Notes: Okay, so, I broke three fingers and cracked a rib recently. My typing is ridiculously slow. Despite this, my week was okay (ish) - and then you guys showed up. Like, seriously. I have had such wonderful, thoughtful, sweet messages this week and I want to thank everyone involved in my life, online and real, for the last seven days.

Firstly, you and I should all thank David for doing all my typing for me. I've barely been able to take over; he's still handling reviews and email.

Secondly, VeeDub, for lovely uplifting chat the other night, even if I did fall asleep halfway through. Which I apologise for, exposing your poor soul to David like that!

Thirdly, to Juni, who sent me a very thoughtful email about said angst. While 'thanks' seems a little inappropriate considering the torture I've put you through there, I would like to thank you for reading it regardless, and feeling horribly proud of myself that I can wring emotion from people like that, terrible as a person as that might make me.

And finally, to ShamelessSpocker, for that simply incredible message at four in the morning. Shameless ego-stroking? Absolutely. Appreciated? Even more so. That made my sucky day of hospital and lectures so much better, I can't even explain it. And I'll be honest, you make my day just when you review, never mind going the extra mile!

So thanks to everyone there, and everyone else who's waited so patiently for this. And we go!

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this work.

"What is this, Commander?"

The stern quality to Jim's voice would have earned him an eyebrow from Spock, or an eyeroll from McCoy, but Commander Patrick Leehy gave no such response. To him, that was how Jim always sounded. It was normal.

But Leehy had been a First Officer on three different ships in the last ten years, and this ship...he couldn't take it.

"It's my transfer request, Captain. There's an opening on the USS Londonderry that I've a mind to apply for."

"Why?" Jim asked flatly. The Londonderry was a battleship - small, lethal and boring. Battleships were all joy during an actual war, but patrolling the Federation borders back and forth, back and forth for five years was nobody's idea of a good time. At least, nobody with the brass balls to sign up to Starfleet.

"Nearer to the missus, Captain."

Jim didn't think so. Everybody knew that Patrick and Lucy Leehy didn't actually like one another. Hell, Patrick and Lucy Leehy made the McCoys look like bosom buddies - and the McCoys had had an ugly divorce. If Patrick Leehy genuinely wanted to be physically closer to his wife, Jim was either going to have him sectioned, or arrested for intent to murder her.

(In the name of duty only. Anyone who'd ever met Lucy Leehy usually ended up wanting to kill her, Jim included.)

"And the real reason?"

Commander Leehy shifted slightly. It was an uncomfortable sight - he was six foot nine and built like a brick shithouse. He was the kind of man who looked to be crushed into his uniform, and bulged out of it at every opportunity. Jim had honest-to-God seen him rip a shirt by stretching. On the plus side, any aliens thinking about threatening their crew thought again after taking one look at Commander Leehy.

"I don't like it here," Leehy said honestly.

Jim closed his eyes. He'd guessed.

It wasn't Leehy's fault. He was a decent man, and at any other time would have been a fantastic asset to the command crew. He'd risen through the ranks from security, but knew enough about engineering and tactical navigation to assist. He wasn't the most diplomatic of men, but the kind of honest, salt-of-the-earth bloke that crewmembers would have sworn undying loyalty to.

At the right time, anyway.

But, frankly, the command crew missed Spock. This man was as far from Spock as one could get, and while there had never been one instance of unprofessionalism, they hadn't exactly been friendly. Too raw, still hurting, too...

"I'm walking in dead man's shoes, sir," Leehy continued.

Yeah. That.

"I know Commander Spock didn't die, sir, but that's what it feels like. Like I've jumped right into his grave and everyone's looking at me and wishing I were him. The junior crew - apart from the sciences - are just fine, but the bridge atmosphere...I can't do it, sir. I can't. And I know it's nobody's fault, but...there it is."

Jim nodded. There it was. They both knew it was true, and they both knew that the rapid transfer wouldn't look bad on Leehy's record. He'd come in as a replacement, and left again. Most people coming in as replacements for the dead (or seriously wounded) did the same thing. It was no harm to Leehy.

And, really, no harm to Jim.

"Alright," he nodded. "I'll have a look at it and write a reference for Captain Zhao."

"Thank you, sir."

With that, the Commander was gone, and Jim pushed away the paperwork. It wouldn't change a thing. The cruelty of it was that Spock hadn't died - and how he hated himself for even thinking it. But there it was. Spock hadn't died, and they couldn't move on. They couldn't heal from it any more than he could.

So Leehy went - so what? The next would go too. And the one after that. And the one after that. And it would keep on that way until the command crew changed enough that the majority of them did not remember and wait for Spock's smooth baritone to echo from the science station.

Jim would never stop waiting for it.

