Disclaimer: I obviously don't own Star Trek or the bits here and there from "Amok Time."
Jim had grown up in a town full of farms, where trees had been as few and far between as forward thinking. All he had had to do was sit on the front porch to see when thunder and lightening had been approaching, to catch that whiff of ozone on the gathering wind.
He knew the calm before a storm when he saw it. And one had been brewing for weeks now.
He had not asked Spock about it; there had been no reason to. Jim's instincts, much as his first officer had learned to respect them in crisis situations, were hardly valid when it came to a straight-up debate with his lover. Spock would want evidence and Jim blurting out that he had seemed distant lately would not qualify, he knew this.
There had been times these past days when Jim, trying to work out what Spock might say to such a question, had managed to convince himself -- in Spock's voice -- that he had nothing to worry about. That this was all in his head. What had made him believe something was wrong in the first place? Spock was always withdrawn. It had taken Jim months to crack through just the first layer of the walls the Vulcan had built around himself.
But once on the inside of them, was he ever supposed to be put outside again? Anyone else might not have noticed the difference, but Jim was not anyone, had not been for some time.
Spock had not stopped accepting invitations, but he had stopped extending them. Quips with McCoy had more bite behind them, his humor shone through less, and this was the first night Jim had cajoled him into sharing a bed in a week and a half.
And there had been no sex. Had he mentioned that? Because that was important. Yeah.
Not that that part had exactly been Spock's fault. Jim had not warned him he would be waiting in his bed for fear Spock would have told him not to bother, and he had fallen asleep waiting for him to return from the labs (where he had been spending more and more time lately -- maybe Jim could use that as evidence).
Jim had woken for a brief few moments when Spock had slipped into the bed behind him and, finding an arm quickly draped over his waist with no coaxing needed from him, had gone back to sleep.
Jim blinked an eye open, peeking out from the pillow, but the room was still dark and he was facing the bulkhead. His gaze roved wildly over what he could see and, finding it wasn't much, he rolled to his back, chest sticky with sweat and sighing when he almost toppled into Spock; these beds were really not made for two.
He flopped his head over to look at his bedmate and stared, curiously. Spock never moved or made noises in his sleep; Jim would never have assumed that he was what had woken him. Usually it was the cramped bed or, when they slept in Spock's quarters like now, the heat.
Not so, tonight.
Spock mumbled something inaudible that may not have even been Standard, and Jim's eyes widened. He had never heard Spock speak any way but clearly and evenly in all the time he had known him, had never heard him speak Vulcan at length either. He assumed he did with his father, but Jim had never been privy to their meetings. He did not even know if Sarek knew about him, outside of his being Spock's commanding officer.
And he did not know if Spock spoke with his counterpart at all.
Jim propped himself up on his elbows. He wondered if he should find this a cause for concern or amusement; he was sleepy enough to be leaning toward the latter. He could feel that a goofy half-grin had broken out on his face without his permission, and he leaned closer, trying to make out any discernible words.
Spock's brow furrowed and Jim's did as well when he noticed the fine sheen of sweat on the other's forehead. Such a Human reaction, one Jim had rarely seen in Spock, and he shifted nearer again.
"Spock," he whispered, and Spock gave a tiny moan, like he might have recognized his name. Jim swallowed and reached a hand out, pressing it to Spock's face, but Spock was always hot -- would Jim even know unhealthy warmth when he felt it?
There was no opportunity to decide. Mere seconds after Jim felt clammy skin beneath his fingertips, Spock's eyes snapped open and he surged up and over Jim, one hand pushing at his shoulder and the other at his throat, forcing him back onto his back.
Jim froze as Spock did, face shocked and breathing heavy and erratic, staring up into wild dark eyes. Neither moved -- Jim was terrified to. His hands fell either side of his head, raised like he was being arrested, fingers clenching, unsure.
Spock stared at him and Jim made himself breathe.
"... Jim," Spock whispered eventually. Jim blinked in reply; the fingers at his neck could easily prevent words. Spock's eyes fell to his hand and the fingers loosened, thumb stroking over Jim's Adam's apple with purposeful tenderness. Then he exhaled and lowered his head, burying his face against Jim's shoulder. "T'hy'la..."
