Notes: Fourth in the Keeping Love series, after 'Keeping Love', 'Crystalline' and 'The World and the Home.'
Also: So I've been feeling like complete shit lately - combine 'utter dickhead' with 'unenviable loser' and you kinda got my designation right now, with a side order of 'pathetic little girl' thrown in. So I went and whipped up some trouble in paradise. And I apologise, because it really didn't make me feel any better. Urgh. *facedesk*
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this work.
"Commander Spock? A word, please?"
Spock turned, saving the gathered data on his padd in an almost reflexive action, as the Captain beckoned him.
"I won't keep you long," Pike said as he drew them aside, some twenty metres from the rest of the science and medical personnel. Meridia I was proving to be a hub of new plant life that could prove to be beneficial to the medical practices of multiple Federation species, and Spock's department had all breathed a sigh of relief at being able to get off the ship for several hours a day. "And it's more of a personal query than anything else. I'm not asking as your Captain."
Pike pinned him with a scowl.
"Better. How are you and Kirk doing?"
Spock blinked. While Pike liked to know, generally speaking, who was involved with whom under his command, he had never been remotely interested in detail. He never, to Spock's knowledge, checked up on the status of those relationships. For Pike to ask about a relationship was generally bad news.
"Forgive me, sir, but has our...involvement...affected our work in...?"
"Spock," Pike waved it aside. "I'm not asking as your Captain. No, for the record. You're both as ridiculously diligent as ever. I'm asking as your friend, Spock. How are things going?"
"'Things' are going well."
Pike stared at him suspiciously. "Uh-huh. Kirk's extra workloard isn't putting a dent in the works at all?"
"'A dent in the works'?"
"Don't play word games with me, Spock," Pike pinched the bridge of his nose with a heavy sigh. "I know for a fact that Kirk's pulling twelve-hour shifts - on a lazy day. You can't tell me that that's not having some kind of effect."
Spock simply stared at him.
"Commander!" one of the lieutenants called. "We're ready to start shipping these samples up to the labs!"
"If you'll excuse me, Captain?"
"Look, just..." Pike sighed again. "I can't make you tell me anything, but...relationships often suffer when one gets promoted over the other, and not always because of the rank issue. If you need a friend to talk to, my door's always open."
Spock simply stared at him impassively, and Pike groaned.
"I don't know why I bother sometimes," he grumbled good-naturedly. "Go on, get back to your precious plant specimens. Just remember what I said."
In fact, the Captain was not wholly wrong. Since Kirk's promotion three weeks ago, Spock had seen him for perhaps seventy hours in total, excluding the periods in which he saw Kirk on-duty. And most of the seventy hours remaining involved Kirk being asleep, or hastily-shared meals in the mess.
Part of him understood. The First Officer had a lot of work - mostly boring, tedious work such as reports, personnel reviews, shift rotas, and so on - on a constant basis. Added to that came any new orders from the Captain - disciplinary action against crew members, additional rotas for away teams, and the logging of medical leave all fell to the First Officer. Add to that the fact that the First Officer had to read every intelligence report, order and data file coming in from Command, and it was no wonder that Kirk was busy. Particularly as he had not stepped down as the Communications Officer. The majority of the First Officer's work had to be done outside Alpha Shift, particularly when the communications department were in high demand, as they had been for the two weeks immediately following Kirk's promotion.
And yet now they were on a scientific data-collection mission, and the communications department were, for lack of a better term, putting their feet up. And yet Spock had seen no more of Kirk.
He understood. Kirk was busy, and duty came before one's personal relationships, and Spock had never gone into this relationship unaware that they were both workaholics.
But it didn't mean that he didn't miss him.
"Sir," Kirk's voice rang into the dead silence that was the bridge during starmapping duties, approximately eight days after Pike's somewhat odd observations. "The USS Hellenica is hailing us; Captain Moore requests to speak with you."
"Put him onscreen," Pike said, and a moment later, the cheery face of Captain Moore was beaming out at them.
Captain Moore was famously the most laid-back of all the starship captains, and had been nicknamed 'Santa' by the human component of Starfleet for his (in)famous Christmas parties. While he had no political clout, and was therefore ignored by those waiting to advance their careers, he was a very popular and affable man, particularly amongst the engineering sector of the service - probably because, like approximately 65.4% of the engineering sector, Captain Moore had a spouse and four young children, and understood the challenges of balancing a caree and a family in a way that most captains - including Pike - did not.
"Christopher!" he boomed, his teeth flashing from the depths of his definitely non-regulation beard. "How goes it on the front line, eh?"
