The thing about destiny was that Jim didn't believe in it. He was more of a do-it-yourself kind of guy, and that included mapping the future, picking friends, and of course, pondering decisions and their probable outcomes. He might not be able to calculate odds down to the fifth decimal place like his enigmatic First Officer, but he was excellent at recognizing patterns, at predicting cause and effect.
So yes, if asked, Jim would say his future was going to be forged by him and him alone, and he didn't really need a partner or a cohort to do it. It was his actions, his decision which determined his prospect. Of course, the solo thing only went so far, he fully recognized that he did need his crew, badly, and they had to be the best, and he did need a kick ass First Officer, and he had to be the best, and he had that.
His crew, young as they all were, wet behind the ears and whatever other 'odd human colloquialism', ('Could you explain the meaning behind your turn of phrase, Captain'?) would fit, were the 'crème de la crème' (look it up, Spock, or better yet, ask Bones, just make sure that convo is somewhere it can be recorded so I can hear it later) of the fleet. Together their potential was immeasurable, their paths bright.
He got that he and Spock in another universe had been the closest of closest friends, bosom buddies, soul-brothers, whatever. Really, he did. A maybe a part of him even believed it. Marginally. The older, other universe, more laid back, and utterly awesome Spock had been entirely sincere when he brought it up, and the meld they shared had left no doubt as to that sincerity: it had appeared in full Technicolor, vibrant in its residual emotional glory. There was something there, something deep, something downright frightening in its intensity. Whatever other-Kirk and other-Spock had shared must have been extreme, if the vibes he got from that meld were anything to go by. And sure younger Spock wasn't all that bad a guy once you got past the whole repressed, uptight, I-could-kill-you-by-barely-lifting-a-finger type thing, but Jim had come this far in life alone, and he didn't intend to alter that pattern.
Relying on people fully, for emotional support and well-being, only led to disappointment. He and Bones got along so well because they both got that. They were friends for friendship's sake, because no matter how driven and ambitious one or the other was, it was always nice to have a kindred spirit to talk to at the end of the day, no expectations, no attempts to change or alter one another's personality to better fit a need 'Come as you are, do what you want, I support you, you bastard, even if I think you're as crazy as a loon' - and it worked for them. It was the only relationship, albeit entirely platonic, that Jim had ever had that did work, and he didn't think he needed anything beyond that to be complete. He was fine as he was, thank you kindly.
Other Universe Spock was a great guy, and Jim really liked him a lot, but he did think that he was missing the boat a bit by suggesting that Jim and the younger Spock were destined for a partnership that put all other partnerships to shame. A bit insulting, really, the implication that Jim couldn't captain on his own. And while he recognized that that probably wasn't the message the wizened ambassador was trying to convey, Jim's inner night watch couldn't help but ring alarm bells all over the place.
He wasn't that other Jim. He wasn't. He had spent his whole life in the shadow of a father he hadn't known, he wasn't about to spend the rest of his life in the shadow of himself from another life. And while his lessons in life had been hard won, and his childhood more shitty than it should have been because of some twisted turn of circumstances and a Romulan who ate crazy for breakfast, he was proud of the knowledge he had gained from it.
Jim Kirk could survive anything, and he could do it himself. A hard lesson, sure, but an important one.
Jim didn't know what Spock wanted out of their new relationship as Captain and First Officer, but figured it was best to start off on the right foot. He didn't think they'd reach the level of intimacy their counterparts had, wasn't sure if he'd know what to do with it if he had it, in fact the whole idea was more than a little scary - a little co-dependant, all truth be told - but he wasn't opposed to a more friendly relationship, one that was blissfully free of choking, marooning or bringing up recently deceased mothers with the intent to inflict emotional pain.
That is why he called Spock into a private meeting in his quarters to discuss their newly appointed positions. There were no deeper meanings other than that. No justifications necessary.
Although it was difficult to guess what Spock was reading exactly when his sharp, unfathomable eyes looked at Jim as if they could see into his very soul, and he stood as still as a statue, scarcely even blinking.
As much as he hated himself for it, Jim couldn't help it, he fidgeted under that stare like a child. And then he broke Spock's gaze, looking everywhere but at the Vulcan assessing him so thoroughly. And then he fidgeted some more, just for good measure, because apparently his body's involuntary actions weren't nearly embarrassing enough.
Good God, Vulcans were intense sons of bitches. Jim wondered if the other him ever got away with anything in that relationship. He must have been the bottom. Not that Jim had wondered that before. Ever. In fact, he was thinking of something else right now, because he sure as hell did not want to speculate on the sex lives of other Kirks and Spocks in other universes, it was untoward and completely unnecessary.