Jim gazed at the ceiling, adrenaline still flooding his limbs, then closed his eyes and breathed out, lifting a shaky hand to the back of Spock's head.
He did not sleep the rest of the night.
"Don't you think you should be talking to him about this?" McCoy asked him two days later when waiting for Spock to bring it up hadn't worked.
"I would," Jim said, watching the doctor scrawl across a data PADD. He knew far more attention was being paid him than it seemed, but it could still be annoying. "Before, I would have, when it was just about him. But what happened... I think he's embarrassed."
"You mean you think it's about you, now."
When Jim looked up from watching McCoy's hands, the doctor was now watching him. "I don't know. That, or... he's dragged me in now when he didn't mean to."
"What do you think it is?"
Jim hesitated. His baser instincts wanted to assume that Spock was angry with him, or worse, losing interest in even that. Jim had never been in a relationship of this length; he didn't know how to navigate this end of the river, nor one with a current this strong. Enough time around McCoy and certified Starfleet psychologists rendered those thoughts easily recognizable as his abandonment issues, but identifying them only helped so much.
Spock was hiding something. If he stripped the situation of his concern for their relationship, he knew that much, and he knew it objectively. As to why he was hiding it from him, Jim could only speculate.
"Whatever it is, he must think I don't need to know," Jim said. Yes, that made sense. If Spock had a problem with him, he would tell him; he was always one to speak directly -- nothing got done otherwise. Even if he wanted to end things, he would tell Jim. The question was whether or not Jim would agree that he didn't need to know whatever this was. His jaw tightened. He would guess not.
"So then, it's personal," McCoy said, and it took Jim a moment to really hear him.
"I assumed," he agreed. "Why do you say that?"
"You're his CO, Jim, and he's painfully aware of it." An eyeroll. "He doesn't have the luxury of hiding the professional from you."
Jim's eyes fell to the doctor's cluttered desk again. "Hm."
"But you know," McCoy leaned forward, threading his fingers together, "if it affects your working relationship, or his performance... the personal can become the professional."
Jim looked up at him.
"If you know what I mean," McCoy smirked.
Jim knew exactly what the good doctor had meant. And he was not above using manipulation in times of diplomacy and the like, but with Spock... it felt low.
He would call it Plan B, he decided. B for Bastard Thing To Do.
Plan A involved an invitation to his quarters under the pretense of chess, and Jim made himself feel better about this by telling himself it was evident in Spock's eyes that he knew Jim would want to talk about "it" when he arrived. Whatever the hell "it" was.
Now he was watching Spock set up the board (Jim's white, this time) and wondering if it was worse to just spit it out, or to wait until the game was underway and lull him into a false sense of security.
Spock should have been asking about his day by now; he used to have a habit of that. They spent most together, but Spock had a way of asking how Jim felt about them, oddly enough; their usual opener for easy conversation throughout the evening.
He was silent tonight.
It was that which made up Jim's mind. He sat, forefinger tapping against his lips and watched Spock arrange the pieces, before deciding that waiting was overrated.
He lowered his eyes in consideration. "Spock," he said, voice weaker than he had meant for it to be. He cleared his throat and dropped his hand to his lap.
Spock glanced up at him. "It is your move, Captain."
"I know." Jim sat up in his seat and leaned forward. How to go about this? Spock never appreciated beating around the bush. "We, uh... need to talk."
Jim cringed the moment the words were out of his mouth. He had never said them in quite the way he meant them now, though he had heard them plenty of times, and around that time in a relationship had always been his cue to cut and run. Women always had to make such a big deal out of everything and he supposed he understood, cerebrally at least, that they had been afraid. Afraid that any problem they neglected to discuss with him would only grow larger. But Jim had never cared, had never been in those relationships to maintain them. Those women had been attempting to prune a bush that he had planned to eventually uproot in the first place.
There was a pause. "Of what, Captain?"
The hesitation may have been taken as confusion by some, but Jim knew better. "Spock," he sighed. "We've talked about you doing that."
