"Spock?" Jim sat up abruptly and rubbed his bleary eyes. "How long have you been here?"
"Two hours and seventeen minutes." Spock replied. Jim ran a hand through his hair and averted his face, hoping the Vulcan would not note the decidedly red tinge that was bound to be on his cheeks.
"Dammit, Spock, I'm sorry..." he began feebly, but Spock cut him off with a wave of his hand.
"An apology is not necessary, Captain."
"You could've woken me, you know,"
Now it was Spock's turn to avert his face.
"I had no wish to disturb your rest." His voice was hardly more than a whisper.
This, coming from the man who hadn't slept in two months.
"Has anyone ever told you that you have a severe martyr complex?" Jim glared at his friend in mock reproach. An amused twitch surfaced on the Vulcan's lips.
"I believe the doctor has expressed that opinion on several occasions." A hint of a twinkle emerged from the depths of Spock's eyes. Jim felt his breath catch in his throat. There once had been a time when a single half-smirk from his First Officer had been worth a hundred belly laughs from the entire crew. How long had it been since he'd seen that look?
Gripped with a sudden need for nearness, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sidled down the mattress to sit beside his friend. Realistically, he knew that he needn't sit so close to the man, that there was plenty of room for the both of them without the invasion of personal space, but once again, he could not bring himself to care. In the space of an evening he had insulted Spock, demanded from him, punched him and then slept in his bed like some kind of pervert with a fetish—why stop now when he was so obviously on a roll?
They sat in silence for what felt like an eternity—neither looking at the other, both at a loss for words, but not feeling any particular urge to converse. For Jim, it was more than enough to just enjoy the warmth of Spock's arm pressed beside his—the most contact he'd had with another body since Miramanee. With great difficulty he resisted the urge to lean his head against the Vulcan's shoulder.
Eventually he allowed his common sense to gain the upper hand in the battle against his instincts and he shifted away.
"I should probably leave you to your rest." He could've kicked himself for the way his voice croaked. "You must be exhausted." Brilliant observation.
Jim's eyes widened at the admission. He'd fully expected Spock to launch into some kind of discourse about the Vulcan race and their superior ability to resist fatigue; the fact that he didn't was as much (if not more) alarming than his earlier collapse. He lifted his head and forced himself to look—really look—at his friend.
It was almost like looking at a poorly rendered caricature of the real Spock. There were hollows under the dark eyes that hadn't been there before, as well as an added waxiness to his already pallid complexion. Not to mention the way his uniform sat on his lank frame. Prior to Amerind, Jim had always admired the way the powder blue shirt clung to all the right contours of Spock's torso; now there was a decided bagginess to the fabric.
How had he not noticed this before?
"Spock, can I just ask you one question?"
Spock regarded him blandly and nodded his assent.
"Why would you do this to yourself?"
The look Spock gave him was reminiscent of the looks he reserved for their most deadlocked of chess games.
"Captain, the task of destroying the asteroid..."
Jim shook his head.
"Nice try, Spock. Now how 'bout you give me the real reason?"
"There was limited time to decipher the..."
"You're gonna have to do better than that."
"I had the responsibility to calculate..."
Jim threw his hands in the air.
"The truth, Spock!" His face softened "Please."
Spock dropped his hands onto his lap in defeat. He leaned forward as if crushed under an invisible weight, his head bowed so low that Jim could see a perfect halo of reflected light on the top of his black-capped head.
"Captain." his voice was rough. "You were stranded on a planet on the verge of annihilation. Even if I had desired to rest, it would have been...impossible."
What it must have cost for him to admit this. How very un-Spock-like. The only thing he could do to repay his friend for his self-mutiny was to help restore the inner-Vulcan. With great effort, Jim summoned his old cocky grin.
"But Mr. Spock, surely you know that such behavior is quite illogical."
Spock glanced up at him wearily.
"I am aware of that." he muttered.
"One would even go so far as to say that you were exhibiting an unprecedented display of emotionalism."
For the first time in his life, Jim heard the Vulcan beside him heave a loud sigh. He threw him a baleful look.
