The Quickest Way
Fandom: Star Trek XI
Genre: Humor, mainly of the 'FML' variety. Some Romance sneaks in near the end.
Word Count: Approximately 12,300.
Summary: Jim is infatuated with his first officer, but nothing gets past that Vulcan exterior. He has no choice but to enlist the help of his crew.
Pairings: Kirk/Spock, if Jim lives long enough.
Spoilers: Briefly, for Star Trek XI.
Warnings: As listed above, slash.
Disclaimer: Very sadly, I own nothing related to Star Trek. The characters are probably very pleased with this arrangement.
A/N: I wrote this for my friend's birthday after I took her prompt and ran with it. I ran far, far away. Here you are, Lucifer! I hope you enjoy anyway.
This story begins, as most stories end on the Enterprise, in Sickbay.
It was something of a routine after a year or so of their mission: they'd come across a new planet, or answer the distress call of a colony, the away team would beam down, and chaos would promptly ensue. At first Jim had thought that it was because he liked to lead the away teams, and he tended to leave destruction in his wake even if it wasn't his fault. Spock had obviously thought so too, and had tried to command him to follow protocol and stay onboard when the situation didn't demand a high-ranking official. Jim decided to go with it for awhile, but it seemed like the away teams got into even worse trouble.
Which of course meant that Jim started beaming down again, which meant that Spock started beaming down too because, logically, Starfleet's finest only needed a babysitter. After having to nerve-pinch half their welcoming party on the planet, the Vulcan admitted that perhaps what was required was new strategy, not new players. So then both Jim AND Spock started getting the shit kicked out of them, which of course led to Bones demanding to accompany them since he was the only one with any sort of common sense on this ship, dammit, which upped his bitching factor by ten points since he hated using transporters…but the long and short of it was that 90% of the time (or whatever, Jim's not Spock or anything), the captain, first officer, and CMO were in Sickbay come the end of an assignment, with any combination of injuries.
This time, Jim was in the hot seat. He was actually pretty okay with that, considering. The wounds of the four security personnel had been mild enough that they were already back on duty, and Bones hadn't been hurt at all. And Spock, well, if Jim hadn't jumped in front of that bullet, Spock would be here in his place. Jim couldn't have that. It might not have been (completely) his fault this mission went south, but it was his fault that Spock always tagged along.
Also, Jim never wanted to infiltrate a pre-warp society again. Bullets hurt like a bitch.
And he was bored.
He could try and get Bones to shoot the shit with him, but the doctor was napping in his office. Even though he went on the away teams, Bones always insisted on treating the wounded, which resulted in his being even more tired. He had told Jim he was doing paperwork and to call if he needed anything, but the younger man could see that the door was closed and he hadn't heard him cuss in two hours, so…yes, his friend was probably napping, and Jim wasn't about to wake him.
Jim threw the thin white blanket off of himself and looked down at the large swathe of bandages across his chest. He scratched halfheartedly above where his wound was and sighed. There wasn't even a pretty nurse he could flirt with. They were all off in the lab next door researching something or other. Chapel had come in to check on him, but that was about an hour ago now, and all she'd done was reiterate his orders for the next 24 hours: Don't do anything. Nothing. Don't even think about getting out of bed. This kind of bullet never leaves a neat path so you'll take longer to heal, etc, etc. Which meant that he couldn't read reports, right? Wrong. Yeoman Rand had come in with some PADDs right as Chapel was about to leave, and she'd smiled and said, "Why Janice, what an excellent idea!"
And yeah, Jim was bored enough that he did some paperwork. Gladly. Happily. Chin up, even. He added little smiley faces on his reports to the admiralty. They would appreciate that. And wasn't the deadline coming up for performance reports? Glowing and not-so-glowing reviews for all 400-some crewmen: How would you rate this crewmember's overall performance? Choose the answer that most closely matches your desired response. Very Poorly, Poorly, Indifferent, Fair, Adequate, Good, Very Good, Excellent…
That distracted him for about fifteen minutes, anyway. But fuck paperwork. Jim began to systematically bang his head against the wall, but since there was a pillow between it and his head, he stopped. What was the point of banging your head if it didn't hurt? Even the smallest of human rights was taken away in Sickbay. Jim was suddenly overwhelmed by the futility of it all. Resigning himself to the most boring next dozen hours of his life, he brought his knees up, rested his elbows on them, and began tugging at his hair.
"Are you in pain, Captain?"
"Waughaa!" Jim jerked his head up and plastered himself back against the wall. "What the fuck, Spock?"
The Vulcan had come out of nowhere to appear before him. He was carrying a box with a black and white pattern under his arm. "I startled you."
"No shit," Jim grumbled. He patted his bandage since he had felt it stretch a little when he'd jumped. "Give a guy some warning, would you?" So I don't shriek like a girl again the next time you show up.
Spock solemnly inclined his head. "I apologize, Captain. But are you in pain?"
Jim waved his hand. "No, no, I'm fine. What's up?"
"My shift has just ended and I thought perhaps that you would be amenable to a game of chess. However, if you require rest, or are otherwise occupied…" He gestured toward the various PADDs that Jim had spread around him.
"Spock," sighed Jim in relief, "there are few things I'd like more than if you'd play chess with me. I'm dying of boredom."
The Vulcan cocked his head slightly, but did not comment on the hyperbole. He moved a small potted plant from the table next to the bed, and replaced it with his box. Jim examined it; the cover was a stunning and complex tessellation of geometric shapes made with inlaid stone, alternating black and white pieces. It was truly beautiful, and in his already deteriorated mood, the Human became morose and wistful thinking of what Vulcan craftsman had made it, whether the green-veined stones used could only have been found on Vulcan, how long it had been in Spock's family…
Jim picked up all his PADDs and unceremoniously dumped them on the table to his left as Spock connected the several levels of the chess board. All the parts slid into place seamlessly, and Jim began to help setting up the pieces themselves. They weren't like the ones found on the game boards in the rec rooms at all. Each piece, made with painstaking precision, was an isosceles triangle about an inch thick. Jim could pick out the pawns easily enough; they were half the height of the others and had no embellishments. He was at a loss for the rest, though. The rooks, knights, and bishops were all of a height, the kings and queens only a bit bigger. Each had varying interlocking patterns of parallel lines and triangles etched into the stone, the only way to tell the pieces apart. "Are all Vulcan chess pieces like these, or is this just a fancy set?"
Spock plucked the black triangle out of Jim's hand, careful not to brush their fingers. Judging by where he placed it on the board, it was a knight. "Naturally not all Vulcan sets are alike, but no, Captain, they almost never have the classical Terran shapes."
"Why not?" he asked, and put the last couple of pieces in place now that he could differentiate the patterns, having watched Spock set up the rest. "It's a Terran game. Wouldn't it be logical to keep the usual shapes?" He wiggled his eyebrows.
"An interesting game, chess, with a fascinating history," murmured Spock, gesturing for Jim to take the white pieces and, therefore, the first move. He lifted his dark eyes from the board to glance at the captain. "Do you know much about it?"
"I know I can whoop your ass!" Jim laughed, though he found Spock's response odd. He'd been expecting some lighthearted debate, but whatever. Carelessly he moved a pawn up one level. Jim would create a strategy once he figured out the one his first officer wanted to use.
"Chess," Spock began, "despite the great amount of logic and reasoning required to play the modern three-dimensional version, was one of the most ancient of Terran games." Though his tone was measured and considering, he moved his own pawn decisively. It hit the lowest level with a click. "It was quite a different playing field, without opposing colors on the board, without the same players and their moves…and it was, above all, a game of chance."
