Place: Months after the movie, relies heavily on events that happened in it.

Disclaimer: These men and their universe are not mine, more's the pity.

Summary: Spock, in typical Vulcan fashion, has withdrawn himself from the Enterprise, her crew, and most especially her Captain, and Jim is determined to find out why, even if it kills him.


What Lies Beneath

By: Ragdoll / Keshka

If a Vulcan has an emotional reaction, and there's no one around to see it, does it still have any significant impact?

This was a question Jim Kirk had been given ample reason to ponder in the last few months. It had taken a great deal of time, an even greater deal of effort, and a slight mishap with a bottle of what might have been an illegal alcoholic beverage, but he thought that, at last, he might have the answer.

If a Vulcan had an emotional reaction, regardless of whoever was there to see it or not see it, it most certainly had an impact. In fact, it had an impact about a mile wide and at least four-hundred people long, because there was just no other way to explain how the entire operation of the Enterprise seemed to be effected by the unseen, unheard, presumably impact-less meltdown of his second in command.

All right, so Jim couldn't say for sure that a meltdown had actually occurred. But he'd come to the conclusion that there simply had to have been – it was either that or, possibly, some severely disturbing cycle of Vulcan biology that made them do bat-shit-crazy things for no apparent reasons, and only hit them when it was most inconvenient for their Human shipmates and Human commanding officers. And Jim had not the first clue about Vulcan biology, but he was seriously learning toward the former explanation.

It was times like this that Jim really, really hated being Captain.

As he stood impatiently with his hands planted on his hips in the corridor outside his First Officer's quarters, he tried hard to ignore the various stares and whispers of the crew that drifted his way. It wasn't as though the Captain of a ship could walk around it incognito, but it was almost disturbing how he could hardly get three feet in any direction aboard the Enterprise without someone acknowledging either his rank or his station. Even dressed today as he was, in civilian clothing, it hadn't stopped people from snapping to attention in the halls, saluting in rigid military style, or dropping whatever various pieces of work they were completing to pay him their respects. This was a consequence of command he truly hated and was doing his best to derail. Non-fraternization rule? What non-fraternization rule?

But the circumstances of his crew's regard had never bothered him in quite the same manner as it did at this moment. He had no doubt that at least half of those people whispering about him behind his back were laughing at him. Or possibly taking bets on how long it took him to cave this time. It wasn't every Captain that had to practically beg to get an audience with his First Officer.

There had, of course, been no answer the first two times Jim buzzed for entry, even though he had the computer verify both times that Spock was currently located in his quarters. But he wasn't about to let that stop him. He figured that a Human on a mission was at least half as stubborn as a Vulcan determined to play at being a living iceberg.

Besides, if Spock didn't let him in by the fifth ring, he had no less than three subroutines stored in the ships memory banks specifically designed to override the Vulcan's privacy lock. Not to mention his personal command code as Captain, though he was hoping to avoid that. He'd come prepared this time, having learned his lesson from standing out here like an idiot the last two times.

He thought he could have asked Uhura for the access code, and she probably would have given it to him, but Uhura wasn't speaking to him these days. Actually, she wasn't speaking to anyone at all these days. Having your long-time-friend-short-time-lover turn you out of their life for no particularly obvious reason, and with not a word of explanation, could do that to a person. Uhura would be all right. But Jim knew he had to get to the bottom of this, for her sake if for no one else's (okay, maybe for his sake too).

He actually ended up buzzing eight times before he gave it up as a lost cause. Subroutine one failed (Spock too, it seemed, had surmised his Captain might arrive prepared for difficulties), but subroutine two worked like a charm.

Ha, he thought, mentally thumbing his nose at all the skeptics who'd been predicting his failure. It wasn't just any local farm boy who could reconfigure complex computer programming like the Kobayashi Maru and get away with it.

The wave of heat that reached out and plowed into Jim the moment he stepped into the dimly lit quarters was like the most sweltering summer he could ever remember experiencing in Iowa. It was the sort of hot, enclosed inferno that immediately made sweat break out all over his body, discomfort gathering on the nape of his neck and travelling swiftly and unerringly downward. He stumbled, the doors swishing closed behind him.