"... Jim," Spock obediently amended, though Jim knew it would only last the evening if he was lucky and the instance if he was not. "Of what?"
Jim swallowed. "The other night."
Another pause. "I do not believe I understand."
"Oh, come on, Spock, don't do that." Jim sat back, frustrated. It was difficult enough to bring up any perceived problem without Spock attempting to thwart him. "You wanna play obtuse with Bones, you go right ahead, but this is me. That's not fair."
Spock had the decency to look ashamed, in his own way. "When you extended your invitation, did you wish to play chess or to discuss this?"
Jim set his jaw. "This," he said firmly.
Spock's gaze darted to the chess board. "I see."
"So tell me what happened."
"I apologize, Jim, I should have explained at the time. It was no fault of your own, you simply woke me from a most vivid dream."
Jim considered that. "A dream."
"An... unpleasant dream."
As uncommon for Spock as tossing and turning. "Since when do you have nightmares?"
"As you and Doctor McCoy are so fond of pointing out, Jim, I am half-Human."
Except on the rare occasion Spock was teasing him, it was never a good sign when he was willing to draw attention to his humanity. "Okay," he said. "What was it about?"
Spock arched an eyebrow. "Is the content pertinent?"
Jim shrugged a shoulder. "You tell me."
"I do not know what insight you hope to gain from such information."
"Maybe why you attacked me," Jim spit out, and then because he instantly regretted it, he added almost jokingly, "I know we still have our differences, but I thought we were past that stage in our relationship."
"Jim," Spock said, "I apologize again. It was not my intention to harm you--"
"I know that." How could Spock think he did not? "That's why I want to know what kind of dream would make you." He sighed. "Because I'm not so sure it was an isolated incident."
"You've been strange, lately." Spock looked ready to protest that, so he went on. "Don't pretend you haven't been. If something's wrong, I need to know."
"Has my performance suffered, Captain?"
Jim tamped down the anger that reared at that question, overwhelming and sudden. "I didn't want to go there." This time, he did not say. He stood, Spock's eyes on him and rounded the table, impatient with the barrier. He set a hand on Spock's neck. "If something's wrong, I want to help."
Something twitched in Spock's face at that, and Jim could not name it. He lifted a hand to Jim's and trailed fore and middle finger along his knuckles, almost wistfully. "There are some things I would not ask of you," he said.
Jim had no idea what to do with that. He slowly turned his hand over to grasp Spock's fingers. "If you can't tell me," he said, tugging Spock's hand up, "show me."
Spock watched Jim brush his fingers against his face as though his hand were independent from his body, and then stood abruptly, pulling it from Jim's grip.
"No," he said, tone forceful.
They had not melded in almost a month, and Jim had never considered that the distance might have extended to that. He had not asked before now, and Spock had never denied him in the past -- quite the contrary, he had seemed pleased at Jim's eagerness.
To be turned away when he had always been welcomed before was surprisingly jarring.
"... Okay," Jim said, though his stomach had bottomed out at the refusal, and he swallowed down a rush of nausea. It had been a long time since he had felt any intimacy was asking of Spock more than he could give.
He hated that he had grown close enough to someone to become disappointed -- hurt -- when his advances were not met halfway.
Time to take it up a notch, then. And Spock had asked for it. If he would not respond to his lover, he would respond to his captain.
"Then you're just going to have to tell me," Jim told him, a note of command in his voice that he knew Spock would not miss. "Maybe I think this is affecting your work."
Spock, who had been avoiding Jim's gaze since reclaiming his hand, looked back to him. "It is your prerogative to remove me from duty, Captain, but I believe you may require a more concrete incentive."
"I don't feel like I can trust you like this," Jim said with a defeated head shake, and Spock's face changed again. "I don't know that there's a more valid reason than that."
He waited. Spock stared at him and said nothing.
Jim sniffed a mirthless laugh, averting his eyes to the side. "Okay," he conceded. "Dismissed, then." He met Spock's eyes pointedly. "Commander."
Spock hovered for a moment and then left while Jim stared at the untouched chess board.
Jim refrained -- for then -- from suspending Spock, and they did not speak outside the Bridge for a full week.