Spock paused and so did Jim, a teasing reply on the tip of his tongue. His first officer had fallen into one of his lecture modes, and Jim knew he was in for an intellectual beating. Jim could redirect the flow of conversation easily, but…Spock had come here to keep him company, so why not let him talk? Besides, he always found the rhythm of his speech soothing. Though Spock actually wasn't using his strident instructor's voice…It was something a little different, though Jim couldn't quite put a finger on it. "Chance?" he prompted. He may as well learn something.
The Vulcan nodded once. "Yes. The players would roll dice to determine which piece they next had to play." He raised an eyebrow at the move Jim had just made. The captain grinned back. "A method, I have noticed, that you sometimes apply to yourself when you wish for a challenge."
Shrugging, Jim put his elbow next to the board and propped his chin up on his hand. It didn't surprise him to know that Spock could figure out the weird and often complicated handicaps he used when feeling adventurous. The next few minutes they spent in silence, punctuated only by the crisp snick of stone on stone. Jim found himself examining one of Spock's pawns, running his fingers along the clear lines and feeling the sharpness of the corners.
"Each piece has its own rich history," said Spock suddenly, eyeing the one in Jim's hands. He continued as if there hadn't been a pause in the lecture: "The most interesting of which, perhaps, is that of the queen. Starting with the game's supposed genesis in Persia or India circa the 6th century of your Common Era, she was actually called the grand vizier."
"Huh," said Jim. "She was a guy."
"She still is, in some Terran cultures." Spock put his hand on the piece in question, but then removed it in an unusual show of hesitation. "Additionally, as the game has spread throughout the galaxy, the names of the pieces have changed to conform to the native cultures." The Vulcan decided to move his bishop instead. Jim followed up quickly, placing one of his rooks on the topmost level. "For example, on Toilus VII, the popular Terran queen becomes the prince. On Vindricut it is often called the midwife. In the upper echelons of society on Bumbooa, it is the chief of council. On Coralis VIII, a planet known for its wide seas, the lower classes call it the first mate."
Jim laughed. "Figures that I'm the captain, but your position is the most powerful piece on the board." He watched in interest as Spock opened his mouth almost imperceptibly to say something in reply, but then closed it. Pouring himself a small cup of water from his bedside pitcher, Jim kept his eyes on the Vulcan. Of course he had no way of knowing how fast Spock thought up and discarded ideas, but it was strange now that he had actually seen it twice, and in as many minutes. Jim took a sip. "And Vulcans? What do they call the queen?"
"Vulcans call it t'hy'la." He captured one of the white pawns and set it aside.
"What does that mean?" Jim asked, when no explanation was forthcoming.
"There is no Standard translation for the term. But there is a pattern here, Jim. Do you see it yet?" He clearly expected an answer, though his eyes remained trained on their game.
"Hmm," said Jim. He picked up one of his pillows and fluffed it. "Well…even though they're really powerful on the board, they're usually not the most powerful person in society." Propping the pillow against the wall, he draped an arm over it and looked to Spock to see if he was on the right track. The Vulcan simply stared in response. Fine, so he'd play the student. Jim scanned all seven levels of the board, noting the positions of each piece, which were already out of the game and how many, creating new possibilities and situations that might arise. Particularly he noted the locations of the queens. "…Support," he said, finally. "They're usually positions of support."
Spock inclined his head. "And not just support, Jim. They offer advice and are confidants- and, more than this, they are simultaneously the strength and greatest weakness of the king, or his cultural equivalent."
Jim considered the strategy. "They're the king's greatest strength because they can do almost anything to save him. The greatest weakness, because he is so dependent upon them…and because of the way the game is played…it's so hard to win without them."
"Precisely," approved Spock.
Again the pair lapsed into silence. As they took their turns and shattered each other's battle plans, Jim found himself thinking more and more about all that Spock had told him. He couldn't just play whatever piece fit his mood best anymore; every time he picked one up, he wondered about its history, what the Persians used to call it, what Vulcans called it. Especially he considered the queen. Or the first mate. Jim looked at Spock through the layers sprouting from either side of the board's stem, the blue of the uniform a shock, but…otherwise his dark hair and eyes, his pale skin, the white cleanliness of the room around them…all of it matched the chess board.
"You know," said Jim, frowning, "I always thought chess was just a game of strategy."
"Not only," the Vulcan said. It was his turn, and there was almost a tenderness in the way he moved his king one space to the left, unlike his crisp motions from before. And just like that, Jim realized that he was infatuated with Spock, and had been for who knew how long.
"…Fascinating," Jim responded.
Jim had a crush on Spock. The worst thing about it was not that he had to spend almost every shift with him. It wasn't that he often watched his lips instead of actually listening to what was being said. It also wasn't that sometimes when Spock was bending over his console to examine his instruments, Jim was pretty sure other crewmembers saw him staring at the Vulcan's ass. (It's not like he could help it though, seeing as Spock did it five hundred times a day. Who was the idiot that designed these ships so that you had to stand to look at the monitors, anyway? Jim didn't know whether to throttle or thank him.) No. Those were good things. It didn't help his crush, but it did lend him a certain amount of satisfaction.
The worst thing of all was that there was no one to go to for advice.
Jim didn't really have a problem with the whole 'fraternization' thing. It went on all the time aboard the Enterprise, and he knew it. Hell, he tacitly condoned it. Jim also didn't care about the guy on guy thing, or the guy on (half-)alien, for that matter. Those were all things he'd experienced if not in his youth, then at the Academy, where there had always been strange relationships going on in the dorms and faculty rooms. The problem was that none of his skills applied.
Sure, Jim was a flirt. Everybody knew it. Jim's default was flirtation. He was careful never to turn it up too loud while he was on duty, but the mess hall? The rec room? Chess games with Spock? He flirted all the time! He couldn't flirt with Spock, because he always flirted with Spock, and there was no way Spock would ever know he was really flirting, because he was always really flirting, except now he would really, really be flirting, and…this was getting him nowhere.
Jim didn't believe in no-win scenarios. That was a given. He knew he wasn't a lost cause, but he also realized that if he wanted to maintain his sanity, he needed to bring in outside help. But who was there to ask? The captain paused after pacing his eightieth lap around his quarters and rubbed his temples. It had to be someone he could trust, someone who knew both him and Spock well, someone who also had success in his sexual conquests…that was a very, very short list. There was only one choice that looked even vaguely appealing.
Jim sighed. Then he squared his shoulders and strode into the hallway before he could change his mind. He barely acknowledged the other crewmen as he walked by, absently nodding his head and giving little waves. Before he knew it, he was standing in front of the botany labs. He slipped in and espied his target all the way in the back, a flash of gold in the greenery.
"Hey, Sulu!" he called. "What's up?"
The pilot leaned out into the aisle around a tall fern. "Not much, Captain," he grinned. "Just giving some love to the darlings, here." Jim wove his way to him, and Sulu gestured to the small flowers hiding in the shade of the ferns.
The plants had blue-green stalks and flowers ranging from magenta to deep amethyst, three petals each. Sulu was misting them with a spray bottle, and they seemed to shiver at the light impact. Some of them snapped shut, sharp frills instantly growing and locking the petals together. Jim wracked his brain for when his helmsman had picked up the samples from a colony planet a couple months ago. "Those Retkallion snapsharks look great," he said. Sulu beamed with pride, still spritzing. The captain tried to remember more, thinking that the happier he made Sulu now, the less he'd laugh at Jim later. "I guess you found a suitable replacement for its native diet of, uh, foggledoodles?"