"Computer, return ambient temperature in these quarters to ship-wide normal."

The gentle chirrup of acknowledgment was followed immediately by a wash of coolness as the environmental controls replaced the air already present. He took a deep breath, goosebumps breaking out all over his bare arms at the sudden shift in conditions. Damn. Either Spock was trying to subtly blast him out, or that was how he always preferred his quarters. Reminder to self, Jim thought, never visit Spock in these quarters unless absolutely necessary, or in the event that it becomes unavoidable, stock plenty of emergency icepacks.

"It seems particularly ill-mannered to break into a person's private quarters and then proceed to alter their existing configuration, Captain."

Jim tried not to jump, tried not to look like as though he hadn't had the faintest clue that Spock had been over in the sleeping alcove (even though he was plainly visible from where Jim stood, and even though Spock was making no attempt to hide himself) but his efforts at dignity were a lost cause, really. His Vulcan First knew him well enough to know when he'd scored a point in their ongoing battle of (companionable) one-upmanship, and that had been quite a significant point.

"Well next time I buzz for entry have them fit for a visiting Human who can't comfortably breath fire, Mr. Spock, and that way I won't have to start rearranging the furniture."

"I had thought my lack of response to your repeated efforts at entry would be enough to communicate my desire for solitude, sir." The Vulcan was mostly in shadow, so it was a little disturbing how his low, baritone voice seemed to issue from a well of nothingness. Jim was also disconcerted to note that though he was sitting, rather than lying, on the small Starfleet-issue bed, he was out of uniform. Well, what had he expected? That Spock carried on all his private and professional affairs dressed in science blues? But, damn, he had to admit, the thick black robe, or whatever it was he was wearing, looked particularly good on him, suiting he cast of exotic features perfectly.

Right, he thought, that was getting off-track.

"Don't worry Spock, if your latest performance hadn't done it, I'm sure I would have gotten the message the last two nights I've tried to talk to you. I mean, it's a little hard to miss when the closest I can get to a conversation with you is by having one with your door."

"Then I fail to see why you felt the need to invade the privacy of my quarters if you were already aware of my wishes."

"Oh, I'll get to that Spock. Believe me, that's only one of the topics I'm planning to cover here tonight."

"Then I am sorry, as always, to sabotage your strategy Captain, but I am unavailable at this time for a discussion of that nature." He rose from the mattress, a shadow detaching itself from the night, and took three steps in Jim's direction. Jim firmly suppressed the instinct to step backward, aware that the door sensors would part for him automatically if he did so. The last thing either of them needed was an audience to this little argument. And he had no doubts that it was definitely going to be an argument to remember.

"I would appreciate your respect of my wishes on this subject, Captain," Spock said, his solemn eyes as diamond hard as they had been for the last month. There was no softness to them, no invitation to press for more, no indication of his Human half at all. It was as though the Spock that Jim had come to rely on in the first few weeks of his command had simply vanished, having been usurped by this imposter and then buried beneath a mountain-sized wall of logic that had about as much give in it as a pile of tritanium-reinforced-bricks.

Jim missed his friend. Granted, it was a friendship that some days seemed to rely solely on their ability to needle one another more accurately than any other person in the galaxy, but it was nonetheless one of the most essential relationships he could ever recall having, bar none. And he damn well wanted it back, thank you very much.

"Sorry Spock, this is one of those times when you're just going to have to trust in my Human intuition to know when your wishes are going to result in consequences neither of us would be very happy with."

"Happiness is a Human emotion, Captain."

"No, Spock," Jim said in exasperation, "happiness or unhappiness is something resulting from a situation that incites an emotional response, something which both of our species are prone to. And don't even try and tell me otherwise, I have your own words to prove it."

"I have never made such a claim."

"The other you."

Spock's black eyes snapped in momentary irritation, and the relief at seeing even so small a twinge of reaction momentarily derailed Jim's previous line of thought.

