, and takes the Captain’s hand in his own, touching the backs of two of his fingers to Jim’s. There is a startled silence, and a gasp from Nyota that is aborted almost before it is a sound at all, and then the Captain smiles at him, and squeezes those fingers in his own, briefly.
“Thank you, Commander.”
The next evening, just as their shift is ending, Jim asks Spock if he would like to join him for dinner. Before answering, Spock reaches for Jim’s hand, momentarily caressing the other mans fingers. He does this so that Jim will understand that Spock views this dinner as the beginning of courtship, so that he will not misunderstand Spock’s intent.
“Yes, Jim.” The name transitions from mindscape to tongue with ease, as though it were crafted for Spock to say aloud, a deliberate sort of fashioning. And this time, the almost-gasp comes from Chekov. “I will join you for dinner.”
After that, they are together often—not all of the time, but nearly. When they are not on duty, they are near each other, excepting times only when one or the other is on an away mission, when Jim fences with Sulu, or drinks with Scotty and/or McCoy. They play chess, they dine together, they spar, they simply talk. Regardless of the activity, they inevitably end with Spock caressing the fingers of Jim’s hand, a Vulcan kiss, and once, in the low light of the observation deck as they watch lights of the Balaskii Nebula, Spock goes so far as to entangle their fingers. He blushes green to the tips of his ears, but Jim cannot see that in the dark. Instead he rubs his thumb over the web between his First Officer’s forefinger and thumb, and Spock hums in pleasure.
Spock begins calling Jim T’hy’la in the privacy of his mind after the Captain is almost killed in an explosion on Greer III, broadcasting it to the unconscious Human as he holds his hand in sickbay for the next twelve hours. When Jim awakens, Spock is still holding his beloved’s hand, and Jim smiles sleepily at him, “Hey, buddy. Thanks for keeping me company while I was out,” and Spock presses the sheer weight of his relief into the human’s skin when he presses his forehead vulnerably into Jim’s shoulder.
One by one, the crew of the Enterprise comes up to Spock to offer their congratulations, each in their own way. Chekov is first, offering him a blinding smile and a stuttering felicitations, before launching into their more standard habit of conversing on the newest trends in deep space interval theory.
Sulu is next, bearing a plant. “For you and the Captain,” he explains, when Spock looks confused. Or, rather, when Spock continues to have no expression, and Sulu interprets this correctly as confusion. “You know, for when you decide to make it official, and, like. Move in. With, you know. Him.” There is an awkward (for Sulu) break in conversation before Spock says simply, “Thank you, Lieutenant. It is a very thoughtful gesture, and I will make sure that the peace lily accompanies us into our shared quarters whenever this situation comes about.”
Sulu’s grin rivals Chekov’s.
Later that evening, when he and Jim are sharing their standard evening meal at a private table in the Officers’ mess, Spock brings the plant, setting it down between them for Jim’s inspection before beginning to eat.
“What is it?”
“Mr. Sulu referred to it as a Japanese peace lily.” Spock answers with his standard precision. “It is a gift, for you and I.”
At first Jim’s face registers only confusion. “For you and I? But how are we gonna share a plant?” Spock begins to respond, but then Jim laughs. “He thinks we need a peace lily? We never fight anymore!”
Spock shakes his head in agreement. “No, we do not fight. I believe, however, that the lily is meant to promote continuing harmony in pairs,” he smiles with his eyes at the man who has become everything to him. “Not simply initial harmony.”
“Ah,” says Jim, winking at Spock. “Now that I can get behind! Still, a shared plant; what are we meant to do—share custody? What a strange gift.”
Spock frowns, but then is distracted as Jim reaches for his hand with another quick smile. “Don’t worry, Spock! If our bromance ever ends, you can have custody.” And if Spock is puzzled about Jim’s mispronunciation of the word “romance,” his puzzlement is rendered temporary by the pressure of his mate’s fingers against his own.