Sulu chuckled. "It's foggadudlë. And yeah, the last time we were on New Vulcan and I was helping them with their flora projects, a couple of the botanists helped me figure out what proteins it takes from the foggadudlë. It's not too dissimilar to what venus flytraps do with insects." He took a rag he'd thrown over one shoulder, and wiped off the nozzle of the bottle before unscrewing the cap.
Jim trailed him over to the sink where he very carefully disposed of the liquid, which apparently wasn't just water. Jim knew he'd been given a great conversational opening, but he didn't quite know how to run with it. "Vulcans, huh? Do they…do they treat plants like experiments? Or do they treat them like you do?"
Glancing at his captain in surprise, Sulu turned from the sink and rested against the counter so he could face him. The helmsman quirked his lips. "You mean, does it look like they care about the plants?"
Putting his hands in his pockets, Jim shrugged. "Yeah."
The pilot pushed his sleeves up to his elbow and crossed his arms. "Well, not unless you know what to look for. You know Vulcans. They're hard to read. But you can see it in the way they handle the plants. When you move a seedling you have to be gentle. And there's more than one way to weed a garden. You can rip things out, or you dig carefully underneath them and treat them with respect. That's what Vulcans do."
Jim smirked. "So you're saying that Vulcans wouldn't be opposed to growing roses for their ladyloves?" he joked.
Instead of laughing with him over the illogical image like Jim had expected, Sulu blinked over wide eyes. "Ohhhh. That's what this is about. Weird."
"Wait, what?" Jim stiffened.
"You and Spock, huh? Can't say I didn't see it coming, though. Opposites attract and all."
"Who said anything about Spock?" Jim panicked.
This time, it was Sulu who smirked. "You just stopped by the labs to chat then, did you?"
"You're the one who brought up Vulcans," the captain retorted, fidgeting.
"And you're not on your game." Sulu shook his head and pushed off the counter. Walking back toward the rows of plants, he spoke over his shoulder. "I practice lots of different kinds of combat, Captain. I know a defensive maneuver when I see one."
Again Jim followed him, pushing leaves and branches out of his way. "Okay, fine. I'll level with you. What do you think?"
Sulu started and turned to face him. "…About you and Spock?"
"No, there is no me and Spock. That's the problem!"
"Um, since when do you have problems in the hooking up department?"
"Ouch," pouted Jim, clutching his belly. Admitting it to yourself and hearing someone else say so were two different things. "Touché."
Sulu rolled his eyes. "Well?"
"He's not some hot ticket in a bar, man!" Jim said, waving his arms. "And it's not like I can flaunt my captaincy, or offer him a drink, or ask him back to my room, because one, he already knows I'm the captain, two, he doesn't even drink alcohol, and three, if I asked him back to my quarters, he'd think I just wanted to play a game of fucking chess!" At the last grand gesture, a shower of tiny, frosty-green leaves fell on their heads.
"Maybe," Sulu responded slyly. "But chess, or chess?"
Desperation took over. Jim grabbed Sulu's shoulders, effectively stopping him from wiping the foliage off his shirt. He probably looked crazed with his wild blue eyes and leaves sticking out of his hair, but Jim was pretty much beyond caring at this point. "Sulu." He gave his helmsman a small shake. "I'm asking – nay – begging for your help."
Sulu carefully pried off his hands. "What is it that you want help with, exactly? Wooing a Vulcan? I'm not so sure I want to get involved with that."
He was taking it seriously at last. "No," said Jim, "I'm not asking you to do anything. I just want to know what you think…is the quickest way…" Jim struggled to find a figure of speech that was less girly, but he couldn't think of anything. "…to a Vulcan's heart?"
"Spock's heart," Sulu replied flatly.
"In general," Jim corrected.
The pilot sighed and put his hands on his hips, thinking. "Well…you know Spock. He keeps his cards close to his chest. I mean, when we're on the bridge, he's all business. Most of the time I've spent with him off the bridge has been sparring."
"Sparring?" repeated Jim, feeling a glimmer of hope.
"Sure. I study combat with several different blades. I have my foils and epees and my katana. I even know a little bit about using a broadsword." He shrugged. "Spock asked me to teach him a long time ago, so, we spar a couple times a week."
Now that he had something to work with, the gears in Jim's head were turning a mile a minute. "So he likes studying forms of combat?"
"Yeah. But there probably isn't a lot you can teach him, because you just do hand to hand, right?"
"What, you don't think that's legit?" Jim huffed.
"Of course I do!" Sulu laughed at his indignation. "It's just that I still haven't convinced him to teach me how to use his Vulcan weapons – he does drills with some pretty badass stuff – but he does teach me hand to hand in return. Guy's a fucking force."
Jim rubbed his neck. Over a year, and still he could feel the Vulcan's hands on it. His inhumanly warm, unbelievably strong hands. Jim cleared his throat. "Yeah, I seem to recall."
Sulu clapped him on the shoulder sympathetically. "That's all I got, man. Sorry."
"No, no, that's good. Do you know when he usually drills by himself?"
"Yeah. In the morning, before our shift starts."
A plan was already forming. "Thanks, Sulu. You're awesome."
"Don't mention it," he said, with a somewhat strained smile on his face.
Whatever. Jim knew his plan would work.
The next morning (according to shiptime, anyway), Jim got up at an ungodly hour. He threw on some shorts and an old t-shirt and walked down to the gym. The captain was actually fairly surprised at how many people were there, but most of them were just on the bikes or treadmills, watching vids projected onto the wall. When Jim entered one of the rooms full of sparring mats, however, there were only a few men and women, all of them observing the one match that was taking place.
The bout was between Lieutenant Dawson from one of the ship's security teams, and Spock. Of course. The two of them were fighting hand to hand, though it wasn't any particular style. The Human was throwing everything he could at the Vulcan, who seemed content to block and evade instead of returning the attack. Dawson had lots of agility, especially since he was wearing nothing but tight red pants, sort of like long bike shorts. Spock, however, was wearing what Jim guessed was the Vulcan equivalent of a keikogi. It was all black and a bit thin-looking, because when he moved to block or kick, it rippled around his limbs; he was almost like a flitting shadow in the middle of the bright room. Despite the creative combinations Dawson was employing, Spock seemed to know what he was going to do before he did it and never gave him an inch. Put simply, he was stronger and faster. The lieutenant didn't really have a chance.
Without warning Spock spun to deliver a powerful kick, and Jim definitely didn't notice how his hair flowed just like the cloth of his gi, and settled back on his head in a windswept fashion. Dawson took it straight in the solar plexus and stumbled over. Someone blew a whistle. The few people watching clapped. "You are much improved, Lieutenant," said Spock. He wasn't even out of breath, the bastard.
Dawson laughed as much as he could between his heavy breaths. The woman who had blown the whistle helped him to his feet. "Yeah, well, I think I have a lot more training to do before I challenge you again, sir."
"More training never goes amiss," approved Spock. He inclined his head in a sort of bow. "Excuse me." He turned and walked toward one of the mirrored walls.
The group of crewmen fell into excited chattering in his wake, but Jim only had eyes for Spock. The Vulcan wasn't facing him but he could see his front in the mirror. He had heard that Vulcans didn't sweat, but surely that was a drop of sweat sliding down Spock's neck. Jim, for one, certainly didn't watch it slip into the bit of dark chest hair that was visible where his gi wrapped around itself. And Spock was definitely not giving him a fine show by bending over to open a case on the floor. Also, that was decidedly not the beginnings of a hard-on in Jim's shorts. Quickly, Jim grabbed a towel from the rack next to the door and draped it over his arm in such a way that it covered this embarrassing development, which was most definitely not a part of his plan.