"My counterpart has made several unusual declarations that I have recently found to be in error. I assure you that this is one of them."

"Lying to me now, Spock?" Jim asked softly, mind whirring away at that last. There was a world of insight to be gained from even just the few sentences Spock had already spoken to him, but especially from the last two. If he wasn't mistaken, he could swear that Spock was pissed at… well, Spock. Jim wondered what the older man could have possibly said to his much younger self that would have put Spock in this much of a depression over it. And he had no doubt that Spock was depressed. He was wearing all black for crying out loud (even if it did look good on him).

"Vulcan's do not lie, Captain."

"And another lie within a lie, Spock; I think you're losing your edge. You can't tell me your – let's call him our mutual acquaintance – didn't lie to me about the disastrous possibilities of you and he meeting face to face."

Spock was more than irritated now, he was becoming angry; Jim could see it in the stiff posture of his body, the line of tension marking his folded hands. "I see I have made an error in sharing that information with you. I had thought it necessary at the time that you be made aware of his interference, but it merely seems to have given you the false impression that you retain a greater understanding of myself than I do."

"Oh," Jim said, in a voice he'd specifically designed, with great pains, to irritate McCoy in the fastest way humanly possible, "I have no doubt that I do. I wouldn't break into your quarters for anything less than the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tell you to your face that you're being an idiot, Mr. Spock."

Deceptively slender and skillful hands whitened, clenching hard into fists. "I will not allow you to speak to me in such a manner."

Jim smiled at him, the same devil-may-care expression he'd worn on the bridge months ago, saying the exact same words – "Then stop me, Spock."

His First took one solid step toward him and Jim crouched into a defensive posture, prepared to use speed instead of brute strength this time. That was a lesson he'd learned too well; against a Vulcan's (or a Romulan's) superior physical capabilities he had no chance, but in maneuverability he was at least on par, if not more able. The safer tactic would have been to step back into the corridor, but he couldn't, wouldn't, do that. For both their sakes.

Appearing to realize that history was about to repeat itself, he watched as the Vulcan reigned himself in, pulling up short and closing his eyes to regain his composure. Jim straightened up in a hurry and stepped forward into his personal space; breaking through that exasperating emotional control was his best weapon against Spock's internal monologue of logic. He couldn't afford to let the moment fade away.

"Tell me what he said to you that you're having doubts about. Tell me what 'declarations' he's in error over."

Spock opened his eyes, the storm once again leashed, but it hovered threateningly at the very backs of his pupils, and Jim thrilled to notice it there. Spock was very close to the edge, exactly as Jim had been hoping. He was gong to get the truth out of his Vulcan companion if it killed them both. And it just might.

"I have said I do not wish to speak of this, sir."

"No, you've said you have no wish for company, but at the moment you've got no choice in the matter Spock, so live with it. Tell me what he said. Look at it logically. You are I are the only two people in this galaxy who know the true identity of the respected elder who's planning to pioneer the efforts of the new Vulcan colony. As Captain of the Enterprise, which happens to be the flagship of the Federation – of whom Vulcan is still a member, I might add – I should be made aware of all concerns which might pertain to him in any way, shouldn't I?"

Spock stared at him, looking as though he'd just bitten into an unusually sour lemon at this calculated show of logic from a Human who was almost invariably as illogical as it was possible to be. "That is not what motivates your desire to know."

"But it is a valid reason. C'mon Spock, just tell me."

Spock turned his head to the side and Jim was treated to his profile, stark in the low lighting, silhouetted against the large viewport of stars behind him. He looked, Jim noted as dispassionately as possible, like a marble carving of an old Greek God come to life, burnished in ebony and ivory and as just as still, just as timelessly beautiful, caught in a moment of agonized indecision.

Jim, you old horndog, he admonished himself tiredly. He's your First Officer and your friend. The rest of it can wait. Get a hold of yourself.

At last Spock spoke, without looking at his Captain, aiming his words instead into the shadowed interior of his quarters. Jim had to strain to hear his quiet voice over the pounding of anticipation in his veins. Finally, finally they were getting somewhere.