McCoy and Scotty congratulate Jim, rather than Spock, by buying the Captain a very large, very expensive bottle of brandy. Jim finds it in his ready room as they enter to go over the weekly reports one night after Alpha shift, and he reads the note aloud with amusement. “‘Congratufuckinglations. We’re giving this to you in the hopes that you never give us details. Ever.’” Jim stares and laughs. “What in the hell? Does that make any sense to you?”
“No, sir.” What details would they demand or demand omitted? It is a vague note.
“Damn,” Jim smiles. “Ah, well. I’m not going to question them—they might demand it back.” The smile turns roguish. “Wanna break this baby in?”
Nyota is last, and her congratulations are so warm, that they make Spock feel a (very) brief pang of regret that they were not meant to be T’hy’la. She comes into his quarters as he is drafting his request to Starfleet Command for a change in residence—to the Captain’s quarters next door. Jim has been playfully complaining that the plant misses his Daddy since it’s been residing solely with Spock these last few weeks, and Spock has overheard him tell McCoy that he “needs to get laid” (to which the Doctor had responded “Details, Jim! Damnit!”). While Spock has been unwilling to transition from Vulcan to Human intimacy without Starfleet approval, once it arrives (a process that should take no more than a week, he estimates), he will no longer feel any qualms about such a move. Indeed, he thinks wryly, a hint of green blooming over his cheeks and ears, he is more than ready for that moment.
Nyota arrives as he is finishing the draft, and he bids her enter with an absent “Come.” All that remains is Jim’s signature.
“Good evening, Spock,” Nyota greets pleasantly, taking a seat in his living area. “I trust you’re well?”
“I am more than adequate, thank you, Nyota,” he responds, allowing the warmth he feels for her to color his tone. “And you? You are well this evening?”
She smiles, a real smile if a small one. “I’m great, thanks.”
He offers her tea, but she declines, standing instead. “Actually, I can’t really stay long. Len’s got the evening off, and apparently I’m getting treated to dinner,” her smile grows mischievous. “Should be fun.”
He inclines his head in agreement, the Vulcan equivalent of a conspiratorial moment. She continues, “I just wanted to wish you…luck with everything. Well, I mean, with the Captain. I mean, I wasn’t actually sure about you two, at first, all brilliance aside,” she kids, and he colors, slightly. “But you seem taken with him, and I am happy for you. He’s…he’s a good man.”
“He is Jim.” Like that explains everything. Which apparently, it does, because she smiles with her whole face this time. “Yes, he is. And I’m glad for you. That you have that brilliance, now.”
As she says this, the door opens, and in walks Jim, eyes bright, and a smile on his face. He falters a moment when he sees Nyota, and glances apologetically at Spock. “Oh, sorry, Spock, Lieutenant. I didn’t mean to interrupt—”
“Don’t worry,” Nyota says, at the same time that Spock begins to explain that the Lieutenant was just leaving, “you weren’t interrupting anything. I was congratulating Spock on the move,” as she leaves, she winks again, this time at Kirk, who stares after her as though she’s got three heads.
“Move?” he repeats, once the doors have closed behind Uhura. “What’s she talking about?”
Spock infers that his T’hy’la is upset, and ushers the other man to the chessboard, before taking his hand. “Jim, do not be alarmed, I am not leaving you.” At the sudden clench of Jim’s fingers around his own, he assumes his words have been the right ones, though they are not the words he might have chosen, had he broached the topic himself. “Lt. Uhura referred only to my decision to relocate my quarters. I-I believe it is time—past time, perhaps. Am I correct? Do you understand?”
Jim stares a moment at him, before venturing a puzzled, “You’re…changing quarters?” When Spock says nothing, Jim continues with a statement that is both an opinion and a question. “They’re too…small?”
Eager that Jim see his sincerity, Spock nods, reaching as he does so for his Captain’s other hand. This—to hold both hands simultaneously—is an intimacy that fills Spock with as much wonder and joy as it does resolve, and he studies the blue of Jim’s eyes intently. “Not small, Jim. Insufficient.”