Yes, entirely unnecessary and his brain was going to stop thinking about it right now… no matter how stimulating the thought. It wasn't going to happen. No melds, no bonds, no sex.
If this Spock thought that Jim was going to be bottoming for him, or doing anything of the sort, or kowtowing in any way, he had another thing coming, because it wasn't going to happen. He just wanted to be on friendlier terms with his First Officer, that was all.
Jim had no idea what to say to break a hole in the awkward tension that surrounded them like thick fog, he had to take his best stab at it. The energy that cackled between them, this unseen force that flowed back and forth like a current, the unsolicited thoughts of sex, and relationships, and soul reading was a tad disconcerting, and Jim sure as hell wasn't going to be intimidated in his own quarters, no sir, he would damn well find something to say.
"Spock, do you believe in destiny?" he blurted out, and then cursed himself all kinds of stupid. Way to break the tension Jim, good going. Just bring up the one elephant in the room you didn't want to discuss. Brain, you spoke out of turn.
"In the past I have not believed in destiny, no, but recently my views on the matter have altered considerably," Spock stated, and Jim felt something within him shift at that comment. Some twinge in his heart he couldn't explain, but one that caused his pulse to speed up a bit.
He wouldn't read into that more, couldn't examine that further, no good would come from it…
"That's a surprising answer from a logical guy like you. I would have thought your answer to be an emphatic no. Care to elaborate?" Jim heard himself ask, and then he cursed his brain, again.
God fucking damnit. There was no such thing as destiny, but there sure as hell were such things as thoughts that spoke of their own volition, without consulting the common sense receptors of the brain beforehand. It was distressing, damnit.
The look Spock gave him in response was an odd one. One that seemed to say 'you know the answer to that already, I know you're smarter than that, why are you asking rhetorical questions?' while also saying, 'ah, you didn't realize it, but you just gave something of yourself away. I understand you better now, thank you.'
Jim didn't know which was more unsettling, the act of comprehending Spock's gazes, or the message they seemed to convey. Neither settled well with his comfort levels, and his fidgeting, damn it all to hell, was only getting worse. Apparently neither his mouth nor his body were under his control in the presence of this particular being. If Bones ever got wind of this - the way Spock seemed to break through Jim's every defensive shield - he would be laughing his ass off at Jim's discomfort. Smooth talking Jim Kirk, could sell air conditioning environmental control units to the inhabitants of Alaska - except, of course, if Vulcans named Spock were anywhere close by at the time of the sale.
It frustrated him beyond words. He felt like he had somehow lost control of the situation, that this conversation, his intentions, his hard earned belief system were all somehow spiraling in a direction he hadn't intended to take. Was it Spock? Or was it him? Which of them caused this effect, this loss of control,and how could it be salvaged?
"Meeting an alternate version of myself was the largest cause for the adjustment," Spock replied after a beat, "although the circumstances regarding that meeting, up to and including my interactions with you, certainly assisted in the matter."
His dark eyes flashed yet another message… 'there is more to this than my words convey, do you get it?' but Jim was too distracted to ponder that further, not when anger flashed so suddenly and brightly in his soul.
That son of a bitch, that ruthless, scheming… Jim took back every complimentary thing he had ever thought about the wily, old bastard; he had fucking lied. Since when did Vulcans lie? Didn't they have some sacred pact that they lorded over the lesser beings of the universe, 'all truth all the time' or some shit like that?
"I was led to believe that the two of you couldn't meet. That the universe would implode, or something equally dire and depressing would happen. But since the universe has very much not imploded, I take it I was played?" Jim asked. And he wasn't huffing, he wasn't. Grown men of 25 who had just made Captain of the Federation's Flagship did not huff. Well, not exactly. More like expressed a rather manly displeasure at being had, particularly when they weren't used to it. Being had, that is. Because they were usually the ones doing the had-ing.
Too clever, the Spocks of all universes, Jim would have to be on his guard. The unsettled feeling in his gut heightened a notch or two.
But another, more distressing thought tickled Jim's consciousness… if younger Spock had met older Spock then older Spock might have mentioned that connection-thing he had with the Jim Kirk of the other universe…. There was no such thing as a soulmate, surely someone as logical as Spock would see that. It was a romantic notion invented by Plato and then taken out of context by the creators of holo greeting cards to prey on the lonely. Vulcan bonds or no Vulcan bonds, Spock did not have to buy into that whole predestined thing just because a relationship between the two of them had worked out in another universe. Surely Spock realized this.