"He advised me to remain in Starfleet, as you are already aware. He told me that I would – discover my greatest potential here, and the relationships which would define me in unexpected and necessary ways. That I should allow myself to be selfish, if only in this one decision. His exact phrasing was, to quote, that I should – 'do what I feel is right'."

"Ah," Jim said, somewhat perplexed, but hell, he'd never met another Vulcan quite like Ambassador Spock. That was a man who knew himself well enough, knew his own internal workings well enough, to be comfortable with whatever form they took. A man who was well used to having and dealing with all manner of natural reactions to a given situation, and who did not hold himself apart from his emotions as though they were a plague, but rather, embraced them as part of who he was. Jim had never met another man so astonishingly at peace with himself, and he suspected he might never again, either. "Well. Odd instructions coming from a Vulcan, but –"

"Odd?" Spock swung his head around to stare at him, and Jim froze at the spike of fear that darted through him. Spock's eyes were dark pools in his face, as deep as the black hole they had barely escaped from. And in their depths burned a terrible pain that made the breath catch in Jim's throat. "Those instructions are unconscionable. Do what I feel is right? What constitutes right? How am I to know? I have tried to do what I felt was right, only to find myself here, now, with only the tattered remains of myself, my people, and my family, and nothing at all to show for it but empty promises and empty quarters. Which, as you have just proven, are still no guarantee of safety or satisfaction. I am utterly untrained in knowing what feels 'right'. I only know what is acceptable and what is not –"

"And what have you been thinking or doing that's unacceptable, Spock?" Jim interrupted, hearing something from his First that sent all of his command instincts into overdrive. This, here, was the heart of the matter. What had driven Spock to his inexplicable distance from everyone, to his completely unexpected break with Uhura, to his flight from all things even remotely emotional. This was the answer. He could feel it.

Spock turned sharply away, as though Jim had struck him in the face, looking very much like a puppet whose strings had been cut. And Jim was shoving forward before he even knew he intended to, grabbing hold of Spock's elbow and whipping him back around, by sheer force of will, because there was no way he could physically force Spock to do something he wasn't prepared to do. The Vulcan's eyes were clenched closed, his face pinched into nonexpression, except for the thunderous tilt of his brow, the corded arm that practically vibrated with tension in Jim's hand.

"What, Spock? What is it? Tell me!"

"Release me," Spock demanded, tugging ineffectually at his arm, but Jim was far too determined, and knew himself too close to give it up now. He stepped in even closer, until they were almost face to face, practically inside each others clothing, and the heat of Spock's Vulcan body was like walking into these quarters all over again, parching his mouth and flushing his face with a far less tangible burn.

"Don't be a coward, Spock," Jim snarled, watching the flicker of those black eyes, the slight tremor telling him his cruelty had struck pay dirt. "Only a Vulcan coward would refuse to talk about something that's so obviously causing such illogical reactions in him. Only a coward would hide in his quarters to get away from the prying eyes of the people who care about him. Only a coward would dump a beautiful woman like Uhura without so much as a by-your-leave –"

"I need not explain myself to you." Ice and the thin edge of a sharp blade wrapped up in the Vulcan's voice. Some other time Jim would allow himself to give that voice the fear it deserved, but right now he was far too busy capitalizing on the opening it left him. Frustrated by Spock's contrary stubbornness, he fell back on a tactic that had often worked with the other in the past.

"If you don't remember what common courtesy is Spock, you must at least remember what duty is. As Captain, I order you to explain it, to me if not to Uhura."

"You think to order my emotions as though they are dogs to come running at your beck and call, Captain?" And the verbal blade became bloody. "You cannot force me to obey that order. Regulations clearly state that no officer may be coerced to speak of personal matters that have no adverse effect to ship functions –"

"Damn regulations, Spock! Either tell me what's going on with you, or you can tell the McCoy! But either way, you're going to tell someone!" Jim found himself shouting, and vaguely wondered when he'd lost control of this conversation. Have I become too emotionally compromised to keep the ultimate endgame in sight, he wondered. Hadn't this been about getting Spock to talk for his own good? Or was it really about getting him to talk because Jim just had to know?

