Rating: T for something spoilery I can't tell you about unless you want to be horribly spoiled but it involves SADNESS AND TRAGEDY so consider yourself warned by all the skulls outside the entrance to the pirate cave and if the title doesn't tell you something then I just can't help you
punctuation is a luxury in such a time of crisis
also if you see anything in brackets, ignore it it is irrelevant
A/N: oh god what have I done but don't worry it gets better OR DOES IT WHAT IS THIS NONSENSE
go read the thing already, before you die
—The Far Better Thing—
It stopped almost as quickly as it had started, only lasting for about a second; but it took longer than that for Jim to place the sound, and not just because the idea of Spock laughing was ridiculous, but because of the sound itself. 'Terrifying' was not adequate to describe it, and neither was 'desolate'. 'Completely, miserably empty' came pretty close, though.
"My apologies," Spock said, in that utterly blank tone of voice that meant 'I am half a step away from strangling somebody against the helm controls'. "I have not been myself lately. Many of the actions I have taken recently are illogical and contradictory." There was a considering pause; then he added clinically, "I suspect I am close to experiencing what human psychologists would call a 'psychotic break'."
If that wasn't the understatement of the fucking year.
Jim had been wrong, four hours before (god, everything had been so different then) when he had thought Spock couldn't be that good of an actor. Spock was clearly the most brilliant actor in all of history, because until now, until this very second, Jim had not truly realized how deeply broken Spock was.
For what was certainly not the first time in his life, he found that his mouth was moving without him consciously considering the words he was saying.
"Spock. Please recite Starfleet regulation 12, chapter 4, paragraph 1 for me."
Well, it wasn't the strangest thing he'd ever said in bed before, but it came pretty close. Did he really just imply that he wouldn't...?
Yes, Jim thought suddenly. Yes, I did, and I don't regret it, not for a second, because it's the right thing to do, no matter how I feel about it personally.
Automatically, Spock recited, " 'The captain, or other ranking officer in command of a starship, is encouraged not to act as part of a landing party on any away mission, routine or otherwise, unless the presence of said captain or ranking officer is required by the mission, or said captain or ranking officer possesses skill and/or experience relevant to the mission which other crewmembers do not. If the captain or ranking officer does act as part of a landing party, said captain or ranking officer is encouraged to take all precautions against injury, capture, etc. outlined in paragraph 2 of this regulation which said captain or ranking officer considers reasonable and/or necessary.' "
"That's the one," Jim said, and quelled the brief urge to tell Spock that it wasn't strictly necessary to say 'slash' out loud every time one said 'and/or'. "From now on, we—and by 'we', I mean me—will be taking that regulation very seriously. Although, just to be fair to myself, if I'd known that I accounted for 58% of the Enterprise's casualties I would have started taking it seriously ages ago."
"You seem to be implying that you are going to start acting more cautiously. Obviously my sanity is more in question than I thought it was."
"You're not crazy, Spock," Jim said, much more flippantly than he felt, since by all accounts Spock actually was a little bit crazy. "I hate to break it to you, since it's your favorite game and I can't think of anyone who needs a hobby more than you, but you're not ever going to play chess again. And if that means I'm going to have to stop acting like some heroically suicidal lemming, so be it."
One beat of silence stretched into three. Finally, Spock said quietly, "Thank you."
"Any time. Now, no more pillow talk, we're going to sleep."
And they did.
In the morning, Jim made Spock go to sickbay for a thorough mental and physical evaluation. Physically, Spock was completely fine; mentally, he was a wreck, and a highly anomalous wreck, at that. Bones nearly—no, strike that, he did have a fit when he got the condensed version of the story ("There are parts of his brain lit up that he didn't even have six months ago, Jim, but for all I know it just means he's got "Don't Fear the Reaper" stuck in his head!").
The exhaustion was taken care of by ten days of medical leave and heavy meditation—Spock, shockingly, did not object to the forced leave, which said worlds more than brain scans did—but, though the anomalous brain activity subsided, it never entirely ceased.
Jim and Spock never played another game of chess, but they did take up Go, and certain other enjoyable interpersonal activities.
Jim decided that he greatly preferred the idea of an Epic Romance to the idea of an Epic Friendship.
It was twenty months into the mission before Jim was part of another landing team; he was almost unspeakably proud of himself for lasting a whole four months before declaring his barfighting experience relevant to a mission. When he finally beamed down, he took a full security team with him, and he even managed to restrain himself from calling the seven-foot-tall Teer of the Ten Tribes a "glorified muppet".
Six months after that, Jim finally got up the nerve to ask Spock how, exactly, Vulcans did marriage.
As it turned out, Vulcans did marriage the same way they did everything else: awesomely.
The twenty-seventh time it happened was three months after they got married.
Jim had done everything right. Everything. Since the revelation that he was only alive because his first officer asked "How high?" when the Grim Reaper said "Jump," he had only been on four away missions. He'd even started eating right (ugh), because he took this whole 'keep Spock from going psycho again' thing seriously, damn it.
But it had still happened.
They had been sent to help the USS Reliant make repairs to its energy reactors and deflector shield after an encounter with a hostile Romulan vessel. The Romulans had been routed, but the Reliant had suffered severe damage, and didn't have the resources to make the repairs on her own.