He locked the doors to his quarters and turned off the console, sighing heavily. He was forever waiting, it seemed. It had been eighteen months since Spock had left the ship - so almost nineteen months since Jim had seen him. Or heard from him. He knew Spock would have gotten his letter (he'd re-sent it to Spock's personal account a week later, in case his yeoman had not been able to deliver the datapadd before the Vulcan left the ship) but he had never received a response.

Or responses to his weekly letters.

He wrote every week, religiously, telling Spock as much as he was allowed about the ship and her crew, talking about their friends, passing on wellwishes, asking after Spock's welfare, and asking forgiveness. He had never been answered. After tens of letters, ranging from the apathetic and factual to emotional outbursts on the screen, Jim had not once received a response.

He kept writing, though, in the hope that Spock was at least reading them.

He couldn't blame him for the radio silence. Jim knew he'd been a bastard about the whole affair, and even if Vulcans didn't hold a grudge (bullshit) he could understand if it hurt Spock too much to talk to him yet. He understood why he'd be frozen out. But it didn't stop him wishing for that reply - anything, just a line, to tell him that Spock was alright.

Or as alright as he could be.

Jim wasn't stupid. He knew that McCoy wrote similar letters to Spock, on a regular basis. Mostly about treatment and health and yada yada yada, and quite probably about Jim himself, but he didn't know if Spock responded. McCoy didn't really talk about him - or the letters. But he'd caught Uhura asking McCoy to send a quick line from her in one of his emails, and so Jim knew that they were happening.

He hoped the doctor was getting some response. That way, maybe Jim hadn't completely lost every connection to him. At this stage, he would take anything he could get.

Life, without Spock, was a quiet, lonely affair. It wasn't even miserable, because that would require some kind of emotional response. Jim felt...well. Vulcan. Vulcan. He felt Vulcan about the whole thing - completely and utterly numb. He went through the motions of his day, doing his job and his duty, but...

The command chair didn't hug him like it used to. His crew didn't cause those upswells of happiness and pride anymore. Evenings drinking with the doctor had more or less stopped entirely. He ate, slept, worked out, and worked, all in the correct measurements.

But here, he couldn't escape.

Spock's abandoned tunic lay curled under Jim's pillows, waiting for his lonely hands when he retired to bed for the night. But the pillow...the pillow smelled only of himself.

"Looks like that's cleared it up," McCoy said, putting the tricorder down and eyeing Ensign Chekov dubiously. "Do I want to know where you got a case of Tellarite measles?"

Chekov flushed and shook his head.

"Didn't think so," McCoy muttered, then - louder - said, "I would avoid Orion-shipped sex toys, Ensign. They have a nasty habit of being pre-used or, worse, actually composed of other life forms. Stick to Earth and colonial goods from now on."

The pink tint to Chekov's skin went magenta, and McCoy snorted.

"Any more spots, get your ass right back here. Dismissed."

When he didn't hear the ensign move, he turned back to the biobed to find the kid fidgeting and looking awkward. Which was a laugh after the discussion they'd had when he'd shivered his way into the medical bay two days ago, covered in bright orange, itching, pus-filled sores.

"Anything else, kid?" he softened his tone a little. While he didn't dole out much of the bedside manner for the likes of Jim and Sulu (read: reckless idiots) he knew the power that a kind word could have on less brash members of society. And first and foremost, despite his manner, McCoy was a doctor. If the kid needed a shoulder, he'd get one.

"I would...I just wanted to know how Mr. Spock is doing, doctor," Chekov blurted out in a rush, going pink again and biting his lip in a way that was oddly endearing.

McCoy's eyebrows rose. He should have known. Chekov and Scotty had been near-enough the only members of the crew able to keep up with the Vulcan brain at work, and they had both thoroughly enjoyed - in different ways - intellectual discussions with Spock. While Scotty was probably too engrossed in engineering to have yet figured out that Spock was gone, Chekov would have felt the loss, like a student losing a favourite teacher.

And of course the sneaky little bastard knew that McCoy was still in touch with him.

"He's doing just fine, kid," McCoy said, shrugging. "Not that he tells me much, but he seems to be alright."

"I haven't his personal address - if I sent you an email, would you forward it to him? There are some new theories concerning chaos theory that I would like to discuss..."

"Sure," McCoy shrugged. "Do you both good to hash out your physics mumbo-jumbo again. Honest, kid, I think he misses kicking your intellectual ass."

Chekov flushed again, smirked a little, beamed and hopped down off the biobed.

"Thank you, sir!" and he was gone.

McCoy sighed heavily, rubbing a hand over his face. He hoped he was right - and that Chekov wasn't going to figure out that McCoy had lied to him. Spock might be well enough to converse and communicate, but McCoy hadn't taken all those xenobiology classes at the Academy for nothing. In the little Spock would tell him, and reading between the lines, McCoy knew that Spock wasn't alright.

There was, after all, a big difference between being alive and living.