"I will not," Spock thundered, and in that moment Jim truly believed that, even if he ever might have, he certainly wouldn't now. One day, Jim told himself, he would learn to shut his stupid mouth so it didn't do things like dare his stubborn Vulcan First into withholding vital information.

"Yes. You. Will." Jim growled, shaking him, and he was astonished at the depth of the anger pounding through him, anger at this Vulcan pretender who had offered his hand in something like friendship and something like companionship, who had allowed Jim to take it and strung him along and then – took it back

"Talk to me Spock or so help me, next time it will be you who gets marooned on some God-forsaken planet like Delta Vega!"

"I will not speak of it!"

The Vulcan shoved him, hard. Jim stumbled backwards, banging his hip painfully against one of the stationary tables. Pain and numbness leapt down his leg all the way to the knee, but he couldn't be bothered worrying about it. He was too busy reveling in that familiar feeling of adrenaline, the spike of blood-lust that came with any good fight, the insidious moment of triumph at having broken Spock's control at last.

Now they were getting somewhere.

"Spock," Jim said, petting the Vulcan with his voice because he could see him heaving with violent tremors even from across the room. He reached out with words and wrapped his friend in them, trying to coax now instead of bludgeon. "Can't you see what this is doing to you? Whatever it is, whatever's happening to you, I need you to tell me, for your sake and for this ship. We need you and we don't have you. You might be here in body, but that's just not good enough. You have more to give Spock, and I want it."

The silence was so thick that it echoed. Jim mentally spurred the other on, for the first time in his life regretting his lack of telepathic abilities, because they could probably come in really handy right about now –

"You should have left me on the ship!" Spock's voice, when it came, was the raw, jagged cry of a wounded animal, the terrifying boom of the Enterprise's hull buckling beneath pressure. A Human sobbing in the night could not have been more poignant, more laden with agony, than that whisper. It made something in Jim throb in painful sympathy.

"What?" He asked stupidly, bewildered, and inwardly chastised himself about asking for the flood but not having a handy boat to ride it out in. "Left you on – what ship? Nero's ship?"

"On my ship – his ship. My people were dead, our species in ruin, my mother – you were right Jim, you are always right. Vulcans do not often lie, but it can be done. When we left the Enterprise, I told Nyota that I would come back, but I knew then that it was folly. I gave her the most of myself that I could give, and now that I have done as I said, now that I have returned, I find that I have nothing further to offer her! I knew that the mission would be my death. My sole purpose in attempting it was to save as many other lives as possible before that death arrived."

Jim tried to interrupt, hearing the wildly twisting emotions escalating in his Vulcan friend, but the other's rising voice overrode him.

"I set that ship for a collision course. I set it deliberately. I knew it was the only way to destroy Nero, and I wanted his death more than I wanted to live to see it. The Red Matter was unstable enough to detonate on any impact – I knew it. I had been counting on it. I was prepared to die. In that moment I wished to die. You should not have beamed me back. Now I find that each moment living since then is – is wasted time! What was 'right' for me was the ending I anticipated, the peace I thought would be mine, and I have tried to accept my altered circumstances, but I do not know how to live with this – this meaningless march of days. I do not want to live with this. There is a black hole within me that consumes every thought, every 'feeling' you insist that I have, and I do not know how to stop it, nor even if I wish to."

Spock's voice, which had previously been on the verge of a shout, quieted to a tortured whisper and, stunned, Jim could only strain to hear the last of it, lost in the realization that this was a part of his friend he hadn't known even existed.

"And now you see the complete illogic that faces me, and you must understand why I tell you that I cannot go on this way. That there must be a space beyond this blackness, but I am blind to it. That I could not bear to take any of you to these depths with me, but I cannot free myself of them. That it is pointless –"

"Spock," Jim said at last, forcing himself to speak past the numbness in his lips, the lack of air in his frozen lungs. "Spock, how can you – why would – can't you see –" He took a moment to reorient himself. Logical, Jim, he thought. Plow him with logic; force him to look at his emotions under it, not through it.