"I believe my alternative self considered his deception necessary in order to facilitate our working past our initial differences of opinion. In this regard I can not help but condone his actions and agree with their necessity."
And those mesmerizing ever assessing dark eyes followed that up with 'just try to contradict me on this, I dare you'.
Thus the fear in Jim's heart, the one blossomed from the idea that his fate wasn't entirely in his own hands exploded into a bit of a panic.
This just wouldn't do. Not at all.
Avoiding Spock was easier said than done, particularly when said Vulcan was his fucking First Officer. Their job descriptions required that they conversed with each other; in fact, he had once heard Pike jokingly say that the relationship between Captain and First Officer was more intimate than any marriage. Jim had always suspected that the comment had something to do with the fact that Pike had been screwing his former first officer every which way from Sunday when they had been stationed together, thus meaning 'intimate' in both the literal and figurative sense, but whatever. Let Pike keep his delusions of subtlety, Jim had more pressing concerns to contend with… his hyper awareness of Spock, and the way the air seemed to sizzle between them.
He didn't believe in destiny, but sexual chemistry? That shit was potent. Because yes, Spock was attractive, Jim could admit it. His First was more exotic and exciting and intelligent than any being had right to be. Higher intelligence had always been a turn-on for Jim. If he had a type, it was the incredibly smart and good-looking, complete with a small dash of the unknown; the sense of mystery waiting to be unraveled.
It was all so horribly cliché; he didn't want a relationship, was trying to avoid the trap of predestination, and the supposed fate business, so naturally, his awareness of Spock had seemed to magnify tenfold. He knew instantly when Spock entered a room, felt the Vulcan's gaze on him whenever it wandered in his direction without having to verify with visual confirmation, hell, the odd, alert tension between him and Spock might as well be sentient for all its vibrancy and influence, but more unsettling than that was the way that Spock made no move to confront Jim over it.
From their conversation on destiny that one night, Jim had been certain that Spock possessed the same knowledge of the other universe as he did, that the elder Spock had set him on the same path he had tried to prep Jim for, but if Spock did have an inkling, he made no further attempt to 'embrace destiny' or some such other bullshit. Their one conversation had ended, abruptly and awkwardly, Spock had left in relative haste and that had been that. And now Spock watched, and assessed, and he threw himself into becoming the model First Officer, never once mentioning their conversation or its implications.
Reports were always turned in on time. Conversations were kept strictly professional. If any physical contact was made, it was accidental. Spock was adhering to every wish that Jim had had on how their relationship should function. So then why did he feel so unsettled? Why did it feel like the other shoe had yet to drop? What was that intangible excitement that pulsed and thrummed to the beat of his heart, that he couldn't explain or even entirely understand? It was like he was unnerved without cause to be so. All his expectations were being met, so what gave?
But for whatever reason, the more time passed, the more exhausted he became. As if the need to keep his distance from Spock, emotionally - and wasn't that just the kicker, keeping emotions away from an emotionally suppressed half-Vulcan - was more burdensome than it was worth. Spock clearly had no intentions of forcing the issue of their destiny, maybe Jim was being overly cautious by attempting to keep Spock at arm's length.
There was nothing to say they couldn't be friends. He had a friend in Bones, was beginning to form ties of a lesser degree with the rest of his senior staff, why not give it a go with Spock? It seemed almost, (no mockery intended), illogical to keep this… restraint going when there was nothing to restrain against.
So it was with that thought in mind that Jim invited Spock over for a game of chess. Chess was safe, there was no innuendo in chess. Chess required concentration on the game, and anyone who played chess with Jim usually ended up resenting him rather than wanting to be with him. Sore losers and all that.
Except Spock wasn't the sore loser; he was.
It was a well known fact in the universe that Jim Kirk hated to lose, hated it with a passion that filled his stomach with bile. Oh he put on a good show of sportsmanship, as he was doing with Spock now, but the fact that Spock had beaten him… it galled, it really did. Spock was so good in everything that he did, why couldn't Jim have just this one thing. He was smart, too, damnit. Strategy had always been kind of his thing. No one had ever beaten him at chess before, not Bones, not Pike, not his mother, his brother, and especially not Frank, the stupid asshole with the IQ of a pigeon.
