In that whole hellish week, Jim hadn’t even had a single hour alone with Spock. He couldn’t afford to hog him, not when their lives all counted on Spock and Bones putting their heads together and coming up with something brilliant.
It was hard being useless. He could mostly just play babysitter to Miri, and Janice was better at it; Miri didn’t project a fairy tale of adulthood—or gruphood, as it were—on her in the same way, didn’t have the same kiddish infatuation with her. So he was only second-string there. Otherwise, he couldn’t say he was good for much. What did that make him, on this desolate little Earth off-shoot? Captain of morale? He wasn’t doing such a hot job of that either. Tempers—including his—were fraying.
He had to face up to needing sleep. He’d been matching Spock and Bones on their hours, not wanting to be comfortable while they exhausted themselves, but he needed to close his eyes. God, he needed it. And McCoy had turned in, so he at least wouldn’t be alone in succumbing.
He checked with Janice first, his fingers light on her shoulder. “Are you up, Yeoman? Good for another few hours?”
“Yes, sir. Miri went to spend the night with the other onlies, so everything should be quiet here. But Dr. McCoy has the cot, Captain.”
The cot was a pitiful, bowlegged thing, and Kirk didn’t know that it was much more comfortable than the floor. The Enterprise had beamed them down some pillows and blankets. Little luxuries for the dying.
“I can nest,” he said, making himself smile. “I don’t mind it. And Bones deserves the bed. You take it when he’s done.”
“What about Commander Spock?”
“Vulcans don’t sleep much. He’ll probably carve out an hour or two of meditation somewhere. Mr. Spock runs on his own schedule—much to the chagrin of the ship’s computers. And occasionally of her captain.”
He wanted to make her laugh and he supposed he did, a little, but he suspected she was trying as hard to be charmed by him as he was to charm her, the two of them swimming upstream to act like they weren’t all dying.
They said good night to each other and he went to the adjoining room to make, as he’d said, his nest—only to pick up a pillow and hold it. He found himself staring at it. What did you do with a pillow?
Smothering himself might be a quicker end than he’d have otherwise. This slow corruption, lesion by lesion, their smell vile like rotting fruit—
“I believe you place it beneath your head,” Spock said dryly.
Jim looked up and saw him standing in the doorway, his arms crossed across his chest, his gaze patient and dark.
Oh, what the hell was the point of decorum? They might all be dead in another day. What did it matter if his crew overheard them?
“Well,” he said, “it’s been a while since I’ve had to go to bed without you. Maybe I’ve forgotten how to do it.”
Spock inclined his head, acknowledging either the breach of their usual discretion or the implied compliment or, knowing him, both. “I am waiting for the Enterprise to confirm our latest calculations. Since no other task is pending, I wish to be in your company. I could meditate here if that will not disturb you.”
Even if it did, he didn’t care. “Not at all.”
With Spock there, a landmark of better days, it was easier to get himself to lie down. He stretched out on the hospital floor, wincing a little as he tried to settle. There was no position that didn’t put pressure on one of those glistening, festering wounds.
He had felt them all day. They didn’t hurt until infection set in, but more of them were infected now than not, grotesque little blue-black mouths with inflamed red lips, his skin breaking itself apart. They had more wounds than they had bandages. There was just no point to covering or disinfecting them all, not now, not when all it would be was a waste of time. If they died, it wouldn’t be of blood poisoning. If they lived long enough to worry about that, they’d be back on the Enterprise, where it could be fixed in an hour.
The pain, though—that loomed large in his mind just now. He gritted his teeth, trying to just choose a damn side to lie on and stick with it.
Spock sat down beside him. He let his hand fall against Kirk’s head, his fingers stretching out—
Cool, white light ran through him, falling down the length of his body like rain down a windowpane. The pain boxed itself up, at least for a while.
“Is that better?” Spock said.
“I adore you. Have I mentioned that?”
“You have expressed your affection on many occasions. Since I believe it would persist even if I were unsuccessful in easing your pain, however, that is not an answer.”
“It’s significantly better. Remarkably better.” He moved just enough to rest his forehead against Spock’s thigh.
Spock stroked his fingers back through Kirk’s hair. When his fingers neared a lesion, Kirk flinched.
“I intended to circumvent it,” Spock said. “I have no wish to hurt you.”
“I know. It’s just—they’re ugly, aren’t they?” He heard a catch in his voice, like he was still a boy. Some captain of morale he was. “You’re all—untouched, Spock. I feel like a plague.”