"Spock, I don't mean to sound insensitive, but you can't possibly think that you're the only survivor out there who's ever been so ashamed of living, so guilty at being left alive when all around you others died, that you don't know how to continue on with your life. Every last Vulcan in this universe who still lives is in the same boat you are – haven't you wondered if maybe they don't all feel as you do?"

"How they feel," Spock rasped, staring hard at the ground, "is irrelevant. Whether this is a consequence of my mixed heritage, or whether every full-blooded Vulcan feels as I do, it matters little. It is my own emotions that I find unbearable."

"Oh, Spock," Jim said, at an unanticipated loss for words. He stepped closer, putting his hands on those bowed shoulders and squeezing tightly. Spock sagged beneath their comforting weight as though they pained him, and maybe they did, but Jim couldn't find it in himself to withdraw them.

What do I do, he thought, looking at his tortured friend, trying to communicate through touch alone the depth of his understanding, his caring, his support. What can I say to him that will convince him that this will pass, if he would only give himself room to grieve, room to breathe

Oh, but you're a fine one to talk, Jim Kirk, a tiny voice in the back of his head spoke up. This will pass? This will fade in time? Who are you trying to kid? You know the truth of this pain better than a thousand Vulcans. You've lived with it your whole life, beaten and fought your way through it out of stubbornness and raw determination and abject fury, but it's never gotten easier, it's never gotten better

It couldn't be that easy, he thought, clutching at Spock hard enough to hurt. If he thought for a moment that sharing that part of himself with his friend, that – that exposing himself to that kind of vulnerability could help him –

Oh, damn, he thought, Vulcan's aren't the only ones who can lie. Humans do it too; in fact, they do a better job of it. We even lie to ourselves. Bet the Vulcan's can't pull that one off. And this was no time for misplaced humor, but it was just so terribly hilarious, so horrifyingly funny, it was –

"Spock," Jim said, and he was laughing, laughing because it was that or cry, and even despite everything that had been said before this moment, he thought this was probably the ugliest sound that had graced the room to date. He saw the Vulcan jerk upright at it, furious black eyes burning a hole through him as the man stepped right up to him in one long stride, pressing them together from chest to hip to thigh. They were practically breathing each others air, they were so close, and Jim didn't care. He didn't. And finally he had to open his mouth and just say it.

"Oh, Spock. If you think you're the only person in this room who's wanted to die more than they've ever wanted to live, then you haven't been paying attention."

They stared at each, and Jim was still laughing, thinking back to a time with a shiny new sports car, and a stepfather he hated telling him yes and no and it'll be prison for you. And the plan that had almost been his undoing, because the whole time he'd seen that cliff speeding up to meet him, he'd been thinking, if I just took one second longer to put my foot on the break, one instant where I hesitated or forgot what to do, or even if I just – didn't hit it at all, system malfunction, deer-in-the-headlights, whatever – mom would be sad, the fall would be terrifying, but it would all be done, and finished, and over

"You think you're alone, Spock?" He asked, staring into black pits and seeing only his own pain reflected there. "I've been alone my whole life. Maybe you don't have a planet to go home to, but then, I never did. There was never a home that could stand me." And because he was angry, and because it was a violation of his deepest self to tell anyone these things, and because he knew it would hurt the other, he said, "I tried to kill myself for the first time when I was eleven years old. I've been trying every minute of every day since then to get it right, but the universe just keeps spitting me back out bruised and bloody and ready for more. You think I don't know how you feel Spock? I've lived with that feeling for longer than you've known what Starfleet is. Don't tell me I can't understand you. I've been you."

"But you are a successful Starship Captain, awarded a medal of valor, the hero of Earth, surrounded by hundreds of crewmates who respect you, admire you, who seek you out." Jim wasn't sure who Spock was trying to convince, his Captain or himself. "It is illogical to seek death in the face of such overwhelming support."