But instead he smiled at his First, made a bullshit comment on 'good game' and forced his annoyingly strong competitive streak down with as much strength of will as he could muster. And for all his efforts he saw amusement shine through Spock's eyes, clear as day, from his spot across the board, and the corners of his mouth twitch as if they really wanted to smile, but Vulcan stoicism had undoubtedly brow beaten that response out of him in his youth and his facial muscles didn't quite know what do with the inclination.
"Would it help if I stated that this was the most challenging game I have experienced in quite some time?" Spock asked, and yes, Jim wasn't imagining it, there was definite amusement in the Vulcan's tone.
Jim was torn between wanting to 'accidentally' knock Spock's tea into his lap for having the sheer nerve to gloat, of all things, when Jim had been trying so hard to be a good sport and 'just so you know, stereotypes everywhere, Vulcans totally do emotions, you won't prove from Spock that they don't' and feeling a bit relieved, because yes, it was nice to hear that he had at least made a challenging partner for the Vulcan savant.
It was the small things…
"Guess I have to brush up on my acting, I thought was putting on a good show. What gave me away?" Jim asked, conceding gracefully that yes, he was a competitive bastard, ever so sorry about that.
"Your eyes. Your pupils dilate whenever you are annoyed, or angry," the Vulcan replied matter-of-factly and Jim made a mental note never to play poker with the guy, as he seemed to notice Jim's tells way too easily.
But that was okay, because Jim saw Spock's as well, and whether the Vulcan knew it or not, his eyes also conveyed the emotions he struggled so hard to hide.
The eyes it was then, for both of them. Another commonality between them.
Feeling semi-pacified at his rather brutal loss, Jim couldn't help but challenge… "So then you won't be at all surprised at my request, and by request I mean insistence, for a rematch?"
"I look forward to it, Captain," Spock replied easily, but there was a light in his eyes as he spoke, there and gone in a blink, but one that gave Jim a sense of foreboding… and also had his heart rate escalating.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you that it isn't nice to talk about someone behind their backs?" Jim raised an eyebrow, reclining back further in his chair in order to eye his friend more fully.
Bones snorted. "That's never stopped us before," he retorted, his hazel eyes dancing with amusement. "Especially considering a good half of our conversations have been about other people."
"And the other half?" Jim asked for clarification, amused despite himself.
"I was either too inebriated or too pissed at you for doing something foolhardy to remember, both are likely scenarios."
And Jim couldn't help it, despite his admittedly half-hearted attempt to remain stoic, he laughed.
"Touché, Bones, touché," he said from behind his coffee cup, effectively hiding his grin.
"So are you going to answer the question or not? What is with all of the time you've been spending with Spock lately, and, more importantly, why aren't you in a boredom induced coma because of it?"
Though Jim would never admit it to his friend out loud, at least not until he'd figured a few things out, it annoyed the crap out of him when the doctor laid into Spock like that. He knew that the animosity between the two was more bark than bite, hell, half the time their gentle jabs at one another were more amusing than anything. The Enterprise didn't need holovid streams coming in, they had their own tailor made comedy right here, but there was something there that niggled him.
Jim loved Leonard McCoy like a brother, would take a laser hit for him without even blinking, but the animosity with Spock served to release a sort of unnecessary protective instinct within him. Unnecessary because Spock could not only hold his own, but could out-sarcasm even the infamous Doctor McCoy, who made facetiousness an art form and was damn proud of it, and also because his friendship with Spock was still relatively new, particularly in comparison to his friendship with Bones.
Of the two, he wondered why it was Spock that he got the most defensive over, but figured it was because he knew Bones so well, and knew that the doctor might have a faux gruff exterior when it came to the world at large, but on the inside was a heart of gold and a soul as determined to survive as Jim's own. Bones didn't need anyone looking out for him, he had it covered. If anything Bones had always been the one to look out for him. Spock on the other hand had this hidden core of vulnerability that Jim only occasionally glimpsed… this sense of loneliness hidden under layers of Vulcan resolve.
On the rare occasions he did see it, Jim wondered if he was imagining it, projecting his own feelings of isolation onto Spock. Was it likely that Spock, who prided himself on his control over his emotions, knew loneliness? The kind of solitude that Jim had long ago learned to accept as a protective necessity, but a very painful necessity nonetheless?
There was so much more to Spock, more than even Jim knew, but getting Bones to see it was an impossibility; Jim was a Starfleet captain, not prone to acts of God, despite rumors to the contrary.
"Not boring. Never that. Just the opposite in fact. It might have escaped your attention what with those glasses you wear that tend to block the color green, but the guy is actually very fucking smart with a great sense of humor. Spending time with him is always, to coin a phrase, fascinating."