Insufficient, the definition for which is “deficient in force, quality, or amount; lacking in what is necessary or requisite.” Insufficient in what is necessary and requisite—Jim. Spock wills Jim to understand that he is what will make the difference, bring about sufficiency, fullness; presses this knowledge upon the younger man in the sweep of finger over knuckle, and the fast pace of pulse against rib and wrist.
Verbally, he continues, “I know this is a big step for us, but I cannot imagine that the lily will not appreciate the change in scenery.” He adds this last clause as a concession to Jim’s Human need for humor in times of gravity. And because he cannot help but want to remind Jim that, after all, he has indicated that he wants to set up a more permanent situation for their floral charge. That fact has warmed Spock in the past, and he hopes it will warm Jim, as well.
Jim apparently remembers, because the confusion is suddenly replaced with laugh lines and tanned skin and a large smile. “Ah,” he nods, squeezing Spock’s fingers briefly before letting go and lounging back in his chair with an air of satisfaction. “You and the plant—moving on up in the world, eh?”
Spock is overjoyed at his T’hy’la’s reaction, and though the idiom does not translate perfectly from Terran into Standard into Vulcan, he is able to, as Jim would say, “get the gist.”
“Indeed,” is all he offers. “I consider it a great improvement.”
Improvement, which denotes “an act of making or becoming better; a process, change, or addition, by which the value or excellence of a thing is increased; that in which such addition consists or by which anything is made better.” Improvement, which was literally correct, but somehow, incomplete. Spock frowned internally at his sudden inability to express himself correctly. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a human voice—one that sounds much like his mother—whispers that the word “blessing” might be more fitting. Aware of the antiquated religious meaning in the word, he ignores this advice. The word lingers on the edge of his mind, its shape and texture like burnt sugar, regardless.
“So…you approve of this change for us?”
Jim looks confused again briefly, and then amusement returns. Such an expressive face his human possessed. “Oh, yeah, sure—I forgot, you need me to sign off on it, right?”
Spock nods, and Jim reaches for the PADD. Before he can sign, Spock allows his forefinger to briefly caress the inside of his Captain’s wrist. “This pleases me greatly, Jim.”
The other man, who had paused when his wrist was touched so delicately, signs in a flourish, handing the Vulcan the PADD. His blue eyes are all smiles. “Well, you know I can deny you nothing, Commander.” With a twinkle, he turns to the neglected chessboard. “Now, how about I kick your ass, huh?”
The estimated week passes without incident, and they have reached Altair, their designated port of harbor for shore leave, by the time Spock receives official permission to relocate his belongings. Over early dinner, he shares the news with Jim who smiles and asks if he needs help moving. Warmed by Jim’s desire to share in the process—in the experience—he nonetheless declines. Jim’s hands are full with overseeing shore leave, and Spock is desirous of spending these last few hours before the consummation of their bond alone, to steel himself for the ecstasy to come.
“Alright, move yourself then,” Jim says with a grin, “but make sure you come planetside when you’re through. Bridge crew’s going out for drinks in honor of your change in status, and you’d better be there.” Again, Jim’s amusement is infectious. “I swear, Spock, the excitement you and that plant have stirred up among my staff…I’ve never seen so many people excited about a change in quarters.” Jim laughs and Spock smiles, amazed that Jim cannot see that the crew has given them their blessing, that this is their way of telling their commanding officers they care.
The moment is interrupted by McCoy, who reminds Jim abruptly that they still have inoculations to hand out before he can go skipping off planetside with his pet Vulcan, and could Jim please try to avoid telling the crew to “name it after him” if they find themselves without protection this time?
Spock takes this as his cue to leave, and with a final brush to his mate’s fingers (earning a roll of eyes from the Doctor) he does so, the journey to his quarters taking on the pall of a final pilgrimage before a permanent enlightenment.