No one but McCoy (and perhaps Uhura, Jim thought occasionally, when she would look at him) even noticed, and Jim took that as a good sign. It must have meant that he and Spock were careful about keeping the professional professional. The gossip mill was quiet because Uhura knew when to keep her mouth shut and if McCoy was going to talk to anyone, it was going to be Jim.
Jim thought that a blessing until he actually did.
"Jim," he called after him in the halls on day eight of the freeze-out and Jim glanced over his shoulder to find McCoy jogging to catch up with him. "You got a minute?"
The doctor's eagerness was unnerving. "A minute," he agreed, warily.
"It's Spock," McCoy told him, and though the words were hardly surprising, it did nothing to quell the sinking feeling in Jim's gut. "I think I'm starting to see whatever you were seeing."
He would almost rather his friend's initiative have been grilling him on his lack of communication with Spock. When this had all been in his head, perhaps it had been precisely and only that.
"How?" he demanded.
"Well," Jim watched McCoy's brow furrow, "it's nothing I can pinpoint without an examination, but he's become increasingly restive." And perhaps seeing Jim's concern, he smirked at him. "If he weren't a Vulcan, I'd almost say nervous. And for another thing, he's been avoiding food. I checked and he hasn't eaten at all in three days."
"Well." Jim looked to his boots. "That..."
"Might have more to do with you two, yes, I thought of that." McCoy's look was almost scolding, there. "And I'm not so sure it's that simple." Then his gaze drifted off over Jim's shoulder, and he called, "Miss Chapel."
Jim turned to see the nurse round the corner and he wondered how the doctor had seen her. His eyes fell curiously to the tray she was carrying and McCoy's soon followed them.
"What's this?" he asked, before Jim could.
"Oh." She glanced down like she had just noticed her burden as well and her cheeks flushed.
McCoy leaned forward and reached up to pluck the lid from the tray's bowl. "Vulcan Plomeek soup," he assessed. "And I'll bet you made it too." He glanced at Jim and then grinned at Nurse Chapel. "You never give up hoping, do you."
"Well, Mister Spock hasn't been eating, Doctor," she insisted, feet shuffling. "And I- I just happened to notice."
Just happened to notice. Jim vividly recalled a week in his bed with the flu last year, and Nurse Chapel had never shown up at his door with chicken noodle. He opened his mouth and McCoy's hand grasped at his elbow, hard.
"It's all right," he said and Jim shut his mouth. "Carry on, Miss Chapel."
She ducked away with her tray, further down the corridor, and Jim sighed.
"Bones, I'm a busy man," he said, though his only destination had been his own quarters, on down the way.
"Jim," McCoy said, tone carrying as much intent to halt him as the hand still on his arm. "When I suggested to Spock that it was time for his routine check-up, your logical, unemotional first officer turned to me and said, 'You will cease to pry into my personal matters, Doctor, or I shall certainly break your neck.'"
Jim's eyebrows migrated toward his hairline; his friends had their differences, but that was pushing it. "Spock said that?"
McCoy was poised to respond, mouth open, when they both heard, "What is this?"
The only time Jim had heard Spock shout had been on their first mission, and even then, it had been unintelligible and had come from a place of severe grief for his mother. Jim still felt guilty when he thought about it. Hearing this only served to prove that something was, in fact, gravely wrong.
They both jumped when they heard Nurse Chapel's shout of alarm, and then once again when her bowl of soup followed her out of Spock's quarters, slamming into the bulkhead beyond her with a sickening crack.
"Poking and prodding!" Spock went on as Jim watched the thick soup trickle down in violet rivulets. "If I want something from you, I'll ask for it!"
He appeared in his doorway and froze, as though he had been expecting to find the hall empty but for the nurse, but of course, all passersby had stopped to stare. They would have for a much lesser event.
Spock's eyes fell on Jim and McCoy. "Captain," he said, like the word pained him. "I would speak with you."
He did not wait for an answer before turning back into his quarters. Jim looked to McCoy, who was already looking at him. He shrugged at Jim, very I told you so.