The look he received in response to his rather hearty defense of his First was not the blatant and thoroughly exaggerated denial he was expecting, but rather a look of completely open assessment, the doctor studying Jim's face with keen intent... almost too intently. What, were Bones and Spock comparing notes now? 'How to unnerve Jim in one easy step?' Chapter One: the assessment look, guaranteed to make the hairs on the back of the neck rise.
"Uh huh," the doctor responded dryly, after a beat, not bothering to hide his amusement over whatever conclusion it was he had reached, a grin spreading across his face as slow as molasses. Jim's grandmother had always labeled that type of grin the 'Cheshire cat grin' and would always claim that Jim could do it better than anyone... it was probably a good thing she had never met Bones, otherwise Jim would have lost his title.
"What is 'uh huh' supposed to mean?" he wheedled, frustration growing in the pit of his stomach. Yet even though he asked, he already knew. Had already deciphered which conclusion Bones had reached. And the doctor was wrong. Spock was his friend, damnit. Fri-end. Was that so hard a concept to grasp? Why did everyone in the universe conspire to read more into that?
"Oh, nothing, nothing," Bones remarked, waving his hand nonchalantly. "At least, nothing I want to point out to you for fear you'd do that thing you do when you realize what I just realized, and it elicits an unhealthy response, like say, I don't know, how about one hell of a flight instinct, developed in childhood as a self-defense mechanism. In short Jim, you just weren't hugged enough. Poor Spock has his work cut out for him."
"Not hugged enough?" Jim snorted, "Please Bones, spare me the unloved child cliché, I'm not ignorant of my own sad little tale, you know. Boy born in the wake of his father's tragic, horrific demise, a young mother who was also a Starfleet officer who often left home to work out in space, and the wicked step-father who fits every fairytale stereotype to an almost frightening degree. I've read all about Pavlov and his dogs, Skinner and his 'radical behaviorism' – created some pretty freaky inventions for his time, that one - I'm not an idiot, but what I fail to see is how my being hugged has anything to do with my entirely platonic relationship with Spock. There is nothing for me to 'fly' from, other than the literal sense as we are living on a starship."
His last line, an attempt at levity meant to get Bones to laugh and distract him from the whole uncomfortable conversation unfortunately fell flat, as his friend continued to eye him as if seeing directly through him. What the fuck was it with the men in his life and doing that? He needed to find new friends… dumber, clueless, and infinitely less introspective ones.
"Uh huh," Bones said again, after a beat, his kilowatt grin returning as he slowly rose from his chair, "missed Freud in all that name dropping you just did, he did some great initial work in the study of denial. Might want to check it out, highly entertaining read. Way more interesting than either Pavlov or Skinner."
With that said, the doctor turned to leave, and Jim could only roll his eyes at this friend's flair for the dramatic exit.
"You're not getting the last word on this one, Bones," Jim called out, exasperated.
"Bullshit," his friend responded on his way out the door, whistling all the way.
Jim couldn't help but wonder why it seemed like everyone but him was just a little insane.
Competitive streak or not, their current game had to be Jim's worst to date. His mind wasn't in it. His heart wasn't in it. His fucking soul wasn't in it. Goddamned Bones and his goddamned Freud references. He couldn't get their conversation out of his head, both from the disturbing content and from the stark and painful honesty of it.
Jim knew who he was as a person, there was no denial involved, reading up on Freud was entirely unnecessary. People did not get close to him because he didn't allow them to, at least not closer than arms' length. It was as simple and as complicated as that. He had been taking care of himself from a very young age and had gotten used to that type of willful, radical independence. He wasn't the sort who enjoyed answering to other people. Nor was he fond of goodbyes or inevitable partings. He had let Bones in, to a degree, because he had related to him, recognized the weariness in the doctor's soul and felt an instant kinship with him, and because Bones made him laugh. He could love Bones, as a friend, and still be safe.
Spock was a whole other ball game. He touched the shadows in Jim's soul. Made him think, made him want to do better, be better. He appealed to him intellectually, physically and soulfully. He took Jim's ideas and expounded on them, allowing Jim to do the same for his own, and had made the effort to look past his initial dislike to discover what really made Jim tick… too few people in his life had ever made that kind of effort.
So yes, okay, he could admit it. He was falling in love with Spock. There it was. Bones was right, Jim owned up to it, give the guy a fucking medal. He was drawn to Spock more than he'd ever been drawn to another being in his life. They were in sync, they fit… it was the most disconcerting discovery of his existence, to go from a single separate entity to a fraction of a whole.