It does not take long to pack up his rooms; Vulcans do not “collect” objects and miscellany the way that Humans do, and his clothing array is not superfluous. In the end, the things that take the longest to pack are the objects from a home that no longer exists. A few pictures of his mother—old fashioned Terran film, one of her in her wedding dress, one of her with him as a small child, a final shot of her smiling face as she aged, sent to “keep him company” during his time at the Academy. He had not understood the purpose of that at the time. He more than understands it now.
There are objects of ancient Vulcan culture and art, a copy of Surak’s writings, his meditation supplies, the old cable-knit sweater his mother had made him to keep him warm on Earth.
Also, my Mother was human, which makes Earth the only home I have left.
Not true, he reflected. Not a lie, an untruth, but rather an inaccuracy. The Enterprise was a home now. No, another inaccuracy—incomplete. He thought a moment, as always, precision vital to his purpose. Jim. Jim Kirk is home now. Home, “a place, region, or state to which one properly belongs, in which one's affections centre, or where one finds refuge, rest, or satisfaction.” For once, it was the definition rather than the word which was lacking, for the word was undoubtedly correct. He revised the thought. Home: “a person to which one properly belongs, in which one's affections centre, or where one finds refuge, rest, or satisfaction. T’hy’la.”
After transporting his belongs to the adjacent quarters—unlocked, as they usually were—Spock made for the transporter room, and though his gait was not actually altered, he was himself hyper-aware of the alteration his life and person had undergone.
His arrival on the planet was quick and painless, and it was immediately evident where the officers of the Enterprise were waiting, as he took in the lively and inviting bar before him. His instincts were confirmed when he spotted Chekov and Sulu sitting in one of the corner booths, the former laughing at something the latter said, and Nyota smiling on with fondness. Spock haltingly made his way over to his comrades, careful not to come into contact with the other patrons of the bar on his way. Just as he reached the table, Commander Scott appeared, bearing a tray of small glasses, all filled to the brim with what looked to be exceedingly cheap liquor. “Aye, Commander! There y’are! Wonderin’ when you’d show up!” The other three at the table turned to Spock as the Scotsman spoke, their smiles warm.
“Spock, glad you came. Captain wasn’t sure when you’d be through.”
Spock tilted his head slightly to acknowledge the implied question. “I have only just finished transporting my belongings. I apologize for any inconvenience.”
Sulu gestured for him to sit, as Nyota made room, scooting further into the booth. “It’s no problem, Commander,” the helmsman assured him. “Weren’t waiting that long.”
“Aye,” the young Russian nodded. “We’re only on round three,” he gushed, nearly knocking over a glass in his enthusiasm.
“Watcher, laddie! Shots are meant t’be drunk, Pavel, not spilled,” the Scotsman emphasized the distinction with a quick swallow and subsequent grimace. “Aah, whiskey. That’ll wake you up in the mornin’!”
Spock raised a brow in puzzlement. “Commander, it is past nightfall.”
Scotty laughed and Nyota shook her head. “I’m not sure it’d make much a difference to this one, Spock, honestly.” Scotty made an elegant bow in her direction, nudging Chekov over until he could comfortably lounge. Nyota accepted a “shot” from Sulu before turning briefly to Spock. “Is there something in particular you want to order? Len and the Captain are both still at the bar, and I’m sure they have cranberry juice or something similar.”
Spock shook his head, grateful that the music in the bar was not so overpowering as to give him a headache. He did not require sustenance, merely Jim’s presence. Despite his friendship with Nyota, however, he was not quite ready to verbalize such a thought, and instead responded merely with, “I do not believe that will be necessary. Water, however, would not be objectionable. If you will excuse me a moment…” he made to get up, and was surprised as Nyota, with a knowing look, followed him from the booth.
“I wouldn’t mind fetching that man o’mine, myself.”
Spock felt the heat rise in his cheeks, but could not correct her assessment of his motives.
They approached the bar slowly, Spock still wary of coming into physical contact with patrons beyond the crew. As they edged closer, they saw Jim and McCoy leaning on the bar, each holding a drink—from its color, Spock hazarded some variation of Tepellian rice-ale—laughing as the young barman finished an anecdote.
