He was late. He knew it. Knew he should’ve commed. Knew he shouldn’t have shielded. Knew he shouldn’t have even dragged himself out of bed in the morning, spent a full day at the academy, or walked home. In fact, he knew now that he especially shouldn’t have walked home.
As Jim stepped into the lift and let one weary shoulder crash heavily into the lightly padded wall, he also was aware that he was very feverish and had a pounding headache. The raging inferno of curiosity and ardor that always burned within his hazel eyes had been extinguished, rendering them soulless like wet ashes left in the wake of a blaze. His listless, half–lidded gaze fell to an obscure point on the floor before Jim simply tilted his head into the side of the lift, well aware that it was the only thing keeping him standing.
It was so hot and yet he felt himself shivering and wishing it were possible to transfer all the sweltering heat sloshing his ability to think coherently from his forehead to the rest of his body. Run down and yet needing to function, sweating and yet freezing, needing to have arrived home twenty minutes ago and yet still on his way there, so close and yet so far...
Jim's dry, heated lips were parted as he drew deep and deliberate breaths between them, his stocky chest and robust shoulders visibly rising and falling from the effort.
Jim had somehow survived the utter chaos that had ensued from the moment he entered the academy in the morning, but such a hectic atmosphere was to be expected. It was “Career Day,” after all – a paramount occasion which was so highly anticipated that it had actually been deemed an unofficial holiday on campus. The term was fitting, though, as it was the one time of the year (and, for many, a once in a lifetime chance) in which cadets would have the opportunity to meet their Starfleet idols.
Some honored guests were still actively serving and others were retired. Some had spent their lives in space, others on distant planets, and a few strictly on Earth. However, wherever they served and whatever their achievements, this event brought together some of the greatest living contributors to Starfleet history and sat them down at tables along the far wall of the large indoor auditorium.
Not breaking any traditions from his former attendances of the event, Jim’s line had stretched all the way out the front doors and wrapped around the hallway. He shook the hands of thousands of bright–eyed students who considered him their inspiration, their hero, their north star, the person they wanted to be… The words of awe they spoke went on and on as he extended his hand and smiled his best smile for each individual briefly pausing before him.
Jim had been fully aware that his line would be the longest, and though his body begged him to not leave the recesses of his warm bed at some ungodly morning hour, he had forced himself up.
While he despised the thought of being regarded as a legend, he acknowledged that his presence evoked inspiration and excitement, and would not easily deprive cadets of such enthusiasm. They were the future of Starfleet above anything else, and if his presence incited passion for what would be their future careers and the success of the organization, a little discomfort was a small price to pay.
It was the knowledge that people were counting on him that allowed Jim to power through the day with little sustenance or break time; ironically, it was the same force that kept him alert and functioning for hours on end during those fond and glorious years he spent in the center seat of the Enterprise.
However, once the important decisions were made, the crises avoided, the lives saved, the crew able to once again function normally, would the inevitable crash hit. And, at that moment, that same force would pummel into a very physically and mentally worn out Jim with crippling ramifications.
His judgment that a brisk walk home would help stir up alertness had been a gross overestimation of his current state; when he’d made the decision, a second wind had kicked in and was amplified by all of the excitement happening around him at the academy.
However, as Jim arrived at the entrance of the building which housed his condominium, his feet were dragging and he had to concentrate to stay upright. To think that he had survived all the events of the day only to find himself searching for energy to even lift his arm to the panel of buttons before him would have been comical… if it weren’t true.
Jim’s eyes rose to the circular buttons glowing a pleasing marine blue and he stared at the number twenty three for several seconds before lifting a shaky hand and pressing it. The lift door hatch secured and the platform began its quick journey upward.
As he felt himself elevating, Jim’s arm fell to his side like a lead weight and he stopped fighting to keep his eyes open. The thought of needing to drag himself to the front door, unlock it, and remove his coat seemed suddenly like a chain of super massive tasks strung together, and he winced. Though leaning against a wall wasn’t much consolation to the extreme discomfort of his throbbing head and weakened limbs, it at least offered some support for rest.