"Spock," he said, and finally he just had to do it, slipping his arms over the shoulders of his friend, bearing him down until his alien head rested on Jim's shoulder, and he could whisper gently into his ear. "You have that same acclaim, same respect, same support that I do. It's not logical for you to seek death either, giving our similar circumstances."

"I am not seeking death," Spock whispered, and Jim had always known that Vulcans could lie, but not that they could lie so well.

"Oh yes you are. Maybe not as obviously as I did, but just as painfully, just as permanently. You're trying to cut yourself off from everything that makes life livable. And if that's not death Spock, I don't know what is."

The Vulcan's hands were tangled in his shirt like claws, and he was shaking like a leaf in a storm, and Jim couldn't say for certain and didn't dare turn his head to check, but he could have sworn that the other man was crying. He pressed a gentle kiss to that pointed ear, unable to stop himself from offering comfort in the face of such abject misery.

"Why is it always you?" The Vulcan whispered brokenly, sagging against him as though trying to burrow into his skin. Jim clutched him closer. "Why, when others fail to move me, is it always you who…"

A slender hand reached out to touch him, his chin, his cheek, the soft space of his temple where the whisper of alien thoughts hovered just outside his reach. The sound of such painful wonder in his voice made Jim's throat ache with the unfamiliar ghost of tears. "Who are you, to break me so? To stare with such unwavering determination into the heart of Vulcan anger, and be so totally unafraid?"

"I'm just your Captain, Spock. I'm no hero." He laughed, depreciatingly, feeling the sting of a decade of having his self-worth beaten down rear its ugly, vicious head. "I'd have thought this conversation, if nothing else, would convince you of that."

He shook his First, and his friend, hard through the shoulders, hauling him up, until there was nothing between their eyes meeting except the force of their combined passion. "I don't stand up in the face of your anger because it's a brave thing to do, Spock. I do it because you can't do anything to hurt me that hasn't already been done before."

"Is that all that remains for us then?" Spock asked, staring. "Am I to go on only because I know that life is there to be lived, not for any other reason? Will I learn to seek out pain, as you have, to assuage the emptiness inside me?"

"No, Spock!" Jim demanded, above all not wanting that for his friend. "No. You'll find another way. I'll show you how. It won't be like that for you."

"We. We will find another way."

Jim took a breath, considering. Vulcans lie, and Humans lie to themselves, but this was one instance where he couldn't afford that luxury. If he agreed to this he had no doubt that Spock would hold him to it, come charges of mutiny, Starfleet command, hell, or high water. Could he really give up a lifetime of leaping headfirst into danger, because it was the most expedient way to bury what lay inside him, to find a different way with this man at his side, supporting each other as they limped through their combined collections of grief?

I can try, he thought. I'm asking him to do it. And surely, he mused, in an unexpected spark of humor, surely anything a Vulcan can do, I can do better.

"All right, then. We."

"Yes," Spock whispered, and kissed him.

It was surreal. It was so exactly the opposite of what Jim had been expecting that his body engaged automatically before the rest of him did. It was at least several long, frozen seconds before he could pull away, staring blankly.

"What – what are you doing?"

"Do you think I have missed sensing your desire for this, since the first moment you touched me? Vulcan's are telepaths, Jim. It hovers beneath the surface of your skin like traces of diamond trapped in stone that my senses draw out any tricorder would."

Flushing a bright, embarrassed red, Jim tried to disentangle them, but Spock would have none of it, retaining their position with inhuman strength and stiffness. Jim stopped when it became obvious that his efforts were futile, bowing his head in something that felt acutely like shame.

"I'm sorry, my friend," he murmured. "I didn't mean to burden you with this."

"A burden? No, Jim. A gift, perhaps." Fingers as hot as Vulcan's former planet lifted his chin, caught them both in the intensity of their connection, the energy that crackled, had always crackled, between them. "Do you think we could so easily make a pact to change one another if this feeling you possessed was not somehow mutual? Did you think I would allow merely anyone to break into my quarters and force me to reveal myself, even unto this depth of emotion I have already expressed to you?"

"What," Jim sputtered, "You – let me –"

"I hold an A-7 computer rating, the highest that Starfleet has to offer. It is not so easy as that to override the programming that protects my privacy."