“That is illogical. You cannot spread the disease to me, and I have already become a carrier.” He did not lift his hand and only continued the path his fingers had been on. “And, Jim, I object to two of your premises.”
He couldn’t stop the faint smile that caused. “Enlighten me.”
“I do not find any aspect of you, however temporary, to be ugly. Nor do I enjoy being untouched, as you put it. I have missed touching you.” He ran his thumb along the cusp of Jim’s ear.
Kirk pressed a kiss against Spock’s thigh. He couldn’t think of an answer more eloquent than that. If he’d known their time together would be this short, he’d have touched Spock every day, every hour. They would never have spent a night apart.
If he died here, like this, he’d be leaving Spock alone. Spock might never make it back to the ship.
No wonder he craved touch.
“Here,” Kirk said, “give me your hand.”
“I will give you my other hand. I’m satisfied with the placement of the one in your hair.”
“Either hand, Spock.”
Spock twisted slightly, putting his right hand in Kirk’s reach. Kirk ran one fingertip over Spock’s knuckles, chasing the touch with his mouth; he kissed his way down the length of each finger. He kissed Spock’s palm. He still wasn’t used to the way Vulcan sweat tasted slightly sweet, like honey and salt. This was the main kissing event, on Vulcan, this touching of hands to hands, hands to lips (Kirk had always liked to push). If Vulcans had fairy tales, this would be how you woke Sleeping Beauty. He smiled against Spock’s skin, wondering what all that felt like. It seemed like it couldn’t possibly feel better to Spock than it did to him. To him it had always felt like a wonder.
Maybe he shouldn’t put off finding these things out. “What does this feel like?”
Spock circled Kirk’s ear again. Vulcans and humans, always obsessed with each other’s ears. The ears were always cuter on the other side of the galaxy…
Spock’s voice was quiet. “I can only express that it feels like you.” He squeezed Kirk’s hand and then drew his own back so only their fingertips pressed together. “I am keeping you awake, Jim.”
“And I’m keeping you from meditating.”
He wasn’t ready to give in, not yet. Their situation was bad—all he had to do was look at Bones to know that, to look at him and see the open sore on his face, eating away at his jawbone now—but they’d made it out before with all the devils nipping at their heels. Anything could happen. Their best chance for survival involved him shutting up and letting Spock rest and recharge.
But if it came down to the wire, if there was no time left for them, he wanted this. No pain. Just Spock’s hands in his. One last kiss.
He exhaled, wondering if the slight pain in his chest meant the stuff had made its way into his lungs. He could be rotting from the inside-out now for all he knew.
He just wished they’d gotten to make love one last time before all this. They couldn’t now. That much touch would probably make his body fall apart.
At least they had this—their fingers intertwined now.
He said, “I always love kissing you. This way. Any way, really.” But that was no good, that wouldn’t push them back to the hard business of surviving all this. He opened his eyes a crack, wanting Spock to read whatever was in them: regret, ruefulness. “And are you letting me ramble on because you think I’m dying? Really, Mr. Spock? When we just agreed we both need our rest?”
Spock had that look he got in lieu of a smile, the look that was more expressive than a smile, the one that took up his eyes as well as his mouth. “I do not concede that we must die here, Captain.”
They were back in their roles again, officers on their off-duty shifts, refitting themselves for duty. A very incomplete transition, he had to admit, since they were still holding hands.
“Then I’ll let you meditate your way back to full brilliance,” Kirk said. He knew he should let go—let them get the line between them back in place—but he had his limits. They were lonely and aching and scared and in need of each other. He could work around the kiss; they both could. “You center your mind. I’ll take the simpler task of passing out cold. Good night, Spock.”
“Good night, Jim.”
When he woke up the next morning, he found Bones and Spock already hard at work. Bones looked even worse than before, the worst of his wounds like raw steak a dog had been at, his blue eyes bright with fever. Janice was showing more spots of corruption now. And Kirk’s uniform was stained; some of the abscesses had bled in the night.
But they were all still alive. The clock hadn’t run down yet.
Kirk touched each fingertip to his thumb, trying to figure out how he’d know when it was time to just lie down again and have one last kiss. He had the feeling he’d wait too long. They would miss each other. That was the risk you took, trying to live.
He took a deep breath and walked over to their table.
“All right,” he said. “What can I do?”