The slowing of the lift and subsequent gentle chime weren’t enough to inspire Jim to open his eyes or right himself to a standing position; he remained as he was, his head tilting forward slightly as the door slid open.
The sound of a familiar deep voice calling his name vaguely resonated its way into his mind, and Jim opened his eyes. A pair of polished black shoes came into sight.
His flushed face rose slowly when he felt a hand grip the bicep of his free arm, and he was met with the image of Spock, who was wearing his coat and a very conspicuous look of concern. It was odd that he turned up here, considering he was supposed to be inside cooking dinner, but his presence was as relieving as it was perplexing.
Through heavy breaths, Jim’s brows knitted down in confusion, and with his lips still parted, he stared vacantly at his bondmate for several seconds before softly panting out, “Spock…”
There was no opportunity for Spock to issue a reply, as Jim’s eyes closed and he lurched forward immediately after. He crashed right into the softness of a Vulcan chest and then felt two arms encircle him protectively, supporting him to remain on his feet. Once he was balanced against his new crutch, Jim felt one hand slip up his frame and gingerly press upon his burning forehead.
The sound of Spock gently whispering his name again feathered into his ear and he felt an arm slip beneath one of his own and then across his back, guiding him out of the lift.
The rest was a blur. They were moving, pausing at the door to their condo, and then moving again. Jim’s head hung and he kept his eyes closed as he let Spock lead him through the living space and into their bedroom. He barely noticed his coat being removed and then his clothing, but definitely felt the comfort of his aching body being gently coaxed down onto a soft mattress and covered with warm blankets.
His eyes squeezed shut from the pain in his head he could only fully realize once the pressure was taken from his debilitated frame. A sharp breath was inhaled through clenched teeth as he attempted to will his throbbing temples to still themselves, but to no avail.
Jim’s left arm was suddenly pulled from beneath the covers bundled on top of him, and he barely felt the pinch of a hypo needle penetrating his flesh. Once it was removed and his arm tucked back in, it was but several short moments before he felt the luxury of something cold and damp against the burning skin of his face.
His eyelashes slowly parted, vision temporarily doubled until it focused on the calm face hovering closely above his own; Spock was standing at his side of the bed and leaning over him, regarding him with a gentle albeit concerned gaze. Jim stared into the serene dark brown eyes he knew so well as he took in the pleasing sensation of a cool cloth dabbing across his forehead.
"Spock…" Jim whispered, the inner corner of his brows easing up.
"Rest, Jim," Spock replied, and though his words were uttered quietly, they carried great warmth. "I am here."
It was redundant to say so, but humans often took comfort in such reassurance, even if it meant stating obvious facts.
"Thank you." The reply was breathed softly through Jim's lips as his eyelashes fell again out of necessity rather than desire.
Spock blotted the cloth down both sides of Jim’s deeply blushed face, lingering for only a moment as he quietly admired his bondmate's features which had remained handsome even with the passing of decades. The creases and wrinkles that had deepened upon Jim's skin had only heightened Spock's affection for him; he noted on several occasions that though the years had slipped by and changed everything, the adoration shared between Jim and himself only augmented and strengthened.
There was no such thing as a fathomless ocean, but it seemed the only description that would do justice to the feelings and regard they both harbored – as illogical of a metaphor as it might have been. It was the balancing factor which allowed one to share in the other's pleasure in good times, and instilled a pride in having the privilege of taking care of him in times of illness or misfortune. Spock ran the damp towel across Jim's brow once more before placing it on the side table.
Next, he slipped an arm behind the human's shoulders and let Jim’s head nestle into the crook of his arm as he sat him up just enough to be at a safe angle to drink. Spock then presented a glass of cool water to the pair of dry lips and allowed his feverish bondmate to take several gulps before pulling it away and gently returning him to his pillow.
The glass was returned to the nightstand and Spock picked up the cloth once more, first folding and then placing it over Jim’s forehead. He took care to brush a few stray silver locks up and away before finally straightening himself into a standing position at the edge of the bed.