It was supposed to be simple. It was supposed to be safe. It would have been safe, if the Reliant hadn't actually been taken over by Romulans who were broadcasting false distress signals. Almost immediately after the Enterprise had dropped out of warp, the Reliant had fired, and now—
Now there was smoke everywhere, and sickly red light, and panicked shouting, and Jim was lying on the floor, and there wasn't any pain, and that was not good, and he really didn't want to look at his stomach because he strongly suspected that if he did he would throw up, and for some reason it was really really hard to breathe.
Spock was by his side almost instantly. Jim tried to sit up, and was not surprised at all when he couldn't.
"Do not move, Jim. There is a support beam in your chest." Spock was white as a sheet, but the hand laced in Jim's hair was completely steady. In the back of his head, Jim felt a telepathic echo from Spock of a cold, twisting feeling. Even though it wasn't something he'd ever felt before, he didn't need Spock to tell him what it meant.
"Spock," Jim tried to say, "promise me—" promise me you won't die for me, promise me you'll be okay, promise me, goddamn it, because I'm going to die and I need to know—but it was no good, the words wouldn't come. All he could do was lie there and choke on his own blood.
Spock knew what he meant, though he didn't say anything in response; he just stroked Jim's face with an impossibly steady hand and quirked the corner of his mouth in a strange, small, gentle smile, as if to say ask me to carry the moon on my back, Jim, for that would be easier for me to do.
That smile was the last thing Jim saw in his twenty-seventh life.
The frantic yelling became silence, the billowing smoke hung frozen in the air, the smell of burning plastic disappeared, and all that existed came to a dead stop.
Spock stood up, straightened his shirt, and slowly turned around.
Death was waiting.
(It is a far, far better thing—)
"He will disagree."
"He will be alive to do so."
Of course, Spock did not immediately give himself up. That would have been foolish. It would also have been foolish to use chess as a challenge again, so instead, Spock challenged him to Go.
It was the shortest game of Go Spock had ever played.
"You are going to offer me your life in exchange for his."
"Yes. Was that not the purpose of this entire charade? To push me until, finally, I sacrificed myself for him?"
"You may believe that, if you wish."
"What other possible reason could you have had?"
"I don't suppose you would believe that I did it because of quantum?"
It was a nonsensical statement, so Spock did not reply. Death sighed, stood up, and gestured for Spock to follow it into the hole it had torn in the air.
That gesture was the first thing Jim saw in his twenty-eighth life.
Suddenly coming to full consciousness on a bridge full of frozen people, Grim Reapers, and holes into nothingness was, without a doubt, the weirdest thing Jim had ever experienced; but it was not entirely unexpected. In his own brilliant, convoluted way, Jim had a mind just as logical as Spock's.
And, as everyone already knows, logical minds plan for failure.
Spock had said that the reason he could see Death when it came for Jim was because Spock was telepathic, and human enough to be able to see human deaths. He hadn't ever said why he could only see it when Jim died, and not anybody else; it probably had something to do with Destiny, or how they were Fated To Be Together, or some crap like that (not that Jim had any specific argument against being Fated To Be Together, he just objected to the idea of Fate in general.)
At any rate, it had made Jim wonder.
And then when he asked Spock how Vulcans got married, and Spock had said it involved the creation of a telepathic bond, Jim had wondered some more. Specifically, it had made him wonder if a non-telepathic human would be able to see Death if they were bonded to somebody who was telepathic.
Somewhere in the back of his head, this seed of an idea had grown into an actual plan.
Said plan, of course, was now going to be executed.
Jim didn't waste any time. Death was already halfway through the hole in the air, and Spock was following close behind. Neither of them seemed to have noticed that he wasn't stuck frozen on the ground any more.
"Hey," Jim called cheerfully. "Don't I get to challenge that?"
Death calmly stepped back out of the hole. Spock spun around so fast that, had he not been gifted with absurd, gazelle-like grace, he would have fallen over.
"If you wish," Death said, not seeming the least bit surprised. "Name the game."
"The name of the game," Jim said slowly, "is Fizzbin."
And then Jim grinned.
Did you really think I could kill them off for good? :P
anyway, a few points that may have confused some of you/never got explained:
—The ending is kind of open, but if you know what Fizzbin is, you know they lived happily ever after. Fizzbin = awesome game that TOS Kirk pulled out of his ass in order to kick some ass. specific episode: A Piece of the Action. go watch it. it is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, right up there with the Nazi BDSM episode (or, if you insist upon its proper name, Patterns of Force).
—Death says it's because of quantum. this is a Discworld reference (technically it's 'cos of quantum', but Death is more sophisticated than that) and basically it's used to explain various unexplainable things.
—Death mostly messed with Spock just to kill time and get lulz, but it also may have had some vague idea about taking Spock on as Apprentice Death. maybe. mostly for lulz, though
—the Reliant. oh, poor, poor, abused Reliant. Wrath of Khan, go watch it
—Go = a strategy game for smart people which is not Chess.
if you want anything else clarified, ask in review and I will reply to you with answer :3 Love you all, thanks for sticking around til the end, it's been sooooo much fun!