"Captain, I am fatigued. My serotonin levels and mental shields have been severely compromised, and I wish to repair them as soon as possible, so unless you are not entirely finished with sleeping in my bed or needlessly insulting me..."
Welcome back, Mister Spock!
Jim couldn't help it. Like an uncorked bottle of Kandora champagne, the laughter spilled forth from inside him, ringing loudly throughout the Vulcan bed quarters. Wracking his gut with pain and causing his shoulders to convulse violently, it refused to cease. Through teary eyes, he could see his First Officer staring at him with something close to horror on his face—a look that even a punch to the mouth had failed to produce—and it only amplified his mirth. Several times he attempted to speak, only to have his words cut off by a persistent barrage of giggles. Finally he resigned himself to doubling over in hysterics while the long-suffering Spock waited for him to finish.
Finally he sat up and clapped a hand on his friend's shoulder.
"Thank you." he said simply.
Spock blinked in confusion.
"I fail to see what I have done that merits your gratitude."
Jim widened his smile and squeezed the shoulder lightly.
"You're you, Spock; that's more than enough."
Spock shook his head and Jim could see the faintest hint of a smirk lurking on the sides of his lips.
"Captain, at the risk of shattering whatever delusions you are presently entertaining about me, it would appear that it is still you who is the paragon of...emotionalism."
"So I'm emotional. Indulge me." Jim replied flippantly.
Spock covered the hand on his shoulder with his own.
"I was under the impression that I already do." he murmured, his hand contracting gently around Jim's fingers. Emboldened by the touch, Jim inched a little closer to his side.
"Can I ask you just one more question before I leave?" He pressed on before Spock could have a chance to reply.
"Why haven't you been sleeping since I returned?"
The muscles in Spock's face visibly tightened. His gaze drifted to the floor.
"That is...somewhat difficult to explain."
This, coming from one of the greatest minds in StarFleet's history. Jim smiled reassuringly.
Releasing his grip on Jim's hand, Spock folded his arms tightly across the his chest. When he spoke, his voice was once again the voice of a dignified Vulcan Science Officer.
"I believe it is related to the mind fusion I shared with you while on Amerind." He paused, and Jim saw a brief flicker of chagrin cross over his face before he shifted his features back into Vulcan-mode.
"Although there are always risks involved with performing a mind meld, they can be amplified if it is initiated under less-than-ideal conditions. When we were reunited at the obelisk, I was not in possession of my standard mental faculties, due to my having abstained from sleep for such an extended period of time—resulting in my experiencing a heightened case of emotional transference."
He waited in silence while Jim consulted his internal First Officer translation database.
"So you've been experiencing human emotions this past week? My emotions?"
Spock nodded solemnly.
"They have persisted much longer than I had initially expected," he admitted. "I have noticed that they are most potent when I am in direct contact with you."
Jim stared at the Vulcan in wonder. To think, the one person he'd deemed least capable of understanding his feelings not only understood them, but had been living them for the last week! All the turmoil, all the sorrow, all the impotent, white-hot rage, on top of his own fatigue...
"Spock my friend, you've got one hell of a poker face."
Spock fixed him with a wry look but said nothing.
For the first time since his return to the Enterprise Jim felt a wave of pity for someone other than himself. While he had been provided with sympathetic glances, pats on the shoulder and brandy at every turn, his closest friend had been silently bearing up under a nearly identical yoke, unnoticed by all save for McCoy—the last person he would even want to have noticed. Unable to let himself be perceived by his crew-mates as anything "less than Vulcan" but clearly feeling the full extent of another's humanity, having ransomed Jim's identity at the cost of his own...
And yet, even though it could all go away with enough rest, he would still choose to sit at the foot of his own bed and watch Jim sleep in his place.
All this from the man he'd accused of being unable to compute what love is.
Our minds are one.
A belated thought occurred to him: what if some of Spock's emotional essence had been inadvertently transferred to him? Given the Vulcan's mental and emotional state at the time of the meld, was it conceivable that some of his own feelings may have slipped through his damaged telepathic barriers, masquerading as belonging to Jim? The frustration, the irritability, the persistent, inexplicable need to blame Spock...