Yet to love Spock was to allow pain, because all love affairs, no matter how deep or long-lasting, no matter how fated or matched, inevitably ended in death, it was unavoidable. It could be a short and startling death, like his parents', or a slow, agonizing one, rife with decay and age.
Also, to a lesser degree, loving Spock was admitting that perhaps there was such a thing as fate. And to admit that fate existed would somehow lessen the security in the knowledge that Jim's path was his own for the shaping.
He didn't know what to do with it all, and he didn't have the answers. If Bones were with them he would undoubtedly make some crack about ice skating in hell and pork chops being found in trees at Jim's admittance of defeat, but Bones wasn't with him, Spock was, thus the longing he couldn't quite repress was amplified to its maximum capacity by the mere presence of his First.
"Your mind is not on the game," Spock stated, assessing him with those dark, unfathomable eyes that always held him captivated.
"No, uh, Bones said something to me earlier that was a bit disconcerting. I suppose my mind is a bit preoccupied with coming up with a ready-made retort for the next time I see him," Jim replied, believing a partial truth would be easier for Spock to swallow than an outright lie.
"Yes, I believe the doctor has that effect on every member of the crew with whom he engages in conversation," Spock remarked dryly, gentle humor lighting his eyes.
Jim couldn't help but catch his breath when he looked at him. Spock was truly stunning in mirth.
"Ah, there's that humor again, Spock. That type you claim you know nothing about. You can't fool me, I can see right through you," Jim teased, feeling his mood suddenly lift at the change in topic. This, their own spin on gentle banter, cultivated through numerous chess games and quick meals between shifts, he could handle.
"As I, too, can see through you."
Spock's voice was completely serious as he said it; his tone betrayed undercurrents of something deeper. Jim felt his mood drop as rapidly as it had so recently lifted, while his mind flashed 'danger, danger, evacuate the premises' in florescent lights. Flight instinct, right.
His response of ..."Oh yeah, and what is it you see?" was supposed to come out light-hearted and airy, a desperate attempt to alter the course of the conversation, but instead came out curious and earnest. Once again his brain was controlling his responses without his express permission. How did Spock always do this to him? He was supposed to be unflappable, the ever ready Jim Kirk, but any sort of reputation he worked hard to cultivate always seemed to go to absolute shit around Spock.
The Vulcan took a deep breath, as if bracing himself for some incredible fallout, yet his gaze on Jim's face never wavered as he expounded, "I see courage, intelligence, compassion, grace and beauty… and I also see fear."
Well then, it was confirmed. Jim had suspected it all along and now he knew. This thing between them, this energy, this buzz, this attraction that thrummed with life, Spock was fully cognizant of it. He had known all along. Jim had always been aware that he did, but had liked to pretend he hadn't, it had made things easier. So yes, maybe there had been a little something to that denial claim of Bones', just not in the full context his friend had indicated. Though he supposed the context didn't really matter, he wouldn't admit any of it to Bones any time in the next century.
What could he do? How could he respond to Spock? He obviously couldn't deny it. To do so would be the equivalent of acting stupid, and really Spock would see right through it anyway. Jim felt so helpless. He hated feeling helpless; it made him angry.
"I thought you said at the Kobayashi Maru hearing that I didn't feel fear, which I believe you stated was the entire point of the test. Why is it you see fear in me now, but not then?"
It was a low blow, Jim knew it even as he said it, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. It was like watching a crash, nothing could halt a rapidly moving object other than impact. He hurt and now Spock would too, what better to drive a wedge between them than by mentioning the test that had prompted their initial hostility towards one another the first time they had met?
Remind Spock of his hatred, push him away. Simple. Easy.
"You know why, Jim, but it is not in my best interests to point it out to you. Your questioning me on the subject of the test is an attempt to find an excuse to support a reactionary endeavor you're currently contemplating; I will not assist you in the matter. It is also against my best interests."
Oh yes, Spock knew him. Knew him too well. Those ever assessing eyes had not missed a thing. It made the situation frightening.
What could he say to that?
"Are you reading my mind, Spock?"
That worked; the inflection of anger was near perfect. 'Thank you, brain,for finally coming up with an involuntary response of which I approve.'
"I do not have to utilize my telepathy to know your mind, Jim. I am drawn to it, like a beacon."
'Oh god, oh god, oh god.'