“Fuck me,” his T’hy’la was gasping. Spock could not help but frown at the implicit invitation in the phrase, though he was well familiar with the phrases for which it could substitute. Despite this knowledge, however, Spock thought that in this instance it would perhaps not be the worst decision Jim could make to have chosen a different colloquialism. “Dear me,” perhaps. Or, “how shocking.”
“She didn’t actually say that, dude, you’re kidding me,” the laughter threaded through the golden voice, making Spock’s head swim a little as he and Nyota crossed the last few feet to the bar.
“She did, swear to the Majahr, she did,” said the man, waggling his eyebrows, and McCoy let out another whop of laughter. “Oh, Jesus, fuck me,” Jim repeated, wiping at his eyes with one hand.
McCoy turned to greet Nyota as the bartender leaned in closer to the young Captain, his eyes still laughing, but now with an added layer of heat that made Spock’s back stiffen. “That’s twice now you’ve said that, friend,” the barman licked his lips. “You offering?”
Spock reached out to touch Jim’s back before the sentence had quite left the other man’s mouth. “Jim,” he said, a clipped, short syllable, not quite, but nearly, urgent.
Flashing a short smile at the barman, Jim turned to face the Vulcan. “Spock, you made it! I’m glad—can I get you a drink?”
Anxious to get his mate away from the young barman, who had not once glanced away from the Captain, he shook his head, pressing his fingers against Jim in a move that was at once kiss and blatant entreaty. “No, Jim, that isn’t necessary. I would, however, like it if you accompanied me back to the booth.” Jim’s brow began to furrow, and he hastened to sooth his anxieties. “The others are waiting,” he finished lamely.
The brow was smooth again, and Jim flashed another small smile at the barman. “Oh, well, sure, Spock, if the others miss me,” his smile grew wider as Spock colored a bit, letting the Vulcan know that his Human was well aware that it was him that desired his company. “I’ll be right over.”
Spock nodded, satisfied, and turned to leave, pausing to wait for Nyota as she gathered McCoy for the return trek to the corner table. As McCoy reached for his drink, the barman’s voice came again, unwelcome and, to Spock’s ears, harsh. “I’m waiting for your answer, friend,” a shuffle of feet. “You offering?”
Nyota and McCoy, realizing that Spock’s attention had returned to the bar, turned as well, their expressions vague displeasure and confusion, respectively.
Spock waits as Jim takes a long, leisurely drink, licking his lips when he’s finished. He can’t understand why Jim is prolonging his rejection, when the answer is obvious. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Nyota’s slight frown grow more pronounced.
“Maybe,” Jim drawls, and all of the warmth leaves Spock’s body in an instant. “You interested?”
“Shit.” Bones curses, but Spock can’t hear him because his heart has stopped, and there is no longer sufficient blood coursing through his ears to bid them focus on anything that isn’t the nightmare before him.
The grating voice is speaking again, and one lean arm reaches out to trace the edges of Jim’s perfect lips. “I’m more than interested,” he grins. “Gonna let me take you home?”
Even as his world collapses, as his legs give out, and he settles slowly—not a fall, but a crumpling of the body as his soul shatters, and it can no longer support itself—on the ground, he hears the golden voice, laughing, sees the beautiful mouth form the reply, “I can’t think of a single reason not to.”
Spock isn’t sure of how long he’s sitting there—it could be a moment, an hour, a week, or an infinite period. He cannot reason time because his ears are buzzing with the swan song of his already fragmented heart. He will never hear the beauty of that pitch again, he knows—and he understands that the pitch of his heart breaking is the sound of joy. Joy, which is defined as “a pleasurable state or condition; a state of happiness or felicity; especially the perfect bliss or beatitude of heaven; hence, the place of bliss, paradise, heaven,” and which Spock knows has always been synonymous with Jim.
He rises to his feet, dimly that he is doing so only with Nyota’s aid, of McCoy marching towards Jim—towards the man who used to be Jim, but who is now only Captain James Tiberius Kirk, who can never be Jim again—of the other members of the Enterprise crew coming to see what has made their First Officer collapse.