Spock stood back up, calmly unfolding long strips of white leather that had metal weights on the end. He wrapped the weapon around his arms just so and looked up to check his form in the mirror. Looked up, and straight at Jim.
The Human froze, and so did Spock. Jim couldn't help but notice that though Spock wasn't breathing hard, his mouth was still slightly open from the exertion. Slowly, the Vulcan's eyebrows rose in question.
Jim coughed, pasted on a grin, and gave his first officer a dumb little wave. Who likes sparring, anyway? Jim thought, fleeing the room. Yeah…today was much more of a treadmill kind of day.
The next few days were particularly awkward on the bridge, though not because of Spock. The Vulcan hadn't acted any differently after Jim's random appearance during his morning workout, which was all to the good. No, the awkwardness was coming from Sulu, who, during the quiet parts of their shift, had taken to swiveling around slowly in his chair and staring pointedly between Jim and the science officer behind him. Because Jim had been a fool to ask Sulu. Jim's crush was making him stupid. So on second thought, it was Spock's fault.
Jim pulled a Sulu and swiveled slowly in his chair, glaring at his first officer. He was standing and looking over the shoulder of the crewman to his left, nodding at whatever she was saying. Then Spock took the two steps back over to his station and bent to check his instruments. Bent, once again, with his ass in Jim's direction. Mother. Fucker.
"Spock!" he barked.
The Vulcan straightened. "Captain?"
Jim spat out the first question he could think of. "When's the last time you walked through Engineering?"
"Five-point-seven days ago, Captain," Spock responded promptly.
Jim nodded. This could actually work in his favor, because he needed to get out of here. Right now. "Fine. I'm going to go check and see that Scotty hasn't blown anything up lately. The bridge is yours, Mr. Spock."
With that, Jim got out of his chair and walked at a normal pace to the turbolift, thank you very much. If Jim was going to retreat, he was going to retreat with dignity. Once the doors slid shut, however, Jim sank against the wall. "Engineering deck," he said halfheartedly, and the lift shifted into motion.
Jim had had crushes before. Plenty of them. But this wasn't the girl sitting in the third row of his tactics seminar. Besides, he wasn't a teenager anymore, and as long as he was thinking along those lines, there had to be a better word than crush. Crushing was so…middle school. Jim was a grown man. The captain of a fucking starship! He didn't get here by gliding along and smiling pretty (okay, maybe a little). Jim had gotten this gig because he was smart, dammit. Logic dictated that if he could take on new planets and unexplored space, he could tackle the burgeoning feelings he harbored for his first officer.
Going to Engineering was turning out to be the best thing for him to do right now. Logic only entered the realm of Montgomery Scott whenever Spock did.
The lift doors opened onto an empty hallway- empty of people, that is. Here more than anywhere else on the Enterprise, Jim could feel the presence of the ship itself. Happily he ran his hand along the wall, connecting himself to the gentle hum of his girl and letting the vibration run through him. When he reached the double doors that led to Main Engineering, they slid back to reveal a complex system of computers, engines, blinking lights, and tubes and wires intertwined in a complicated dance. The now powerful thrum thrum of the ship eased his tension, and he sighed. It was good to be reminded that some things were bigger than his disturbing new infatuation.
Keenser was sitting on some metal scaffolding to Jim's left, tapping a PADD with his stylus. "Hey, Keenser!" he called, waving when the little green alien peered at him from over his work. "Where can I find Scotty?" Keenser pointed toward the back right corner of the room. "Thanks," said Jim.
Feeling better than he had in days, the captain strode confidently between the vats of coolant, whistling a little tune. When he figured he'd gone far enough he shouted, "Scotty!"
"Cap'n!" came the almost instantaneous reply. Then the man himself popped his torso out from around a corner. "Back here, sir!"
He grinned and jogged the last few steps. "Heya, Scotty," said Jim when he turned down the aisle where the Scotsman was working. "How's my favorite chief engineer doing?"
"Not too bad, Cap'n," the older man answered, fingers flying across the screen of one of the computers. "What can I do for you?"
Jim shrugged. Now that he was here, he was in no hurry to leave. But still, he'd have to go back to the bridge sometime. He leaned his elbow on top of the large monitor Scotty was using so that he could face him. "Just wanted a chat, if you have the time."
"I haven't got all day, but I think the laddies can handle her for a few minutes."
"Shouldn't keep you long, just a quick question."
"Weeeell," drawled Scotty, entering in one last sequence, "let's hear it, then." He looked up from the computer to give Jim his full attention.
There was no use beating around the bush with Scotty. He probably wouldn't care enough to connect the dots anyway. And Jim had nothing to be ashamed of, dammit. "So, uh, what do you think is the quickest way to a Vulcan's heart?" he asked. Fuck. Jim really, really needed to think of a different way to phrase that question.
"Hm," said Scotty, without showing any sign of thinking it a weird question at all. "Well, they say the quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but failing that- through the liberal application of fine scotch."
Jim was amused despite himself. "I really don't think Human adages work on Vulcans."
"Pish posh!" the engineer scoffed. "Some things are universal. That means throughout the universe."
Jim crossed his arms in thought. The whole romantic dinner thing hadn't even occurred to him. That just wasn't his style. He didn't think it was Spock's style either, but…he did look like a proper kind of guy. Had Spock and Uhura ever gone out to dinner? Jim couldn't remember. Maybe they had. Suddenly it seemed like the perfect solution. It was enough out of the ordinary that Spock would notice, and it made his intentions obvious without resorting to groping in the gym. This was definitely a better idea than wrestling. Well. Better in a different sense. "So…you're saying I should ply Spock with food and scotch."
"Aha!" Scotty shouted. The word echoed against all the large machinery. "I thought you were askin' about yon first officer." He gestured vaguely toward the bridge, a smug smile lighting his face.
"…Shit." Jim dropped his head in his hands. He felt like a horny teen caught with his pants down.
"Don't you worry, lad," the older man soothed, draping his arm over Jim's shoulders and pulling him into a walk. He threw his other arm wide, indicating that Jim should look all around them. "Universals."
"You really think if I made Spock dinner he would appreciate it?" Jim asked.
Scotty nodded vigorously. "Of course! Nothin' says romance like a homemade dinner, and naught warms the cockles of the heart like a nice shot of well-aged single malt."
Jim found that he could smile. "Thanks, Scotty." He slipped out from under his avuncular arm and turned to go.
"You're welcome. Oh! And Cap'n?" he called.
"Yeah, Scotty?" Jim faced him again, walking backward.
"Good luck," he said, and winked at him. Roguishly.
Whatever gods there are in the universe, thought Jim, hiding his blush, have mercy.
Two days after his conversation with Scotty, they stopped off at a public-use space station that had one of the most famous markets in the quadrant. Especially famous was a Piersien chocolatier, whose confections were widely sought-after not just in this quadrant, but the entire galaxy. You couldn't come by the chocolates cheaply, but hell, what else did Jim have to spend his credits on?
Now that Jim had a plan, he was able to spend the next few days on the bridge in relative peace. Sure, his last plan had been a bust, but this one was foolproof: it deviated from their normal schedule, intentions couldn't be more clear, and there was no chance of Jim getting hard before they even talked (probably). Whenever Sulu swiveled around to look at him, Jim just smirked.
Finally the time came when the Vulcan was free to join him in his quarters for a nice game of chess. Jim hadn't been nervous at all during the past week, but now that he was setting up his own Terran-style board on the desk, he felt the presence of the chocolates like a pulse in the back of his brain. First he put the gift near where Spock would sit. Then he put it on his bookshelf within easy reaching distance. Jim was about to hide it behind his computer when the door buzzed. He dropped his hand and wiped it on his shirt. It was sweaty. "Come in!" he called.
