Gods, what am I doing? It was late, he’d been released from Bones’ care hours ago and now here he was. Three days after everything, and the Enterprise was still looking pretty worse for wear. Of course, it had been the first place he’d gone. Earlier, there had been maintenance engineers bustling about, preparing his ship for transport to space dock so the real repairs could get underway but now…now it was quiet. There was always a skeleton crew aboard—Starfleet believed in expediency if nothing else—but this corridor was empty, as hollow as himself. He should be dead, he had been prepared to die, had actually been dead, but he'd been saved somehow and for the first time in years he was terrified. Khan had been challenging, but Jim had been waiting for that betrayal; knew it was a risk he had to take.
Hell, even dying in that chamber and pressing his hand against the glass…knowing that Spock could do it…feeling it when he did…aware of the moment when the chanting in his mind had gotten through, or some of it at least. He’d been relieved in those last moments before he stopped seeing, before his body gave in to its deterioration, and he’d felt calm. Spock had understood and he hadn’t been disgusted—whatever remote feedback Jim had managed to receive through that weak touch of minds, it wasn’t disgust. There had been sadness, raw and gripping despair, but no disgust and no judgment. Spock had accepted the feelings Jim had thrown upon him in the end and mourned as any friend would and Jim had been at peace with that but now…he wasn’t dead and Spock still knew.
For his part, the Vulcan hadn’t mentioned anything in all the visits he’d paid while Jim was still recovering. He’d delivered reports about the ship, kept him up to date on the political unrest and rearrangement within the fleet and updated him on the health and recoveries of their crew. Not once did he mention it, not once did he ask but Jim's eyes were wide open and he could see again. He couldn’t not see. Something had shifted between them, and for all Spock didn’t say, there was a softness about the Vulcan’s eyes and a distinct lack of tension in the set of his shoulders as he spoke that belied the Vulcan’s...well, Vulcanness. There was always, had always been, a sharpness in everything Spock did—it was one of the first things Jim had noticed about him. Spock was precise, sometimes to the point of being cutting, as if balancing himself on an invisible thread and always one missstep away from falling to some unseen, horrific end.
He’d been honest in his want to understand and empathize with Uhura— Gods, Uhura—did she know too? Did Spock tell her? Did he ask her what to do? Shit. Did everyone know? Any relief he’d felt after confessing, was hopelessly out of reach now. There is, Jim mused, a certain comfort in knowing you’re about to die and anything you say can’t and won’t be used against you. But he hadn’t died, had he? No. And now he was…what? Hiding out on his busted ship?
He’d been lucky, he knew that, when Bones had released him early and so Spock hadn’t been there to collect him, as he’s told Jim he would be the day before. Instead, Jim had pestered his doctor until he had given in, started the discharge early and given him the okay to clear out. He hadn’t wasted a second, packing what few belongings had been brought to his room during his stay while Bones was still doing his perfunctory patient discharge questionnaire.
“Are you sure you’re not feeling twitchy?” Bones had asked, watching as Jim had frantically shoved his legs into his jeans.
“I’m fine,” he had bit back, “finish the damn questions already. I wanna get a look—”
“If you want to see the ship, I’m sure Spock wouldn’t mind making a pit stop—”
“Why is he the one picking me up?” Jim had asked, a bit more venomously than he’d intended. “I’m not…I'm perfectly capable of finding transport back to my apartment.”
Bones had regarded him with a tight lipped expression that told Jim he wanted to say something but didn’t dare. “Well, Jim,” he had stated calmly, “all patients from overnight admittance require an escort from the hospital. Spock volunteered. Why? I don’t know. Maybe he’s more—” Bones had cut himself off and looked at the floor briefly before bringing his gaze back to Jim’s. “How the hell should I know?” he had asked instead.
“You’re free to go, Captain,” Bones had said, his voice oddly blank. “I’ll let Spock know you were let out early.” And with that, the doctor had spun on his heel and left Jim standing there, on the defensive. Why had he been feeling defensive? Bones didn’t know. Though, Jim was certain the man had suspected for quite some time.
The truth was…Jim was waiting. Every minute since waking up, every time Spock walked into the room—he had been waiting for it. A nice, long trip back to his apartment on the other side of the city…he wouldn’t have had to wait much longer. He’d thought about it, envisioned the words Spock might use.
‘Jim,’ the Vulcan would state gently, aware now of everything his Captain and friend had been hiding. ‘I am pleased that you are recovered. However, I must formally submit my official request for transfer. I suspect Lieutenant Uhura’s will follow within a few hours, as I can no longer serve under you due to your inappropriate emotions toward my person as expressed to me while you were dying.’
Jim scrubbed a hand over his face and continued aimlessly through the ship. There was a lift ahead. Maybe he’d take it to engineering or…no…maybe an observation deck, not that the stars would be there to greet him. He shook his head and stepped into the lift, reconsidering the possible outcomes. No, Spock would be...kind, logically speaking. He wouldn’t transfer, but the chess games were probably out from now on and dinner in the Captain’s quarters on Wednesdays and Saturdays would have to stop. Spock wouldn’t leave the Enterprise, but he would pull away.
Even if Jim hadn’t confessed, the idea that his death would be so emotionally compromising that Spock would actually shed tears…he couldn’t see any other outcome. If it weren’t Jim’s confession that disgusted Spock, certainly the Vulcan’s own reaction would. There would be new distance, new boundaries put in place and maybe that’s why he’d been feeling defensive. He’d worked hard to cultivate their friendship and, damn it, they had come so far. It was his own fault for not realizing just how far…so far that Spock would cry over him…kill for him. So far that Jim would die if it meant Spock could go on breathing and living and exploring.
