It's a funny thing, dying. One minute you're a conscious, breathing being with memories and history engraved in your very soul, and the next you're not.
It is said that dying makes all things equal, you can't escape it. Sooner or later everyone has overstayed their welcome and it's time to go.
But why did he have to go first?
Spock was supposed to survive him, from the very moment they were born into their respective races, Spock was supposed to survive him.
Fate was a cruel mistress after all.
Kirk smiled bitterly at the irony of his situation, contemplating all those times it had been him lying on this very bed, all those times it had been him fighting against death, defeating it against all odds.
One more miracle. That's all he asked. One more unlikely recovery, one more... Something. Anything. Any kind of motion of the body in front of him, any sign that this wasn't the end, that they could defeat everything together, even death itself.
"C'mon, Spock," Kirk whispered tersely. "You know you can't leave me on my own. I'll get myself killed, or worse, fired without you."
He looked down on the cold body on the bed. This was so wrong. Spock was never cold. Ever.
"You stupid idiot just had to get involved, didn't you?" He hissed bitterly. "You should have just let me drink it. It was meant for ME. I should be the one lying here, not you."
He had gripped Spock's shoulders in a swift motion before he even noticed the anger rising in him like lava.
"You have no right!" He yelled against the tears he didn't feel streaming down his face. "You hear me?! You have NO RIGHT to die here!"
His shoulders slumped in defiance and he breathed out shakily as he let his forehead rest against Spock's.
"You were supposed to survive me, you stupid idiot."
He let out a shaky laugh as he wiped the years from his cheeks with his sleeve.
"I don't even remember the last time I cried," he noticed with a bitter smile. "You really are something, do you know that? I'd never have believed it if I wasn't just experiencing it myself."
He took a few steps back and grabbed the chair he knew was standing close without looking. He had been here too many times already.
The subtle dents in the sickbay bed Spock had left when Jim had fallen off a cliff and Bones had told the Vulcan all they could do was wait, the scratches in the paint from that one time Spock had been poisoned and Jim smashed the offending scanner that had told them - all those little things Jim was aware of without looking. They had both left countless marks in this room over the course of their mission, but not this time.
This time wouldn't leave a mark, engraved forever in the ships walls, its very core. This time there was no shouting, no anger, no desperation to be left behind.
This time there was only silence.
All-consuming silence, and he was feeling every atom of it.
They had left them alone, the faceless people waiting with held breaths, when Bones had taken a hesitant step back from the bed and tonelessly announced that there was nothing he could do.
It had broken his heart more than anything, the look on the doctor's face when he said it.
Sitting in the too-familiar chair he contemplated the marks he wasn't going to leave.
The adventures he wasn't going to have.
He had decided a long time ago that he wouldn't be doing this job without the Vulcan by his side. No amount of begging, bribing or blackmailing could hold him in the captain's chair without the dark figure looming over his shoulder to scold him for irresponsible actions soon to be taken.
No, he wouldn't be leaving a mark. Not this time. He would quietly pack his things and leave.
"Hey, Spock," Jim whispered almost inaudibly, afraid of the answer even though the Vulcan wouldn't be able to give any. "If it was me, if our roles were reversed, would you stay?"
He tenderly took the unusually cold hand into his and rested his forehead against it.
"Would you stay to captain the Enterprise without me? Or would you leave? Run away like I will? Maybe help rebuild the Vulcan race or whatever it is you would be doing without this job?"
He laughed bitterly and rested his head in his crossed arms on the bed.
"Of course you wouldn't. YOU would never run from duty. You were always better than me. It should have been me. It WOULD have been me if you hadn't sacrificed yourself.” He breathed out slowly and hid his anew tearing up eyes between his arms.
“I have to tell you something,” he admitted voicelessly.
“This is…” He stopped, lifting his head with a visible frown, staring at the peaceful face on the bed. “Well, this is probably my last chance to say it, so… Bones told me you might be able to hear me. Don’t know what good it’ll do, considering… But, anyway… I…”
All of this was so wrong.
Spock was supposed to be here, conscious. He was supposed to tell him how irresponsible it was to go down on that planet. He was supposed to tell him that the captain was irreplaceable, and Jim would have argued with him about that until the end of time, and they would have come to a silent truce eventually and then everything would have repeated itself.