"Good evening, Captain," greeted Spock, entering the room.
"Hey, Spock." Jim cast about for something else to say. "Uh, thirsty?"
"No, thank you." The Vulcan sat down in his customary spot, and Jim followed suit. They began to play.
"So, did you do any shopping at the space station?" Jim asked. When was it that he'd stopped being able to carry conversations, again?
"No," answered Spock. "There was nothing I required."
Aha! An in. "People don't always shop for what they need, Spock," Jim answered. "It's okay to shop for things that you want for yourself, or things that make you think of other people."
"Indeed, a very Human concept," the Vulcan acknowledged.
Jim grinned. "Funny you should say that." Then he reached over to the shelf and plucked down the small box wrapped in shiny purple paper. "I got something that I thought you might find interesting." He held it out to the man across from him.
Spock took the box and carefully unwrapped it with his long, sure fingers. The box itself was made of yellow, the logo of the shop in a swirling brown design. Spock slid a nail in the seam and popped it open, revealing the various chocolates nestled in ridged white papers. Some looked plain, some had darker chocolate artfully swirled around them, and some even had crushed nuts or marzipan sprinkled on top. The Vulcan lingered over the candy for a moment; then he shut the box and set it softly on the table. "I cannot accept these."
Jim felt his gut drop out from beneath him and clenched his jaw. "Why not?" he asked, trying to keep his voice light.
"I would not enjoy them," Spock replied.
"Oh," said Jim, dumbly. He attempted to smile, but he was sure it came out as more of a grimace. "You won't even try one?"
"Captain- Jim," Spock amended. "I appreciate the gesture, but Vulcans do not eat chocolate."
The Human felt his throat go tight, but this time for an entirely different reason. Was it possible that Spock had no idea about the romantic connotations of buying someone chocolate? "Is chocolate illogical?" he asked, somewhat teasingly, trying to keep his pulse steady.
"Chocolate in and of itself is not illogical," Spock said, "but it would be illogical for a Vulcan to eat it. It does not sit well with our physiology."
Jim mentally face-palmed. "It makes you sick." Why hadn't he done research before gallivanting off to buy Spock candy? Who the fuck buys candy for a grown man anyway?
The Vulcan gave a minute shrug. "More or less." Jim must not have been hiding his chagrin as well as he'd thought, because Spock continued, "It was a kind thought, Jim," and Jim could actually see the sincerity in his eyes.
For a moment they sat in silence, looking at each other. The fire that had been quenched so easily by Spock's refusal came back a hundredfold, and Jim wondered if the Vulcan understood the cultural significance of chocolate after all. Spock's hand was still resting near the box; maybe when Jim went to take the chocolates back, he could…
The thought trailed off as Spock removed his hand, and nodded toward the board. "I believe it is your turn, Jim."
"Yeah," nodded Jim. "Yeah."
He supposed it was just his imagination.
Jim was a man of deeds. A no-hesitation kind of guy. This thing with Spock was stifling his ability to take action. Jim was at a standstill. When he wasn't moving, he itched. And when he itched, Jim went to see Bones.
Desperate times called for desperate measures, after all.
"Hello, Jim. What do you want?"
"Got time for a question?"
"What's the quickest way to a Vulcan's heart?"
"A sharp object between the eighth and ninth costals on the left side."
"Right. Thanks, Bones."
A few days later, Jim and Spock were creeping along a cramped tunnel single file. They'd broken away from the rest of the landing party because Spock had been getting some strange readings on his tricorder, which led him to a cave entrance in the mountainside. The cave had become a tunnel, and here they were, with nothing to guide them but the blinking red and green lights of Spock's instrument.
The Vulcan was so intent on his readings that he stumbled. He regained his footing quickly. "This way, Captain," he said.
"Careful," Jim responded, putting a cautionary hand on the Vulcan's side. When he felt something move he almost jerked away – but then paused, realization dawning. The flutter under his hand was rapid, but steady.
Jim could feel Spock's heart.
Jim felt pathetic. No, he was pathetic. There was nothing subjective about it. Now instead of just ogling Spock's fine ass on the bridge, he was beginning to cultivate fantasies about standing near him as if to check on his work, but then placing his hand on the Vulcan's side, exactly like he had while they'd been exploring the mountain, and Spock would lean into his touch and turn to gaze at him with wide, dark eyes…
Sexual fantasies were one thing, but romantic ones were quite another. Almost…forbidden territory. This had to stop. But he was running out of options.
Of the people Jim counted his closest friends on this ship, he had already gone to three of them for advice and he was no closer to figuring out how to approach Spock. You would think that a starship made up of Starfleet's finest would have people chockfull of amazing solutions, but so far that had not been the case. And yet, if you ever searched the ship's computers for the definition of the term brilliance cross-referenced with the phrase unlooked for, up would pop a picture of one Chekov, Pavel Andreievich.
Without quite knowing how he got there, Jim found himself standing in front of Chekov's quarters. He, James T. Kirk, nearing the age of thirty, lothario of the Midwest and captain of the USS Enterprise, was about to ask a teenager for relationship advice. How had it come to this? Damn you, Spock!
When he buzzed, the door slid open immediately. Chekov looked up from his desk where he was drawing graphs by hand, with actual pencils and paper. "Keptin!" he greeted warmly.
"Hey, Chekov," Jim said, but couldn't bring himself to put much force behind it. "May I come in?"
"Of course, sir," he said, jumping up and pulling the rolls of paper off the other chair in his small room, accidently knocking a protractor onto the floor in the process. "Sit, sit."
Jim sat, and stifled the urge to ruffle the ensign's curls, which he knew he never would have appreciated when eighteen. "How's it going?"
"I am fine, Keptin," said Chekov. "But you are not so fine, yes?"
"What?" asked Jim, startled.
"You hawe been sad lately, Keptin." He regarded Jim with wide, earnest eyes. "I hawe seen it on ze bridge. And Sulu keeps giwing you strange looks and saying you need to get your head out of ass."
Jim laughed and ran his hand over his face. "Does it look that bad, Chekov?"
"I would not be worrying about zat, Keptin," he said, and gave Jim a small pat on the arm. "It is not so obwious. But it is zere." He looked at Jim expectantly, back ramrod straight.
Jim sighed and decided it would be best to do it like ripping off a band-aid. It wasn't like the kid hadn't figured it out anyway. "Chekov, what do you think the quickest way to Spock's heart is?"
The Russian's brow furrowed. "I…do not know, Keptin. Mostly I talk about science wis ze Commander."
"So. He really likes science," Jim said. What in the hell was he supposed to do with that? It's not like it was news to him or anything.
"He is ze head of ze science department, Keptin."
"Maybe ze way to his heart is srough science!" Chekov exclaimed, bouncing a little in his chair.
Jim resigned himself to having She Blinded Me with Science in his head for the rest of the day. "I guess that's…logical."
Chekov beamed. Jim retreated to his room and crawled under the covers.
Spock was the stereotypical scientist. There was simply no other explanation. He worked long hours, had few he considered friends, and never had much of a social life, as far as Jim knew. Not only that, but he'd grown up on a different planet and was still baffled by many aspects of Human behavior. Jim had given Spock chocolate, for fuck's sake. Uhura must have been a fluke. Or he hadn't ignored her because Uhura wasn't someone who people ignored (Jim had thought no one ignored him, either). Or maybe she'd hired an airplane to write Ancient Vulcan verses in the San Francisco sky. Who the fuck knew? Jim wasn't about to ask her. All he understood was that the time for simple gestures was over. Jim was going to spell it out, every last goddamn word.