The dream from which he had just awoken: charged with love and despair and guilt.
Our minds are one.
This time, Jim didn't hesitate; he nestled his head into the crook between Spock's neck and shoulder. Spock flinched.
"...Captain?" His voice was tinged with uncertainty.
"Please, Spock. I'm emotional. Indulge me."
Spock did not reply. For the longest time, he sat frozen beside Jim, his muscles tensed, as if he were about to spring to his feet at any second. Jim held his breath, half-afraid that the slightest motion on his part would cause the other man to bolt. On some level he knew that it was in his friend's best interest to be left to his rest, but once again, the same insanity which had propelled him to recline on the Vulcan's bed was coursing through him, forbidding him to pry his head away from the warmth of Spock's shoulder. In defiance against all reason, he nestled his cheek in even further.
As if in response to this small action, the muscles in Spock's body relaxed. A tentative arm slid across Jim's back and curved around his torso, drawing him closer.
"Jim." Spock's resonant voice vibrated in the ear that was pressed against him. "It is very gratifying to have you aboard the Enterprise again." He paused and Jim could feel the slight tremor that coursed through the Vulcan's body.
"Your absence was...most conspicuous."
"There's no need to be so sappy, Mr. Spock—you're embarrassing me." he teased.
"My apologies, Captain, I did not intend..."
Laughing, Jim slung his arms around Spock's shoulders and hugged him tightly, effectively shutting off the rest of his sentence. A fraction of a second later, Spock reciprocated the embrace, muttering something into his hair that involved the usage of the word, "illogical." He smiled at the familiar word, remembering some of the times he had deliberately goaded Spock into saying it, just so he could enjoy his friend in all his "Spock-ness." Had he really gone two months without his camaraderie? No wonder his subconscious had resorted to sending the Vulcan to his side in dreams!
Speaking of dreams...
Grudgingly, he admitted to himself that as easy as it would be to linger in Spock's (surprisingly) accommodating arms, he really did owe it to him to let him sleep, or at least try to. Not that he was particularly looking forward to the emptiness that awaited him in his own bed. Reluctantly he peeled himself away from Spock's grasp and rose to his feet.
"Good night, Spock." he said hoarsely, turning to leave.
A warm hand grasped his wrist.
"Is something wrong?"
Instead of replying, Spock clasped his hand between his palms.
"Captain—Jim. I..." his voice trailed off and he looked up at him helplessly. Jim could see the silent pleading on his face: Don't make me say it. Not that he really needed Spock to say anything—looking into those turbulent eyes was like looking into a slightly distorted reflection of his own soul.
Our minds are one.
Spock tugged lightly at his arm—almost like a child, Jim thought affectionately. Wordlessly he allowed himself to be pulled toward the bed. His acquiescence seemed to bolster Spock, and his face relaxed into a rare "almost-but-not-quite" smile. Jim lightly clamped down on his tongue with his teeth to prevent himself from making any wisecracks about tucking him in. Besides, he knew full well that the same could easily be said of him.
Moments later, after all the necessary lighting and room temperature adjustments had been made and all expendable outerwear had been relocated to the floor (instead of the laundry receptacle: another tease-worthy item he chose to overlook), Jim found himself nestled under the coverlets of the narrow bed, back-to-back with Spock. Vaguely he wondered how Bones would react if he learned of their adventures in insomnia treatment. He grinned in the darkness, imagining the doctor finding them in bed together, the characteristic "What the hell?!" expression etched on his face.
The Vulcan body heat emanating from Spock was a balm to his still-tender body; he pressed his back close to Spock's, enjoying the thermal benefits he unwittingly provided. This was easily the warmest he'd felt since beaming back aboard the Enterprise—not even the excesses of brandy had been able to stave of the chills as effectively. If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine that he was once again secured under his sleeping furs with Miramanee in the Earth Lodge, listening to the dull crackling of the bonfire.
Except that it was not Miramanee stretched out beside him.
A fresh arrow of grief pierced him and he shuddered involuntarily.