He has to leave. Has to retreat to a quieter place, to the sanctity of the Enterprise before the swan song swallows him up, leaving him utterly desolate in the eyes of everyone watching. He is vaguely aware of sound again, but only on the periphery, as voices rise to pitches that would otherwise have deafened him, and he knows only that he is no longer in the bar, no longer on Altair, suddenly cocooned in the stillness of ship’s night, of the transporter room, and then sickbay.
His cheeks are wet, and at first he thinks it must be raining, but Nyota’s eyes are streaming, and so he infers that this cannot be the case. She tucks him into an isolated area of sickbay, and speaks to him earnestly, which if he still had words, he would tell her was useless, since he can no longer process sound. But words, for the first time, fail, and he can only look on her, useless and still, as she soaks him in grief.
She leaves, at last, pressing the barest of touches to his hand, a kiss of friendship, he thinks, and the lights dim. His face is still wet, and he realizes that it was not Nyota’s eyes that fell on him, but that his body is expelling the moisture requisite in the death of his soul—that these tears on his face, are the trails of blood it is leaving in its wake.
And he sleeps, mind empty of words and body empty of soul.
“Jim, what the fuck is wrong with you?” Leonard McCoy is angrier than Jim has ever seen him, and that’s saying something, considering the fact that this is Jim Kirk he’s talking to.
“Bones, what?” there is a semblance of his usual smile on his face and in his voice, but it is dimmed by layers of shock over watching his communications officer all but carry his apparently ill second in command from the bar. “What?” he repeats, unable to move past the moment.
“I swear to God, James Kirk, if you don’t tell me what just fucking happened, I’m going to beat the motherloving shit out of you, and do not think I won’t!”
This makes Jim start, and he holds up his hands in defense, a frown blooming like a bruise across his handsome face. “Now hold on a minute, Bones, how the hell should I know what happened? You’re the Doctor!”
Scotty frowns at him, and Bones is now shaking with rage. “Captain,” the engineer says slowly, crossing his arms across his chest and looking the most serious Jim’s ever seen. “Mr. Spock collapsed; what did you do?”
“Do?” Incredulous doesn’t even begin to describe what Jim is experiencing. “What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything!”
Scotty’s frown deepens, and he looks as though he’s going to respond when Bones beats him to it. “Damnit, Jim, yes you did! What the hell was all that with this asshole?” He gestures furiously at the barman, who takes warranted offense at the comment, but does nothing but glare back at McCoy, looking away at last when the Doctor’s rage doesn’t falter.
“Wh-Bones, what?” Jim is utterly confused now, his anger increasing in conjunction with his discombobulation. “I was just—I mean, fuck, Bones, I was just fucking flirting, alright!” He flushes with anger when Chekov gasps. “I don’t see what the hell business it is of yours anyway. I’m a fucking adult!”
“Why? Why would you do that?” Chekov this time, his words tripping over one another as he attempts to get them out over his mounting emotion. “In front of the Commander? Captain…” he trails off, looking for all the world like Kirk just killed someone, and Jim gets a leaden feeling in the pit of his stomach, mixing with his anger and his indignation. Before he can rebut, Sulu steps in, and his words make Jim’s stomach clench further still.
“You’re a real bastard, you know that? You don’t deserve him.” He sneers suddenly, and Jim realizes he’s never seen his helmsman look so…contemptuous. “Sir.”
The anger is stripping away, not because he no longer feels attacked, but because there’s obviously something more going on here, something he can’t see yet, and Jim may be slow, but he’s not stupid, and he doesn’t want to lose the respect of his crew over a phantom he can’t fight.
“Bones,” he’s quiet, now, his breath labored under the weight of that lead in his stomach, pushing the iron in his veins clear out of his body through the soles of his feet. “Bones. What is it? What…happened?”