It wasn't like Jim was going to ambush him in the hallway bearing poetry and loudly declaring his lo- his intentions. But he was going to put it in terms that the scientific and logical Vulcan could understand. Nothing got Spock excited like an experiment, and he had the perfect one lain out, right here on this PADD.
Jim ambushed Spock in the hallway. "Spock!" he said.
"Captain," Spock said.
"Starfleet has been sending me some interesting literature about intra-ship relations," Jim commented. He leaned against the wall suavely, accentuating his hips. One of the passing yeomen stared at him and tripped on her own feet before scurrying away.
"Oh?" Spock moved closer so that they weren't blocking the paths of other crewmembers.
"Yeah," he answered, casual as you please. "One of the studies was about fraternization aboard ships, especially among superior officers."
"Interesting. What were the results of the study, Captain?" Spock clasped his hands behind his back and cocked his head slightly.
"Inconclusive," Jim replied. He pulled the small PADD out of his pocket and glanced down at it, randomly clicking through menus. "So I thought that we should perform an experiment, Spock."
The Vulcan raised an eyebrow. "What type of experiment are you suggesting?"
Jim smirked. "I've got some hypotheses right here." He offered him the PADD like it was no big thing.
Spock primly took it from his hands and looked at the screen. Jim watched him intently for any reaction to what he'd written there:
H1- There are romantic feelings on the part of the captain, but not the first officer.
H2- There are romantic feelings on the part of the first officer, but not the captain.
H3- There are romantic feelings between both the captain and the first officer.
"Fascinating, Captain," said Spock, typing something on the PADD's qwerty board. "I will contact the sociology department presently. Ensign Denada specializes in interpersonal relationships. It appears, however, that you have forgotten a hypothesis." He held out the PADD for Jim to take.
Stupefied, Jim took it back without thinking. Was it at all possible that the 'experiment' had gone completely over Spock's head? Was the Vulcan that oblivious? How in the hell was Jim supposed to respond to that?
Spock apparently didn't need a response. He nodded, again clasped his hands behind his back, and disappeared down the hallway. Jim watched him go. Ignoring the odd glances the passing traffic was giving him, he stood there for a moment longer before reading what Spock had changed. The Vulcan had added his hypothesis to the top of the list:
H0- There are no romantic feelings between captain and first officer.
If there ever was a no-win situation, this was it.
That night, Jim couldn't sleep. He was turning Spock's "hypothesis" over and over in his mind. Was the Vulcan just being thorough, or was he actually trying to imply that he had no feelings for Jim? But if that were true, wasn't it obvious that Jim had feelings for Spock, so then shouldn't he have drawn attention to the first hypothesis?
And what was wrong with Jim, anyway? How had he gone from a cocksure captain to a pitiful boy wandering the halls of the ship? A sexual being to someone dripping with romantic feeling? It was hard enough doing his job without adding new hormones into the mix. Was he jeopardizing his crew? Jim knew that Bones would tell him he's obsessing. Speaking of which, should he turn himself in to his CMO? If his own first officer hadn't even noticed his distraction, would anyone else? Was there anyone on this ship who would even care? Or was he just blowing it all out of proportion? He had just added a sentence, for fuck's sake! Spock was being thorough, like he always was.
As the cycle of thoughts renewed itself, Jim heard the faint strains of a tune. He turned a corner to find its origin. The gentle curve of the next corridor eventually led him to the officer's lounge. The door opened automatically for Jim as he went up to it, and he slipped inside. The room was full of replicators, soft couches, and chairs pulled out halfway from tables that had abandoned books and board games scattered across them. In the far corner between a large window and a potted plant was a black standard piano, and playing it was Uhura.
In the starlight Jim could see that her long hair was pulled into a ponytail at the base of her neck, and she was wearing a plain t-shirt and jeans. Jim knew that she belonged in bed at this hour, just as much as he did. What was she doing up so late? Gone was the perfect posture she always had while on duty. She swayed slightly with the music. "Uhura," he said, just loud enough to be heard over the piano.
She glanced over her shoulder, but didn't stop playing. "Hello, Jim."
He figured that was as good an invitation as any, and wove his way through the furniture to the far corner. The melody was slow, sensual, almost thoughtful. He leaned on the edge of the piano and watched her fingers move for a while.
"Can't sleep?" she asked.
"No," agreed Jim. He was silent for another moment. Then: "Uhura, what's the quickest way to Spock's heart?"
She nodded, as if she'd already known that was what he was going to say. Hell, she probably had. "You're asking me."
Jim shrugged at the implied question. There was no use lying. "Well, I've already asked everyone else."
"You've asked everyone else? In the universe, or just on the ship?" She always pointed out the imprecision of people's language when she was annoyed.
"Everyone else that I trust," he rebuked.
Uhura stopped playing, but kept her hands – and eyes – on the keys. "There is no quick way to Spock's heart, Kirk."
"You're saying you don't know?" Jim smiled humorlessly and looked up at the ceiling. It figured. The two of them had broken up for one reason or another.
The lieutenant sighed. She pulled out the wooden cover of the keys and then rested her forearms on it. "What I'm saying, Kirk, is we met. We talked. Eventually we decided we weren't 'happily ever after' compatible."
There was a step missing, there. "You talked. And then?"
She shook her head. "That's all it is."
"What?" Jim said. "Spock and I talk all the time." Uhura just looked at him. With a sudden burst of anger, he slapped his hand on the top of the piano and curled it into a fist. They glared at each other, neither wanting to be the first to back down. Then…he took a deep breath and sank into a nearby chair. "Help me out, Uhura. I'm going crazy."
Uhura sighed again, and pulled a leg up onto the bench so she could turn and look at him properly. "Jim. Quit being obtuse. You do know that most of the communication that takes place between two people is through body language?"
"So what?" he responded bitterly. "That doesn't apply to Vulcans."
"Of course it does. Just to a lesser degree. Which means what you say is far more important than with Humans. Vulcans don't joke like we do, or do double-entendres. They don't have all the silly idioms that most other cultures have. Vulcan is a very straightforward language."
"What does this have to do with anything?"
"Ask him," she said. "Ask him."
"Ask him what? Not what I just asked you?" he said, voice rising to a higher pitch.
"No!" he refused. "No way!"
"Why not?" She put her elbow on the piano and rested her head on her hand.
"Bec- what? He's- he's Spock."
Uhura sat up, instantly going from quiet, gentle curves to hard, rigid lines. "Well that's your problem, Captain. How can you even begin to deserve him if you can't trust him?"
Jim responded with anger of his own. "Of course I trust him!"
"No, you don't," she said. "If you trusted him, if he is your friend- even if he turned you down, you'd trust him not to hurt you, or hate you, or be disgusted by you. Unless what you really fear is being rejected, in which case you're a coward." She paused, letting that sink in. "So which is it, Kirk?"
Slumping forward, Jim ran a hand through his hair. He felt deflated. "I…don't want to mess this up, Uhura."
"Jim, Spock can handle whatever harebrained scheme you have to offer. That, I trust." She gave him a genuine smile. When he didn't perk up right away, she shoved his shoulder playfully. "Did you really ask a lot of other people about this?"
"Yeah," he said. "Nothing worked."
"What did you do?"
"Oh…I thought I'd get him to spar with me, but then I realized that getting physical with Spock was, you know, getting physical with Spock. Then I bought him chocolates, which he had to refuse on account of being Vulcan." Jim still felt stupid about that one.
"Yeah, chocolate and Vulcans," she intoned, a bit mysteriously.
"Then I went to ask Bones, and he deliberately misunderstood my question. And then Chekov said I should blind him with my science."