Jim remained still as he heard the Vulcan's footsteps softly falling against the hardwood floor as he walked around the bed and to his own side. Next came the rustling of covers beside him and the feeling of the mattress moving. Jim's eyes opened when he felt a hand touch his far arm and pull him gently on his side.
Nose–to–nose, their eyes met.
Jim felt Spock's hand travel up to the back of his head, the long fingers slipping through locks of hair before docking in place. Though he was still at the mercy of his fever and chills, the hypo had worked quickly to alleviate Jim's headache. Heavy hazel eyes just stared out into the dark orbs he'd both lost and found himself in countless times throughout his life.
"Spock," he quietly uttered, extending his left arm across the small space between them and letting his fingers hook into the dark robe the Vulcan wore. Silence persisted between them for several seconds before Jim's brows barely furrowed. "How did you know I was outside?"
The Vulcan simply shook his head against the pillow and answered with the raising of his eyebrows, "I did not."
Jim squinted, whispering, "Then how–?"
"Jim." His velvety deep voice emanated across the short distance separating them. Spock's digits flexed gingerly within the hair in which they were entwined. "When you did not arrive on time and did not answer my attempts to establish communication, it was my intention to look for you."
A breath pushed out from between human lips and Jim's consternation faded into a look of unease. Though Spock didn't appear or sound angry, Jim's failure to communicate clearly caused him some sort of distress – exactly what he had wished to avoid. He shielded and neglected his communicator to spare Spock the discomfort of knowing how progressively ill he felt throughout the day. In hindsight, he realized that may have been worse.
"I'm sorry," Jim rasped, closing his eyes and letting his head fall forward.
"There is no need," Spock gently replied and then shifted himself close enough to eliminate the space between them. His strong arms possessively encircled Jim and pulled his body tightly against his own. Letting his lips fall into the graying human hair, Spock nuzzled against it before he softly spoke again, "You must sleep to restore your health. Rest now. I will not leave your side."
Jim's digits tightened on Spock's robe for a half-hearted moment and then unclenched as he finally allowed his mental shields to lower. Instead of the apprehension he expected, a rush of affection flooded into his side of the bond, overwhelming him with comfort and warmth that filled him so completely that it stopped his shivering. He allowed himself to be utterly soothed and consumed by these feelings that were entirely genuine and pure.
"I love you." They were the last words Jim murmured minutes later, as Spock's warmth and the working medicine quickly encouraged him to succumb to his exhaustion and lulled him into slumber.
When a brighter pair of hazel eyes fluttered open the next morning, Jim found himself still tightly wrapped within Spock's embrace. The washcloth placed across his brow had slipped off of him at some point during the night and worked its way above his hair. He nudged it as he lifted his head against the pillow to catch a glimpse of the Vulcan who slept beside him peacefully.
Jim studied Spock's angular face before him as he felt a deep and constant transfer of affection to his side of the bond. He closed his eyes for a moment. Even during his sleep, Spock projected his love like a steadily flowing river. Jim responded by tightening his arms around the lean Vulcan frame and pushed forth his own adoration through the silken ribbons that perpetually joined their minds.
In all of the years that Jim knew him, Spock had insisted that Vulcans were incapable of a “human activity” named dreaming. However, once he reopened his eyes, Jim was inclined to believe that perhaps his bondmate's half heritage was shining through because the corners of Spock's lips suddenly twitched into a tiny smile as he slept.
Though Jim's fever had broken, he was still feeling run down and sluggish. While he would normally force himself to stand up and start the day with a cup of strong coffee, he could think of nothing he wanted more now than to remain tightly wrapped up in Spock's arms and fall back asleep. He closed his hazel eyes, settled back into the covers, and drifted off to some beautiful place his mind created with soft sands, calm waves, and his head in Spock's lap.
Jim gazed up at Spock's face gorgeously contrasting the azure sky and felt those familiar Vulcan hands caressing the sides of his face.
“Sleep,” Spock whispered to him gently over the calming sound of the tide lapping at the beach. "I am at your side."
Jim's eyes softened as he fondly looked up for several seconds before closing them, a faint smile upon his supple lips.