Distance…wasn’t what they needed, he reasoned, and friendship hadn’t been enough for Jim for quite some time. He hadn’t been planning to ever say that though, least of all to Spock. He was content to want the Vulcan from a distance but there was no denying ‘the shift’ and there had been a shift. Spock’s inherent edge was diminished, at least it was around him and Jim couldn’t help but think that it was a prelude. Spock was preparing to let him down gently and resume their friendship as if ‘the glass incident’ had never happened. So, Jim had done what he used to do best. He’d ran. Away from the hospital, away from Bones’ and away from Spock.
Abruptly, Jim’s feet came to a stop. He hadn’t taken the lift to an observation deck, but to deck five. He’d gone home. He closed his eyes and urged the roiling in his stomach to settle. He stood with his forehead against the door to his own quarters, automation having been disabled throughout the ship for the time being. He punched his code into the security panel to open it manually. His body was struck suddenly with a wave of exhaustion and the temptation of his standard issue bunk was too great to ignore. When doors slid shut behind him, he leaned his back against them and slid to the floor. So much for the bed. He drew his knees up, folded his arms around them and rested his head in the crook of a comfortable elbow. Bones was going to kick his ass if he found him like this.
He was in the process of drifting off when a warm hand gently closed around his bicep, and his body gave a jolt. Jim’s eyes snapped open and he blinked tiredly, momentarily disoriented. He should have known Spock would be there, should have figured the Vulcan would know exactly where he’d go. The apology was out of his mouth before he could stop it, “Spock, ‘m’sorry I—”
“Jim,” Spock interjected softly, his eyes as open as they were when they’d been the last thing...
“It was okay with me, you know,” Jim’s mouth opened and spoke without his permission. “You being the last thing I saw, I was—I would be okay with that.” The thing lodged in his throat was an obstacle to speak around, but he'd said once already in his head and so the words came out anyway, choked and hoarse, “I love you. Spock, I—”
The hand on his arm tightened then, and the Vulcan hauled him to his feet, crowding him back against the door. “Do not run from me,” Spock quietly pled. Brown eyes bore into blue as Spock’s fingers slid into Jim’s hair, thumbs rubbed at his aching temples as he said, “There is no great distance you need traverse…and none that I will not follow you across. Do you understand?”
Jim closed his eyes as the tension drained from his body. Yes. He understood. “Okay.” He lifted a hand so he could run the pad of his thumb over a slanted brow, rest his fingers against a high cheekbone. He'd wanted to touch Spock's face then too. “We’ll talk about it…”
Spock leaned in until his forehead rested against Jim’s. “I am still not in complete control,” he admitted. “Had you stayed dead…”
“I didn’t,” Jim interrupted. They could talk about it later, couldn’t they? Spock just said ‘any distance’ and Jim had been envisioning one particular destination for a while now. “I want…” This was happening. Spock wasn’t running. Nor was he letting him down gently. Spock was…vindicating him. What was more, Jim could see. “Kiss me,” he managed not to wince at the note of begging in his own voice, “just...”
There were no more words, no more discussions to be had. Not tonight. Not now. Spock brought their hands between them, twining the index and middle finger of both his hands with Jim’s. “In the way of my people,” he explained, then leaned in and whispered against Jim’s lips, “and in the way of my mother’s and yours.”
It wasn’t the kind of kiss you read about in a twentieth-century, bodice-ripping dime novel, but it wasn’t chaste either. Spock’s lips were more hard than soft, a firm pressure against his own, but pliant enough to bend to the demands of a lover. Their lips pushed in and pulled away slowly, languidly, until Jim’s tongue darted out to lick, eager for a taste. Spock responded by sucking Jim’s tongue inside to test and explore, to sate his own curiosity. Their mouths slotted together and exploration became hunger, and it wasn’t long until Jim began to move his hips in the same rhythm of his seeking tongue. It wasn't until they were pressed up against the wall, Jim ennervated and shaking that Spock finally pulled away.
“We cannot,” he said with a voice tinged in no small amount of regret. “There are aspects of our lives which we must both settle…”
“I know,” Jim nodded, “you’re right. Besides, I’m not sure I can right now, despite how much I want you.”
"You need to rest." Spock backed away and gave a small, stiff nod, “I should go—”
Jim shook his head, “No.” He pulled Spock toward the direction of his bed, enjoying the easy way in which Spock allowed himself to be led. Any distance…
“Stay here. I want to sleep beside you.”
“You have been reading pre-reform literature,” Spock observed, his voice sounding slightly astonished.
“I have,” he admitted. “I found it very enlightening.” It was Spock who had inspired Jim to expand beyond his education in Vulcan history and he had found the stories of Vulcan’s pre-reform warriors enthralling. He had hoped Spock would pick up on the reference. In ancient Vulcan, among warriors, for a leader to sleep in seclusion beside a comrade was a great show of trust. He knew that Starfleet’s records were likely diluted, as were the records kept of earth warriors, to exclude anything else sleeping together might imply but it hadn’t affected Jim’s ability to picture it.
Jim pulled back the blankets and settled himself on the left side of the bed. Already, he was feeling the pull of sleep as the mattress dipped beside him. Contrary to his expectations, Spock curled himself around his right side; one leg between Jim’s, an arm across his middle and his face buried in Jim’s neck. A tired smile drifted over his lips and Jim pulled the blanket up to cover them both.
“Aitlu ti kup-t’ku,” Spock whispered softly against his ear. Jim wasn’t sure what it meant, but he promised himself, as they lay tangled up and exhausted, that he would figure it out later. When they woke up, there would be a world of obligations to sort out, but tonight was for them and it wouldn't be long before they'd be able to lie together again.