“Hey, Spock,” Jim started, voice shaky. “Do you remember that one time when I royally screwed up because I didn’t listen to you and you lied to the admiralty for me?”
He slowly took the Vulcan’s hand, his own trembling.
“I know you insisted on pretending that you hadn’t done it for me and ‘could never lie to anyone, you are aware of that, Captain’, but I knew the truth. And you knew I knew.”
He tightened his grip on the other’s hand unconsciously.
“I realized something then. We have always been friends, ever since you walked on that bridge again, accepting me as your captain. But…” He trailed off, averting his eyes so that they came to rest on the dents in the bedframe. “In that moment I knew what the other Spock had meant. Hell, I knew what it ALL meant. It suddenly made sense. My life, this great big ‘destiny’ everyone keeps talking about – it all comes down to this. This simple… feeling.”
He leaned forward at that, his mouth so close to Spock’s ear that he was certain the Vulcan could feel his unsteady breathing.
“I love you, Spock,” he whispered hoarsely. “And you were supposed to love me back. I know you were. Maybe you did already. Maybe you do. Maybe you figured it out before I did, and I’m sorry it took me so long to catch up, but I did.”
He chuckled humourlessly, allowing his free hand to play with Spock’s hair.
“I should have said something sooner. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry,” he whispered, tears rolling down his cheeks again. “It should have been me. It was supposed to be me. I was never supposed to be left behind. You know I can’t-“
His voice broke, and he buried his face in Spock’s shoulder, letting his tears run freely this time.
“I’m not strong enough. I need you by my side, okay?! You know I do. What good is a captain without his first officer?”
He wanted to hit something, smash something, scream until his throat was sore, but he couldn’t. He wouldn’t.
He wouldn’t leave marks.
He fell asleep eventually, face resting on his arms, at Spock’s side. He was plagued by horrible nightmares, all of them depicting the Vulcan’s demise and Jim’s bottomless loneliness in one way or another, and when he finally felt a warm hand resting on his head that awoke him from his misery, he was grateful. Even if it meant bad news.
“You are crying,” a scratchy voice noticed quietly, prompting Jim to jump out of his seat and take a few steps back in horror.
“What the-“ he said over the sound of the chair hitting the floor behind him, staring at the bed with undisguised disbelief.
Spock flinched at the commotion, but otherwise stayed silent, observing the captain with tired eyes.
“How the fuck is this even possible?” Kirk breathed shakily, looking around the sickbay to see if anyone else was present.
They were alone.
“A dream?” He asked himself more than the Vulcan, but it was the latter who answered.
“No, Jim, not a dream,” he forced out, his throat impossibly dry. He ignored the burning pain and regarded the other man carefully. “However, I do believe a commendation for the doctor is in order.”
Kirk was silent for an impossibly long moment before he took a step towards the bed.
“Bones?” He asked cautiously. “He said there was no antidote.”
“And he was right,” the Vulcan nodded weakly. “There was not. Until he found one, that is.”
Jim stared at his first officer with awe.
“He really wasn’t kidding when he told me he was the best,” he noticed with quivering chuckles. “That fucking bastard. He could have told me he could save you! Shit, I was here the whole time, how could he not wake me up for this bit of not-so-unimportant information?!”
“I believe that doctor McCoy thought it best to let you rest for the time being,” Spock said quietly. “You had been awake for a very long time.”
“I could have handled- wait.” He fixed the Vulcan with a suspicious glare. “How do you know that?”
“Jim…” The Commander seemed uneasy under his gaze, the slight tensing of his shoulders giving him away.
“You could hear me, couldn’t you?”
Spock met his eyes motionlessly, and the silence was deafening for Jim.
“The whole time?”
Jim started to uneasily walk up and down the room, daring a few glances towards the bed.
“I see. That, er… That wasn’t really the plan.”
“You said-“ Spock was about to remind him, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to let that happen.
“No, shush, I didn’t,” he interrupted the Vulcan quickly. “You can’t hold anything I said at your deathbed against me, okay? Those are the rules.”
“I was unaware any such regulations existed,” Spock responded drily, observing the blond’s frantic walking with interest.
“I am the captain, I MAKE the rules,” Kirk reminded him sternly.