"But – but I practically had to twist your arm off to get you to talk! You tried to kick me out a dozen times when I first got in here!"

"A dozen is a gross overestimation, Jim."

Jim stared at him, flabbergasted. "Do you mean to tell me that – that you planned all this from the – that none of this was –" He tried not to feel betrayed, but he couldn't help it, really, he couldn't. Spock had made him feel, and if this had all been some elaborate hoax –

"No," Spock barked quickly, and Jim flinched before he could help it. "No." The Vulcan's was quieter.

"These things that we have spoken of, they were real Jim. As real as the dead sands of my people that were obliterated. I left only the option that you might – seek me out. I knew that no one else aboard would dare push forward where so many others feared to tread. I am not even certain if I was entirely aware of my desire for you to do so, only that I had hoped you might – that is, that you could, somehow, show me the path, as my other self inferred, to a future that was not so – so –"

"Bleak," Jim said quietly.

"Yes. Bleak. I have told you I did not seek death, but that is, as you say – not strictly true. I have – invited death. I have failed myself, and I have failed you." Spock stared at him, confusion and loss etched so deeply into his features that he might have been carved as a living monument to pain, Vulcan's most explicit example of emotional agony. Jim watched in stunned silence as he collapsed to his knees, in some form of entreaty or maybe just too exhausted to hold himself up anymore.

"Oh, Spock," Jim whispered, and he hadn't cried for himself all the years of his life, and he hadn't cried for his mother the hundred times she'd cried for him. But this was the closest thing to crying he thought he might ever have in his ugly, broken life. "You haven't failed anyone. Don't drift away from us. We need you, can't you see that? I need you." You've made me need you, you stupid, imbecilic Vulcan, and I could hate you for it, because I've never needed anyone before.

He bent down, cradling the Vulcan against him, and it seemed the easiest thing in the world, to pull him close, whisper nonsense in his ear, let him cling, cling to him in turn. It was the first time in his life Jim could ever remember caring about someone enough to beg them, for anything. Anything.

"Don't leave me, Spock," he whispered. "Stay with me." He ran his hands through that stiff alien hair, around the elegant point of one ear, to the back of that strong neck. Bent his head, brushed his lips over that feverishly hot brow, across a cheek, against lips that burned like sweet spice against his own.

"I will stay," the Vulcan whispered, the heat of his breath like a desert in Jim's mouth. "I will stay. For you." Words flowed between like filaments of thought, unheard, unspoken, but too real to be imagined. Words like Spock saying, I will stay, because I have found someone who understands the parts of me I cannot speak of. I have found a place now, here, in this universe that has never accepted the whole of what I had to give them. I have found you.

"For yourself."

"Yes," Spock said, sharing pain and grief and anguish with him. "That too. But not yet."

"Not yet," Jim agreed, and he'd never shared a kiss so full of devastation before, but that's what Spock was doing to him. What he was doing to Spock. And he found that, at the very last, he didn't care whether the sharp taste of salt in his mouth were tears from the Vulcan's eyes, tears from his own eyes, or just the bitter tang of desolate understanding and heartbreak that bound them together. Because maybe what they were doing, what they were trying to be for each other, couldn't be called, by any medical definition of the word, healthy. But it could most certainly be called healing.

Jim Kirk hated to lose. To anyone, to anything. He had no intention of losing at what might be his only chance at something truly, uniquely remarkable in this screwed up, illogical, impossible world they lived in. He was going to win, if he had to lie, cheat, kill, steal, or learn to live with his pain, to do it.

And he was going to take Spock with him. If it was the last thing he ever did.


Why I wrote this:

When Spock was piloting his future self's ship, at the end of the movie, he put it on a collision course with Nero's mining vessel. At any time before impact he could have requested an immediate beam-out, but he didn't. Instead it fell to Kirk to give instructions for all of them to be saved.

So the premise of my story: What if some part of Spock didn't want to be saved? What parts of his life might a man who'd been planning to die find it unbearable to live with after?