"Why?" Jim asked, plaintively, hating the softness in his tone, hating the pleading, but mostly hating the necessity of the question to begin with. Why couldn't Spock just go already, leaving Jim to bury himself in the covers of his bed and sleep for days on end like he really, really wanted to just now? Why?
"Another attempt to trap me into admitting something that will validate your apprehensive need to push me away. I said I will not help you in that." Anger flashed like lava in Spock's eyes, lethal, hot, and blazing, his face betraying a stubborn resolve that Jim knew all too well, for he saw it in the mirror whenever he looked at his own reflection. They were alike, so alike, at their core; beneath the stigmas of Vulcan and human, they were the same. Too stubborn for anyone but each other to bear, too clever for the universe at large to handle, only in each other, in whatever peace that derived, could a pacifying agent be found.
Lord, but it burned. The desire to give in and to grab Spock with all his might. The aching need to succumb to all that could be. The tenacious will that clashed fully with that desire, unwilling to the very end, unwilling to admit defeat.
"Stop it, Spock! Stop messing with me! Stop knowing my mind! Just stop, you're going to ruin us!"
A plea felt and meant, far past the point of dignity, cast out fully in survival mode. Jim no longer cared how his tone sounded, just that his urgency was conveyed.
"No Jim, I'm attempting to make us better. I am compelled towards you. I can no more halt my designs than I could cease to breathe." Spock's voice broke as he spoke, his face twisting in agony so foreign to his beautiful features that the sight of it split Jim right down the middle and tore him neatly in half.
He was broken now, so divided: hurting for himself, hurting for Spock. How did the other them, in that other universe, do it? Had their coming together been such a mighty battle raged? Not just between them, but within themselves?
Seconds passed. Hours. Days. Time really didn't seem to have any relevance when Jim's world had shifted so entirely. It was like he was floating out in space without an anchor.
"I need time," he said at last, his voice cutting the silence like a knife, though mellifluous in intent, and gentle in meaning. "I need to make sense of this."
"Come find me when you are ready," Spock responded, voice equally soft.
And as Spock turned around and left, Jim wished he could go back and live his life over again. That he could somehow do things differently so that he could grow up into a person who was easier to live with. He wasn't just hurting himself anymore, he was hurting Spock. It was the first time he'd ever done anything that he was unsure he'd be able to forgive himself for.
The laser was pointed at Spock and Jim wanted to kill the son of a bitch holding it with his bare hands.
Routine away mission. A simple trade. Raw materials in exchange for wheat flour. No mess, no foul… right. Pike should have known better, any mission that involved Jim landing on a planet ended in some kind of scuffle, every time. He knew it, Bones knew it (and always had the sheets of Jim's sickbay bed changed just before an away mission commenced), Spock knew it, hell, the cook in the mess hall knew it. And most maddening of all is that most of the time he wasn't even trying to start something.
Yet the quirks of paradoxical humor that made up his life were not so funny in the face of Spock potentially getting shot.
Experiencing wariness over the potential of a wildly passionate and wholly over-whelming relationship? That was nothing on the total fear spawned by the potential of real loss. He would do anything to live the last two days over again, to go back to that night, almost forty-eight hours prior, and re-do his conversation with Spock.
'Okay, Spock, let's do better, see how it works for us.'
How Shakespearean, how cliché, to finally recognize the depth of love on the cusp of death itself. Jim would laugh at the irony if he wasn't so fucking pissed off. So his life played out like an overly dramatic Greek tragedy; he'd fight every God and Goddess on Olympus if it meant his desired outcome was achieved.
The universe would not take Spock from him, he wouldn't allow it. He'd lost enough, he wouldn't lose this. So maybe fate was very real. Okay, he could deal, ultimately it didn't matter because he would still do what he wanted anyway, whether fate had it planned for him or not… and when it came to Spock getting to live to see another day, Jim would scoff at fate itself to make it so.
If they survived this he would never allow Spock on another away mission again, let the bastard try to nerve pinch him for it, Jim could practice dodging if it meant that Spock was safe.
He turned to Spock, allowing his heart to shine through his eyes, hoping against hope that Spock's claim that he knew Jim's mind was real, and then sent him his affection with every thought he could manage.
"Spock, I know fear and, good news, it's not paralyzing me into inaction, I'm going to work through it. You can tell me later if I get a passing grade."
And with that, he threw himself at the hostile with the gun.
Their would-be captor hit the ground with a thud, Jim's hands desperately reaching for the laser in the hand above their heads, resulting in a mad scuffle, and a writhing tangle of limbs. The entire incident was over in seconds, however, when Spock joined the fray, Jim's kamikaze actions providing the distraction he needed to reach for the alien's neck and pinch him unconscious.