"Get it out of him, Jim," he told him. "I like to take care of terrorizing my staff on my own."
Jim rolled his eyes but followed Spock into his quarters.
Spock was seated at his desk, waiting, and Jim waited for the door to hiss shut before saying, "All right, Spock, let's have it."
Spock looked at the doorway behind Jim, clearly indicating what he had done. "It is undignified for a woman to play servant to a man who is not hers." His eyes flicked to Jim, then back to his hands.
Jim's initial anger had already been simmering down to pure resolve these past few days, and that statement almost sapped him of even that.
"Spock," he sighed, shoulders drooping. God, a week, and for what? What if Spock was sick? He was at least obviously hurting, and Jim was just going along, mad at him for not sharing his feelings. "I'm sorry. But you can't..." He looked back to the door himself, "do stuff like that."
"It is your duty to reprimand me."
Jim's brow furrowed. "I'm not gonna dress you down, Spock, just... don't take whatever's going on with us out on everyone else." He scoffed. "I never thought I'd have to tell you that."
Spock rose to his feet and tugged the hem of his shirt straight. "With all due respect, Captain, this is not about you and me."
Jim was not sure that Spock meant for them to be, but the words were like a punch in the face. "So it's whatever was going on before, then."
Spock did not reply.
"Spock, you're getting worse, you're going to have to talk to me." On instinct, Jim reached for him, and Spock stepped backward like a skittish animal. Jim slowly lowered his hand. The rejection still surprised him.
"Captain," Spock said, and Jim got the feeling he was resetting the tone of the conversation, "I should like to request a leave of absence on the colony."
Jim did not know what he had been expecting, but that had not been it. A leave of absence did not mean leaving, Jim knew that, but Spock had never requested leave as long as Jim had known him. It at least meant that whatever was wrong, Spock did not believe it could be handled by resources aboard the ship, Doctor McCoy -- and himself -- among them.
"Why?" he made himself ask.
"It is a private matter."
Jim bit his lip to keep from pulling his hair out. "You know," he began. "I really thought..." I was making progress with you. But could he say that? Was it fair to assume that coaxing Spock to his way was coaxing him to the better way? That a step toward Jim was a step forward?
A healthy relationship needed that kind of communication, Jim knew, though he had no idea where he had learned it. But if it took this much pushing...
Maybe Spock didn't want this anymore.
Jim swallowed down panic. "If you want me to alter course just for you, I'm going to need more than 'it's a private matter'."
Spock stood silent.
"Spock, you can tell me, or you can tell Doctor McCoy. He was itching to get you down to Sickbay before that little stunt in the hall."
"Even Vulcans do not speak of it among themselves, Captain," Spock insisted. "And you are an out-worlder."
That made Jim hesitate. Perhaps this was not Spock's secret to tell. But Jim was more than an out-worlder. "Explain why you need to return to the colony," he commanded. "Consider that an order."
Spock looked like he was considering his words, which Jim had never seen him do. "Because I must leave the ship."
Jim squinted at him. "Is that all?"
"... Now. Yes."
"I'll come with you--"
"No!" Spock said, with the same vehemence that he had refused the meld a week ago.
"Spock, damn it!" Jim reached for Spock's shoulders and gripped them this time, but then he was shoved backward until his back met the bulkhead and the breath rushed from his lungs at the impact. There was that same wild look in Spock's eyes, that same sudden terror in Jim's chest and he gulped in air.
It took Spock several moments to speak. "You cannot come with me," he muttered, voice low, like threats Jim used to get in bars. Then his forehead dropped to Jim's and his eyes closed and Jim tried to ride the wake of the wave like he had the last time, still ready for a fight. "I cannot..."
Jim could feel Spock's breath ghosting over his lips and he folded his down, licking them and regaining his own composure. It was all so disorienting. "Spock..." And he tried again to touch him, fascinated when Spock allowed the hand upon his face without even opening his eyes, even leaned into it.
"T'hy'la," Spock murmured and his nose moved down Jim's neck. "Taluhk nash-veh k'dular. Kup-fi nash-veh..."