Uhura laughed. "You asked Chekov?" She laughed even harder when he nodded. "How did that work out?"
"I, erm, wrote down hypotheses about possible feelings between captains and first officers." The lieutenant rocked back in delight, her bright laughter bouncing off the walls. Jim couldn't help but smile in response. "It wasn't my best moment."
"I'll say!" Wiping tears from her eyes, she tried to catch her breath. "The best and the brightest on this ship, and it still takes the communications officer to give some real advice."
Now Jim felt really stupid. He'd been having communication problems all this time, and here was one of the leading experts in the field. "When you put it that way-"
"Shut up, Kirk," she said. "Ask him."
Jim wasn't nervous anymore.
He didn't feel squeamish, his stomach wasn't twisting, and there was none of the indecision of the past few weeks. And it had been his indecision. Uhura having laid it out for him so plainly, there was no way that Jim could ignore the facts. There was no more waiting around to see if Spock would (or could) get the picture. From the moment he'd discovered his interest, the ball had been in Jim's court. He wanted Spock. And if he wanted him so badly, he could sure as hell trust Spock and let him know.
Jim moved his knight without thinking about it. The two of them were in the captain's quarters again, playing chess. Despite his newfound confidence, and knowing what he had to say, he still didn't really know how to say it. It was the most awkward game of chess they'd had since the fourth month of their mission, but Jim was pretty sure it was one-sided. He watched Spock as the Vulcan considered his next move, somewhat relaxed in his chair: weight leaning on one armrest more than the other, and one long leg stretched out to the side. It was how he sometimes sat in the captain's chair, whenever Jim came back to the bridge and saw it. Then, of course, Spock was always quick to his feet and back to his station, but here he was comfortable. Jim drank him in silently, aware that this very well could be the calm before the storm. He liked what they already shared, enjoyed it, but he knew he'd never be content. It was all or nothing for Jim Kirk, always had been. He shook his head.
Catching the movement, Spock lifted his eyes from the board. "Jim?"
"Spock," Jim responded. He was done torturing himself- he may as well use the same question that he'd been asking all this time. "What's the quickest way to your heart?"
His friend stared.
"Please tell me," Jim pled softly.
Spock blinked, and seemed to snap out of a reverie. "I am surprised it has taken so long for you to ask me, Jim. I am glad of the query."
Jim watched in consternation as the Vulcan moved a pawn like Jim hadn't just bared him his soul. "You- you are?"
"Yes, of course," he said. "Especially after that away mission one month and eight days ago. You jumped in front of me to block a bullet where a Human's heart would be, but I must tell you that there was no reason for you to get so gravely injured, for a Vulcan's heart is in the lower left portion of the ribcage." Spock shrugged minutely. "I am certain that Dr. McCoy could give you more details if you asked him."
It was Jim's turn to stare. Uhura had been wrong. They'd all been wrong.
Spock tilted his head when he didn't receive a response. "Perhaps it would be a good idea if we asked the doctor to put together a seminar for basic xenoanatomy, at least for the species found aboard the Enterprise. It would not do for anyone else to make a similar mistake."
"Oh," said Jim. "Sure." Maybe he deserved this. For someone who'd spent most of his life causing trouble and running away from his family and beating people up in bars and generally being a pain in the world's ass, who'd never really entrusted his heart to anyone- it just made sense that the universe would make him fall in love with the one person who couldn't return it. Yeah, love. Jim could say it now. What else could have made him into a blubbering idiot these past few weeks?
"…You look troubled, Jim."
The Human could barely stand the faint glimmer of concern in Spock's dark, beautiful, fathomless eyes. He sighed. "Yeah. Just…stress." Jim picked up one of the black pawns he'd captured and traced it with his fingers. It reminded him of the Vulcan set that Spock had brought with him to Sickbay, and Jim couldn't help but smile a little ruefully at the memory of how this had all started. "Let's…let's just keep playing."
"Will that help to relieve your stress, Jim?" Spock asked, his voice pitched slightly lower. Was that the Vulcan equivalent of a soothing tone? Jim liked hearing it, anyway.
"Yeah," he answered. "Yeah, it will."
Spock nodded, eyeing the pawn that Jim was still threading between his fingers. He was probably aware of the direction of Jim's thoughts. "Do you know the origins of chess?"
The captain relaxed a bit. Sure, Jim had just made a fool of himself and was dying a little on the inside, but it's not like anyone had been around to notice. Spock was still Spock, and there was nothing against enjoying his company. "Based on an ancient battlefield or something. At least, that's how I always saw it," he said, thinking of their earlier discussion. "I guess it was pretty illogical to assume that, huh?"
"Not totally," the Vulcan conceded. "As far as scholars can discern, it was indeed based on the ancient battlefield, with elephants and chariots and infantry. What is illogical about your assumption is that it precludes the possibility of change and evolution in society as well as in the game itself."
Nodding, Jim again moved a random piece. He was more concerned about Spock's vision of the game than winning it. "Even on Earth?"
"Yes. As the centuries progressed, chess seemed to be one of the few things in the progressive world that put everyone on equal footing: men and women, young and old, rich and poor." He paused his lecture briefly as he pondered his next move. "Chess even managed to be accepted by those of all manner of religions. Therefore, of the many reputations the game cultivated, it developed a unique connotation, since completely lost starting in the early 20th century."
"Um," said Jim, but he came up with nothing. "A worldwide pastime?"
"No, Jim. You are looking at it from the wrong direction." Spock captured one of Jim's bishops and set it on the table with a snick. Jim didn't much care. "Chess was the great equalizer. Everyone understood it. And so, it appeared in all forms of art and poetry- the Christian beating the Muslim at chess meant a conversion to Jesus and vice versa. The ability of the pawn to become any other piece once it reaches the end of the board came to stand for the struggle of those less fortunate trying to better themselves. Chess appeared in many of the high romances of the age."
"The romances?" Jim asked incredulously. "You mean the love poems or the adventure epics? And why either?"
"Both," Spock answered. "Think of what it does for gender."
Jim licked his lips. He wanted to get this right. "Everyone could play it, so. It put the hero and his love on the same level."
"Indeed," the Vulcan said, and Jim was surprised to find himself smiling. "But there was more to it than that. I believe the Terran expression runs, 'Art imitates life.' Chess was the one activity – the one activity – that two people could play by themselves." Jim gave up even pretending to think about his next move, and the two men locked eyes. "The game was so respected, so revered, that no guardian or escort was considered necessary for its duration. The two players could be alone, hidden in a garden or locked in a room for hours. Participating in a leisurely game of chess was, for some, the only way they could enjoy each other's company with impunity. No rumors. No looks. No suspicions."
Jim felt his jaw working, but no sound was coming out. What? "That's- that's exactly what we've been doing. For almost a year!" he squeaked.
"Yes, Jim," Spock answered, and with that all the pretense of lecturing was gone. "That is precisely what we have been doing."
"But- but you-" he stuttered, and he swore, he swore there was a small smile tugging the corners of the Vulcan's lips. "Whoa! Whoa. Whoa. Wait just a minute. You knew the whole time, didn't you? When I was watching you in the gym? When I gave you the chocolates? The goddamn scientific experiment?"
Spock raised an eyebrow, and Jim didn't know whether to punch him or melt into a puddle on the spot. "They were not your best attempts at subtlety, Jim."
"I- I wasn't trying to be subtle!" he said, his face burning.
"Indeed. That seems to have been the case." Oh, and fuck him. Jim was being teased. By a Vulcan.