Again, it isn’t Bones who answers; it’s Uhura, apparently returned from the Enterprise and her face with tears is something he never thought to see. That, somehow, scares him more than anything. “You.” She says. “You happened, Kirk.”
This is apparently enough of an explanation for the remainder of his officers, but he’s still uncertain of his footing, and he needs to hear the words. “I don’t understand,” he glances at McCoy, helpless, and though his friend is no less angry than he was minutes ago, he can still read Jim well enough to know that he’s genuinely confused.
“He heard you, Jim,” Bones picks up for Uhura. “Heard the barman proposition you, heard you give him the green light.”
“You broke him,” Uhura is spitting the words at him, and the knife twists deeper, though he’s still not sure of how they’ve all determined a causal relationship between his exchange and Spock’s collapse. “How could you do that, Captain?” Unknowingly, a near-echo of Chekov’s accusations of minutes before. “Tonight, of all nights, when we were all here to celebrate everything becoming official?”
If Jim doesn’t laugh, he’s going to scream, and when his mouth opens, he honestly isn’t sure which reaction will win out. In a turn that surprises only himself, neither emerges, and instead, it is Captain Kirk, and not Jim, whose voice is heard.
“Somebody enlighten me—in detail. Now.”
It falls to Bones, who stares at Jim like he’s never seen him before, and though it’s not nearly the blow-by-blow explanation Jim’s expecting, it’s the truth of the situation and it knocks him to his core.
“Jim, we’ve all given our blessings—even fucking Starfleet Command, and you’re fucking moving in together. You’re everything to each other, and we can all see it, and to watch you deny him like that…destroy him, as though your relationship doesn’t exist—”
“—as though he doesn’t matter at all,” Uhura finishes, voice dangerously soft. “Is beneath you, Captain. Or, I thought it was.”
In the stillness of the afterward, Jim can no longer breath.
All those months. The touches, the dinners, the chess matches, the shore leaves, the battles. The Japanese peace lily, Spock’s voice, Spock’s eyes, Spock’s smile. All for Jim. All unknown? He turns the word over in his head, finding it ill-fitting. No, inaccurate. Unacknowledged: “that which is not Recognized, confessed, owned; admitted as true, valid, or authoritative.”
All that love. The words, pressed through his hands and his forehead and his shoulder, buzzing and humming across his skin when Spock touched him, that Jim had always believed he’d imagined—T’hy’la. Beloved. Jim.
The quiet smiles only in eyes and the lines of olive veined hands, which Jim soaked up, and which soaked up Jim, and which made his blood sing like sunshine.
All real, the whole time. Unacknowledged.
He was a bastard.
“Oh, my God,” he says it quietly, his eyes clear but his voice rough and there’s a strange pitch reverberating in his ears through his chest cavity. “What have I done? I didn’t know,” the words are pushing out, through his mouth into the air of the moment, or what passes for the moment in this bar, but he doesn’t know how, since he doesn’t think he actually knows any words anymore, and why isn’t anyone moving to find the source of that sound? It’s becoming fainter and more vivid by turns, and he can’t stop speaking or the dark spots will swallow his eyes and his voice and his whole body, and pull him into something best described as unbeing.
Bones is frowning again, holding Jim up as the Captain loses his steadiness. “You didn’t know? All this time and you didn’t know? Goddamnit, Jim!”
He’s moving again, and it’s by his own accord, but only just, and Uhura is blocking him, and he doesn’t want to look at her, can’t stand to see that she’s known what he hasn’t acknowledged and to see that she sees that all of that love that was for him is ruined now, and that he’s done it all by and to himself.
“Captain.” Her voice is firm, but he still can’t look at her. “Jim,” and now he has no choice but to look at her. “Fix this.” There is no room for error or plea in her tone or in her statement. “Fix this.”
He intends to.
Spock awakens to the sound of his name. Slowly, he is unfolded from the depths of his own wounded mind. The white of his unconscious surroundings (neutral, he catalogs with scientific detachment, non-threatening) slowly cedes to the harsher blue of the walls of sickbay. He is buoyed not by word or sound or touch, but by light, golden and warm and tempting and beloved, and then painful and throbbing and agony, and he wants to return to the white again, but the light will not let him.