Miramanee's face swam before his mind's eye—still beautiful, but slightly out of focus. He swallowed hard in a futile effort to banish the lump that had abruptly formed in his throat. Would there ever be a time in his life when every feature of his bride's countenance, every gesture and expression, would no longer be branded into his memory? For someone who held no belief in the supernatural, it was amazing how Spock held an almost sorcerer-like hold on his thoughts...would his raven-haired priestess have that same power?
He didn't know what was more troubling: the thought that he would even ask that question of himself, or the thought that he might already know the answer.
Despite his many appearances in dreams over the last two months, it was undeniable (logically so, he thought ruefully), that it was Spock who was the reality now and Miramanee the elusive dream.
Miramanee was gone—her body resting on a planet to which he would never return, bereaved by a people to which he would never again belong, widowed by a man he could no longer be.
Let her go.
His shield of Spock-resentment completely obliterated, he could feel the sorrow rushing freely to the surface, pulsing from the core of his being. He cursed inwardly when he felt the first threatening sting in his eyes. Not now! All week long he had managed to keep his tears at bay; must they decide to make their grand debut while he was occupying the same bed as a Vulcan?
But heedless of any propriety, his grief continued to swell, pounding through him so fiercely that his very fingertips throbbed. Before he could rein it in, a strangled sob escaped him, shattering the silence in the room. Spock shifted slightly beside him.
"Captain?" The concern in that silky voice threatened to accelerate the detonation of his composure.
He didn't answer.
Please, Spock; just go to sleep already.
He burrowed his face into the mattress to stifle the noise of his breathing, which insisted on coming out in ragged gasps. He gritted his teeth in determination. He would not give in to his emotions...he must not give in to his emotions. He may as well have tried to stop an over-inflated balloon from popping. Another renegade sob emerged from his throat.
A thermal pair of arms engulfed him. Spock gently rolled him over, bringing their sihlouetted faces within inches of each other. He rested his forehead lightly against Jim's, cradling the back of his head as if he were an infant.
And Jim was undone.
His own shields reduced to a mass of rubble, all he could do was clutch desperately at Spock, as if letting go would plunge him headlong into an endless chasm from which he would never emerge. Deep, wracking sobs gripped his body, shaking him with a violence he had never experienced. Securing his arms tightly around him, Spock pulled him as close to his body as he could without crushing him, burying his face in his hair.
"I grieve with thee," he whispered.
For what felt like an eternity he clung to his First Officer, suspended in a realm where nothing existed save for the onslaught of his grief and the warmth of Spock's hands on his back as they caressed him, gliding freely over the contours of his shoulders and spine, stroking his hair. Amidst the sound of his own broken sobbing, he could hear Spock murmuring to him in Vulcan. The hushed voice, thick with unaccustomed tenderness, washed over him, gently coaxing the tears from his eyes. They rode the crest of his anguish in tandem, clinging relentlessly to one another, until every possible tear had been wrung from him and he lay limp in Spock's arms. The side of his face pressed against Spock's, he could feel a dampness on the Vulcan's cheeks that mingled with his own.
It was another eternity before either of them spoke.
"Captain?" Spock's voice sounded strangely diminished.
His hand travelled to Jim's face, brushing his cheekbone with his middle and index finger. Jim heard an audible intake of breath. After another lengthy pause, he spoke.
"Would you prefer it if I addressed you as Kirok?" Trembling fingers rested lightly against the meld points on his face.
Choking back the second wave of tears that threatened to assail him, Jim brushed the hand aside. Blindly he reached in the darkness for his Vulcan—the man who, like a god, had taken away one life with his mind and had restored another with his heart.
"My name is Jim," he insisted. Grasping Spock's face in his hands, he brought their lips together in a brief kiss—a seal of promise for the distant reality that awaited them. Their bodies and minds entwined, they drifted into a dreamless sleep.
A/N A million and one thank-you's to everyone who stuck it out with this story to the end, reviewed it, or both...your support is what makes the long hours of staring blankly at a computer screen and guzzling disgusting coffee worth it :)