"Then why did you let me make an ass of myself like that? I tried everything, and the least you could have done was acknowledge that." He pushed away from the table and ran a hand through his hair.
"I am acknowledging it. It was in fact on account of this behavior that I said nothing at the time of its occurrence. It was…unlike you, Jim, not to face something directly. I was curious as to why. So I let the situation run its course." His eyes were twinkling, damn him! Twinkling!
"You just wanted to laugh at me. Admit it," he demanded, not caring how petulant he sounded.
"Vulcans do not laugh," Spock intoned. Yeah, that was as good as admitting it.
Jim sighed. "So why did you decide to put me out of my misery now?"
"Because you confronted me," he replied, "finally asking me the question that you have been asking the rest of the crew for some time."
Jim hadn't thought it was possible to blush harder. It was. "You knew?" he choked out.
"I deduced from your methods." His eyes crinkled around the edges- Spock was definitely smiling. "Now I know."
Yeah, Jim had walked right into that one. "All I wanted was to not mess this up." Jim slammed his elbows on the table and hid his face in his hands. He was never going to be able to look at his friend again.
Then very warm fingers pried gently at his hands, and Jim was shocked into letting go. The chess board had been moved to the side. There was nothing but the table in between Jim and Spock now. The Human looked at their joined hands dumbly. "What has given you the impression that you have, as you say, 'messed this up'?"
"…What," was all Jim could manage as Spock's thumbs drew little circles on his palms.
"We are sitting here…after everything…playing chess." He stilled his hands and pulled them away almost until they were no longer touching, but not quite.
Jim licked his lips and gulped, his mouth having gone dry. "You never answered my question."
Spock shook his head. "The question is illogical, Jim."
"Do Vulcans not have 'hearts,' Spock?"
"On the contrary. But what you seek is a simple, all-encompassing answer, when the response could not be more complex. So what is it you wish to know, Jim? What are my skills? What are the activities in which I participate? You already know all of these things. Any member of the crew could give you such information."
The Vulcan made to pull away entirely, but Jim grabbed his hands back and squeezed. "No," he said, and Spock's lips parted, just the slightest bit. "No, that's not what I meant."
"Then I require further clarification." After a pause he murmured, "Is my presence here not answer enough?"
Jim struggled to say what he'd been trying to figure out all these weeks. "To open up, Spock."
"To open up. Not just- not just your anger, I've seen that. And I don't just want to see your happiness either, though I want you to be happy. What I want is for you to trust me with everything, all of it. I want to know what it would take to get you to open up to me. Completely."
Slowly Spock twisted and twined their fingers together. "You," he said. "Just you, Jim. It has been and always shall be."
Jim held his breath for a moment, then let it all out in a rush. He yanked his hands free and grabbed Spock's head, pulling him forward for a kiss. They both got to their feet and stumbled out of the way of the table, trying to maintain contact. Then Jim put one hand on Spock's neck and the other around his waist, and Spock opened his mouth for him. Their kiss was hot and wet and messy, but it was perfect. "Spock," Jim gasped when he came up for air, "this could have been weeks ago." He started pecking kisses up his jaw. "Weeks ago." When faced with a green-tinged ear, there's nothing to do but lick it all the way to the pointy tip, so Jim did. "Weeks."
Spock shivered, but pulled away just enough so they could look at each other. "Jim."
"Yes?" he beamed.
"Your mouth could be put to better use right now."
Jim laughed. "Weeks!" he said once more before giving in and obliging Spock. His observation had been very logical, after all.
This story ends, as most stories begin on the Enterprise, with Jim and Bones having a drink.
Jim burst into the doctor's personal office without knocking. "Hey, Bones!" he shouted jovially.
"What do you want, Jim?" Bones asked without looking up from the PADD he was working on.
"Uh, you're my best friend and I'm bored?" He gave him a look that said, duh.
Bones harrumphed and kicked out the chair across from his desk. Jim grinned and plopped into it, watching the doctor reach for the whiskey in the bottom drawer. As Bones poured the drink into two tumblers, Jim examined the organized chaos of his reports and files, some PADDs, some flashdrives, even a few pieces of paper. "What are you still doing working, anyway? I looked for you in your quarters first."
"You know these kids, Jim," he answered. "Can't get shit done without someone breathing down their necks." He slid one of the glasses across the table.
"Even the captain?" Jim inquired innocently, lifting his drink.
"Especially the captain," said Bones. They clinked glasses and took a generous swallow each. "So, out with it."
"With what?" asked Jim, though he couldn't keep a grin from stealing over his face.
"The next embarrassing question you're going to ask me."
That erased his smile pretty quickly. "I wasn't going to ask you anything!" he pouted.
"So. You and Spock, then." Bones slouched back in his chair, an ankle crossed over one knee. He took another sip of his whiskey and set his elbow on the armrest.
"Yup. Me and Spock, then," Jim answered, not bothering to hide his satisfaction.
Bones made a vague gesture with his free hand. "Now what?"
They sat in silence for a while, enjoying the warmth of the whiskey that spread through their bodies. Then Jim laughed a little. "That was embarrassing, wasn't it?"
"Excruciatingly pathetic," the doctor moaned.
"Shut up. Give me more whiskey, you jerk," Jim said, slamming his empty glass back onto the desk. The doctor chuckled as he poured. Jim grinned back it him. "Okay, so maybe it was. But the worst part is – and I'd appreciate it if you didn't pass this along – that Spock knew I was going around mooning over him. He knew the whole time."
"Isn't that Spock's favorite hobby?" Bones asked, refilling his own glass as well. "Watching the poor little Humans run in circles?"
Jim shook his head, still a little annoyed. "It isn't fair, though. He was playing with me. He didn't even have to try."
Bones raised a sardonic eyebrow. "Well, it sure sounds like you didn't either."
"That's the point!" said Jim. "I mean…his ability to keep cool and just…know things is sometimes really frustrating." He paused. "But also kind of hot."
The other man rolled his eyes. "I might be your best friend, Jim, but if you're going to sit here and list everything you love about the Vulcan, then I'm going to have to ask you to leave. And give me back my whiskey. There's an emesis basin over there. In fact, why don't you bring that over for me, too?"
"Alright, alright. I wasn't going to. It's just…" Jim waved his hand vaguely.
"Spit it out, Jim."
"You're my best friend. It's natural for someone who likes someone else to go to that someone's best friend and ask after them, isn't it?"
Bones drank more of his whiskey as he wended his way through the verbal maze. "I suppose it is," he drawled.
"So…Spock's never been here to ask you anything about me? Ever?"
"Of course he has!" Bones scoffed. " 'Doctor,' he says, 'are you aware of the current location of the captain? He was supposed to transmit his report to Starfleet approximately five billion seconds ago. I believe he is shirking his duties.' Or, 'Doctor, the captain cannot be found. I believe he went down with the landing party without notifying the proper channels, by which I mean me, because I'm a total tight-ass.' Oh, and also, 'Doctor, have you seen the captain? I'm experiencing an unusual state of arousal at this time, and feel the increasingly urgent need to fulfill this novel and fascinating bodily function by logically getting into Jim's pants.'"
Jim choked on the whiskey he was trying to swallow. "He did?"
Bone stared. "No."
Jim coughed a little more and cleared his throat. "Come on, Bones. In the history of ever? Nothing? Not a thing?" It would make Jim feel a bit better to know if Spock had been even a tenth of the mess Jim had.
Relenting, Bones scratched his chin where some stubble was starting to grow. "Well…I guess he did, once. Several months ago."
"Yeah?" Jim said hopefully.
"Yeah," he nodded, sure. "He asked whether or not you like to play chess."
Jim blinked. "…Son of a bitch."