And the light has a name, has a face that is staring at him as he opens his eyes to the reality of sickbay. Blonde hair, browned over the months with no Terran sun, laugh lines made silent in the harsh light of the medical rooms, perfect lips, and eyes so blue they hurt to look at.
He cannot look away; he remembers that the right to call this man Jim has not truly been his.
But he still has no words, no defenses and no way of explaining himself. In the blue world of what is now ship’s morning, Kirk will have to do all of the conversing.
“Spock,” he begins, but does not continue immediately, and Spock wants to nod at him, to explain that he understands that this man is speaking, but that Spock cannot hear him because the song has died. And the pitch of his Jim’s voice is gone forever from Spock’s hearing.
It’s alright, he presses through his hands, where the Captain has gripped with more than human strength. The pitch was too brilliant to capture long. I could not command its attention.
The Human presses harder, his face determined. “Spock, I’m sorry,” and Spock is surprised; the words are resonating in his ears, bolstering an illusion of functionality. “I didn’t realize…that is, I didn’t understand what you were saying, all these months—I couldn’t see it.”
Spock thinks he understands. Words are precise, but he and this man do not speak the same language. The pitch died, he remembered that. Vividly.
“I see it now, Spock. I know it now—I’ve known it always,” and his smile turns sweet, even if the words are incomprehensible. “I need you to tell me that I’ve still got a chance, that you still need me. I need you to give me your words, alright? I need them, so that I can match them to my own.”
Spock frowns. Words are no longer his to command, they left, doesn’t he understand that? As the other man presses against his hands, intertwines their fingers, some of the warmth returns to Spock’s body, and he feels a small shiver of…what? Longing? Determination? Fear?
“Please,” the voice intrudes again. “Please try. Give me a word.”
Spock’s world is wordless, but he tries anyway, summoning together the fragments of himself—when did he shatter so completely? He finds the answer in the tattered edges of a bond in the place in his body that used to tether his soul. Oh. He touches the bond, with clinical tentativeness, gauging his own response. Pain! This bond is painful, a ragged wound inside, once connected to—
The man’s head snaps up, looking into Spock’s now-wide eyes. Suddenly, as the grip on his hands tightens, forcing warmth back into his veins, the words return, and with them, the agony that he has tried to avoid. “No!” he is adamant, he will not succumb to this, he will not feel this.
But the man is insistent, holding him in the moment with his too-blue eyes and his too-strong hands and his words until the tide swells and slows, and calms, and his blood beats through his body hot and green again, and he is awash with the awareness of his own hurts and his own insufficiency. And the brilliance of Jim in his sight, but not sharing his soul, which is the most painful thing of all.
“T’hy’la,” says Jim’s voice—the pitch, resurrected, too hot for Spock’s ears, and he winces against the onslaught. “That’s your word for me, right? Thank you,” he presses a human kiss to the back of Spock’s hand, and a tear escapes, more blood from the soul. He thought by now he’d bled out.
“I have one for you in return,” Jim is speaking again, and Spock couldn’t resist the siren call of that perfect, brilliant pitch if he tried. Jim waits until Spock is still and ensnared in his view before continuing. “It’s been yours for a while,” he says, pressing another kiss, a Vulcan one, into Spock’s hand as he speaks. “Though I never thought you’d want it.” A pressure on his hand, and that pitch in his ears, and then he’s drowning in it, in the knowledge that his bond has been mended and that his soul is being patched back together by words not provided by himself. And he smiles, a small smile, lighting his eyes up until they are, Jim whispers in awe, brilliant.
He receives his first human kiss from his T’hy’la, as the words Jim has given him in return echo golden in the ship’s morning. True-love, which means “a faithful lover; one whose love is pledged; a sweetheart, beloved.” And the word and the kiss and the moment are, thinks Spock, with perfect accuracy, more than brilliant. They are flawless.