“I see,” Spock said slowly. “Jim… May I make a request?”
“Wha-? Sure, sure,” the other waved off lazily. “Whatever you wish. You almost died, after all.”
“Indeed. In that case, could I please request you to stay in one spot for more than a second? Following your movements is… exhausting.”
Jim immediately rushed to his side and remained there.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, cursing himself internally. “I forgot. You must be tired. I should leave you to rest.”
“No!” Spock stopped him quickly when he made a move towards the door. When he turned around he saw that the Vulcan had jerked up in his bed and the monitors were screaming blue murder at him.
“Spock,” he scolded him worriedly, hurrying to his side swiftly. He checked the Vulcan’s readings with concern, noting with relief that they returned to normal almost instantly. “You shouldn’t move around so much. You’re still recovering.” He gently grabbed Spock’s shoulders and helped him to slowly lie down again. When he made an attempt to move away, the Vulcan captured his hand in a death grip, eyes burning into his with urgency.
“Jim,” he said hoarsely. “The answer is no.”
“You asked me a question before. Whether I would stay if you weren’t there as my captain,” the Vulcan explained. “The answer is no. I would not.”
“Of course you would,” Kirk mumbled, embarrassed at his earlier outburst. “Who would take care of my lady if we’re both gone?”
“Jim,” Spock said gravely, using his other hand to completely enclose the other man’s with his. “The Enterprise is nothing but an empty hull without you.”
The captain regarded him with a calculating look before he took a deep breath and pressed their lips together as hard as he could. When Spock didn’t shy away, he dared licking the other’s hot lips and almost jerked back when the mouth under his opened against all odds.
He allowed himself to get lost in their desperate battle of control over things that were way beyond their command while he let go of all the bottled up frustration and pain he had felt during the past hours in Spock’s arms.
He hadn’t even noticed the tears streaming down his face until his friend, who suddenly was more, released his hands in favour of his shoulders and held him in a tight embrace. Jim wondered briefly when he had crawled onto the bed, but decided that question wasn’t as pressing as other matters at the moment.
He buried his face in Spock’s shoulder and clung to his warm body for dear life, ignoring how pathetic he must look at the moment.
“If you ever tell anyone about this, I will maroon you on Delta Vega,” he threatened weakly, breathing the Vulcan’s scent in deeply.
“Understood, Captain,” the Commander smiled, tightening his grip a fraction. “There is, however, something I wish to discuss with you.”
“You insinuated earlier that it was my destiny to survive you. I strongly disagree. I have no more intention of living without you than you do living without me,” Spock said quietly. “You cannot expect me to watch you die while I idly stand by.”
“Well, Mr Spock, in that case we seem to have a problem,” Jim replied sternly, lifting his head to squint at the Vulcan. “You sacrificing yourself for my sake is simply unacceptable.”
“Well, I’m the captain, so I have the last word,” Kirk reminded him.
“In this particular case, CAPTAIN, I find I cannot comply with your wishes,” Spock said undeterred.
“Oh? Refusing orders, are we Spock?” Jim smirked. “Whatever am I going to do with you now? Is this a mutiny?”
“I will not allow it, you know that,” Kirk said quietly.
“Then you misunderstand,” Spock explained with determination. “I will not be giving you a choice.”
Jim grunted in frustration and buried his face in the Vulcan’s shoulder again.
“You stubborn bastard,” he mumbled almost inaudibly.
Spock said nothing, but one of his hands found itself in Jim’s hair, stroking it gently for a while until the man had calmed down again.
“Jim,” the Vulcan said eventually, breaking the peaceful silence surrounding them.
“Hm?” the captain grunted tiredly, half-asleep already.
“I love you too.”
Jim smiled at that, blindly grabbing for Spock’s hand, squeezing it tightly when he found it.
And maybe that would be enough. For now, it was all he needed.
No, he wouldn’t leave any marks this time.
But Spock had left a mark on him. And this mark- this mark would stay with him forever, no matter where he went. It wasn’t a dent in a bed or a crack in the wall. It was an imprinting in his heart, his mind, perhaps even his soul. No one and nothing could erase it, and that’s how it was meant to be.
Spock had left a mark on him – and Jim liked to think that maybe he had left one on the Vulcan too.