Jim understood only the first word and the desperation of the tone, and it frightened him more than Spock's violence had, dread dripping like a leaky faucet and puddling. "Spock," he said, and when Jim tried to maneuver Spock's head back up, Spock sealed their mouths together and groaned.
Jim's lips parted in surprise and a velvet slick tongue slipped past them, eager and demanding. Spock had not kissed him like this since the first time, when tensions had been running high and finally snapping had been such a release, like it hurt, enough to make it hurt. He gasped when their lips parted, desperate for air, but was quickly devoured again, breaking the surface only to be submerged again. Spock was dead weight, dragging them both down and under.
Spock's fingers slipped up and under his uniform shirt, burning little trails, and Jim's hands went to Spock's smooth hair. He clung to handfuls of the strands for dear life, and Spock shoved him against the wall again with his hips, erection pressing hard and hot into the groove of his groin.
They parted long enough to shuck Jims shirt and then met again, Spock cupping Jim's jaw to angle his head. Smooth lips pressed and parted from his and Spock's fingers splayed over his cheeks, trailing whispers as they had trailed heat up his back and Jim gasped with the significance, feeling more than hearing, as he would in a meld. Loveyoucan'tloseyouhurtyoucan'tloveyou. Jim would not even have understood the words if they had actually been words.
He turned his head away from Spock's constantly seeking mouth and breathed. "Wh-what is that?" he managed, running his palms up Spock's still clothed chest. "I can hear you..."
Spock moaned into his pulse point and Jim shuddered. "Yes..." he hissed like a prayer, and then, "No..." and he straightened, pushing himself away from Jim. "No, no, no, no..." He turned his back, gripping his own hair and breathing strangely.
Jim stood still, gasping and bereft.
Spock's breathing continued in harsh pants, back rigid and the heels of his hands pressed to his eyes. It was dangerously close to sobbing and Jim stepped forward without thinking.
"Spock." He placed a hand on his shoulder and the Vulcan wrenched away.
"Do not touch me," he ordered, a clear knee-jerk reaction, but it still stung.
"Spock," Jim said, watching him. "Spock, talk to me. Tell me what's wrong."
Spock exhaled carefully and his hands dropped but his back remained turned and tight. "Jim," he said. "Captain. I must have a leave of absence."
Jim wanted to say tell me why and make Spock answer, but he had never seen him like this, and it was beyond horrifying. If Spock thought a trip to the colony could fix this, who was Jim to deny him, as long as it indeed got fixed?
Watching Spock carefully to ensure he would not misinterpret his movements, Jim crossed slowly to the desk and to the comm unit upon it. He tapped the button and Spock's shoulders drew in at the beep.
"Bridge," Jim said. "Helm."
"Yes, Captain?" Sulu.
Jim sighed. "Alter course to the Vulcan colony. Increase speed to warp four."
Jim took a moment to appreciate the lack of hesitation or questions, the immediate acceptance. A necessity in the military that took many years to grasp on instinct. His crew was young, but exceptional.
Then he looked back to Spock and released the button.
"Thank you, Captain," Spock said, calm now, but obviously ashamed.
Jim ran a hand over his face and then propped both on his hips. "... Do you want me to go?"
Spock stared resolutely at the deck. "That would be wise."
Jim nodded, jaw tense. "Okay," he made himself say. "But I want you to report to Sickbay before we arrive."
Spock met his eyes for the first time since they had parted. "Sickbay?"
"Complete examination. That's an order."
Spock's gaze lowered again and he did not protest -- perhaps he understood that it would do no good -- and Jim took the opportunity to move back around him to snatch his shirt from the deck. He pulled it over his head and jerked his arms through with a sigh.
Jim hesitated, heart pounding as it did when he dealt with irate foreign dignitaries, like it did on the rare occasion he and Spock had a real fight. He debated not saying it, if it would sound trite. "I love you." He swallowed. It did sound ridiculous aloud in this scenario, but he did not regret it. "You know that."
Spock's eyes shut. "Yes."
Jim nodded, stood there another moment, and then turned to step into the hall, door slipping closed after him. Walking traffic had long since picked up again.
"God only knows why," he mumbled to himself, before moving on.