The relief Jim felt when the body beneath went slack was so profound that he couldn't help but succumb to elation.
"You're my witness when I write this up for Pike. I did not antagonize the locals in any way. They wanted the goods for free, and pulled a gun on us to ensure it. I hadn't even opened my mouth yet before we were attacked. I'll let you tell Pike that, he'd probably believe you over me," Jim teased, flashing his First a grin, only to be met with the most beautiful pair of angry brown eyes he had ever seen.
The stink-eye Spock was giving him was definitely a bit of a killjoy, and Jim felt his mood immediately sober up.
"Captain, would you kindly explain to me what possessed you to take that unnecessary risk?" Spock's tone was crisp and sharp, immediately getting Jim's hackles raised. It seemed like every conversation he'd had with Spock lately became the emotional equivalent of a shuttle craft caught in turbulence. Up, down and all-around, this way, that way, topsy-turvy… Spock seemed determined to leave him breathless in more ways than one.
"Unnecessary risk? I was saving your life! How is that unnecessary?" Jim gritted his teeth. "I'm sorry Spock, but I see it as entirely necessary," he wouldn't apologize for that, not in a million years. In fact, he'd do the same thing again in a heartbeat. Spock would just have to deal with it. He didn't feel the need to justify himself further. Yes, Jim was in love with the Vulcan, and yes, perhaps he was finally coming to grips with that, but he was still captain, damnit, and that meant he called the shots.
"You may see the necessity, but I do not. Your life is more valuable than mine." The fervency in Spock's voice was unmistakable, as was the frustration. Perhaps he had the same effect on Spock that Spock had on him, this constant tide, one wave of feeling after another.
It was the frustration Jim responded to, seemingly out of reflex, he just couldn't stop himself.
"No it's fucking not! Your life is way more valuable to me than mine!" It took a few seconds for his words to penetrate his consciousness, but when they did something inside him seem to break open, like a damn bursting, draining his energy and anger both, and leaving him utterly defenseless. He hugged his arms around his chest in a protective embrace, all before he could stop himself from showing such an obvious sign of weakness, and then just gave up all pretense of saving face. It was a spectacular battle, this inner war he had started long ago, but one he had ultimately lost, his resistance just wasn't strong enough, not against Spock and he had finally come to learn that he didn't want it to be. He… loved, God, so much, he felt could explode from how much he loved and now he could do little more than hope that Spock was now absolutely clear in that regard. "Do with that what you will."
"And if that will is to love you? To bond with you? To take you in my arms and never let go until death claims one or both of us, would you allow it? Will you let me into your mind, Jim, would you accept that I want you in mine? Would you concede that all that I am, all that I have, is yours for the taking? Would you allow me the same from you, give unto me that part of yourself that you guard so fiercely?" Spock's face looked so earnest as he leaned towards Jim, so uncertain and certain both, grabbing hold of Jim's forearms, and capturing his gaze with a reverence so obvious for anyone to see.
How could the universe think that Vulcans couldn't feel? They felt so beautifully, at least this one did. There was a light shining in Spock's eyes, one that captivated Jim's attention, and there was hope. Jim felt the sudden urge to just curl up against Spock's chest and stay there forever, to bask in that strength and let Spock love him, as promised.
He believed Spock, he really did.
"I will not settle for less, Jim. I want you. I want you more than I have ever wanted anything, but in this I can only be selfish. That is what I seek… all, everything, you no longer fighting against me so persistently. I have been attempting to exercise patience. I have moved slowly, subtly, so not to startle you. During our game the other night I found I could hold it back no further. I want you in my life for the rest of its duration. That is what I wish of you. That is what I want to give you in return."
The lump in his throat was impossible to swallow around, and Jim was sure that his heart had never beat so fast. God, what could he say to that? What could he hope to give in return? It was all so much. So intense. So beyond anything in his experience. He wanted to cry: in joy, in fear, in exaltation, in weariness, and in the feeling of coming home after a long and arduous journey, but he'd long since forgotten how.
So instead he replied, "Yes. I want that. I can give you that," and meant it.
The softness in Spock's eyes just then, dancing in elation, topped every beautiful sight he'd ever seen, from watching the Enterprise be built in the Riverside shipyard, to seeing her out in space from the window of a shuttle craft that first time. And while Jim still had a bit of an issue with the clash between destiny and free will, it truly didn't matter; he would have chosen Spock anyway.