"Dull, at this section of it," Pike smirked. "What can I do for you, Simon?"
"Some political side-stepping, I hope," Moore grinned. "I'm hoping you'll agree - are you free for a quick chat, el capitan al capitan?"
"Certainly," Pike said. "Kirk, reroute this to my ready-room. You're in charge."
"Yes, sir," Kirk sighed, signalling for his replacement and approaching the Captain's chair as Pike strode out. He didn't spare a glance for Spock, and a moment later, Lieutenant Uhura strode in to take the communications station, closely followed by a yeoman who handed a stack of padds to Kirk and disappeared again.
Spock returned his attention to his monitors, and, in a very childish moment that he would vehemently deny, wished for a disaster to distract him.
Not ten minutes later, Pike returned, looking oddly tense - as did Lieutenant Uhura when she left the bridge.
Kirk's tray banged down onto the table with unnecessary force, and he almost fell into the chair opposite Spock with a gusty sigh.
"God, I'm tired," he complained, poking at the admittedly unappealing replicator food. Spock didn't want to attempt to discern what it was supposed to be. "I just spent eight hours going over the recommended upgrades to the converters, and I've never wanted to get off a ship so much in my life. If they go ahead with the upgrades - well, sure, we'll be able to get impulse power boosted by thirty percent, but we're also increasing the risk of overheat in the primary nacelles by about sixty percent. It's ridiculous - and frankly, if I can spot that problem a mile off, why aren't the engineering staff raising holy hell about it? Don't tell anyone," he lowered his voice, "but I'm going to put in a recommendation to Pike that we shunt the Chief Engineer as fast as possible. He's a complete moron. Even I know more engine mechanics that that, and I never went beyond second year modules at the Academy."
"Thompson?" Spock asked, in an attempt to create actual conversation, and Kirk grunted around a mouthful of food before swallowing indelicately.
"That's him. I don't know how in the hell he got the job - your Lieutenant Peters would be better at the job. She's got the same qualifications, and she's not a complete fuckwit like he is. Hell, most of his own staff would be better at the job. And this is meant to be a frontline battleship; if we can't trust our engineering staff, then we're screwed. I felt a lot more relaxed before I knew what a mess that department was."
Spock supposed that, in his role at the communications officer, Kirk had simply not noticed. Everyone else was perfectly aware that Thompson was incompetent; it was politics that had gotten him the job in the first place. Everyone else conducted actual ship's business through his deputy, Assistant Chief Engineer Harper.
"Hey," Kirk prodded his hand lightly with the plastic fork. "You okay?"
"I am well."
"Sure," Kirk rolled his eyes. "And I'm the Queen of Sheba."
Spock didn't rise to the obvious bait, and Kirk sighed, dropping the fork and laying his hand over Spock's on the table top, rubbing his thumb over Spock's knuckles.
"I know," he said quietly. "I know we haven't had a lot of time to ourselves lately, and I'm sorry, I really am. It's just...shit, Spock, there's so much work I have to do. I'm just so busy - you know that a lot of the service contracts are coming to an end? Well, Chen's not been great at keeping the records updated so I have to do it in time for all of these people to have even a shot at the new jobs they want, and that's a lot of people. We're looking at a major reshuffle, and it means a lot of hours for me, and..."
"Jim," Spock turned his hand over and clasped Kirk's, strangely daring in the public setting. "I do understand."
"Understanding is a whole different thing from being okay with it," Kirk pointed out, and bit his lip. "I am sorry. I'll make it up to you, I promise. When all the reshuffling is over and my paperwork pile dies a not-so-sorry death, I'll lock us both in the forward observation lounge and make it up to you. Thoroughly. For hours."
Kirk was psi-null; he couldn't, and never would be able to, deliberately broadcast messages to Spock the way that a Vulcan could. But he had his own methods of communication, and Spock was well-versed enough in morse code to read the love you that was tapped out on the back of his hand.
Kirk was Spock's free time, and with Kirk busy, he found himself at a loose end that was quite suddenly absorbed by Lieutenant Uhura, Kirk's deputy in the communications department.
Spock had, of course, met the lieutenant before, but they had not shared so much as a conversation before one evening after shift in the turbolift, when she invited him - in Vulcan that was as close as he had ever heard to perfect from a human - to a recital by the music club.
"Ensign Astansi is performing The Windfires piece from that Andorian opera - Li'Kana. It's based off Vulcan mythology; she's really very good," Uhura added earnestly, and Spock agreed.
Uhura was correct in her appraisal of Ensign Astansi's talent (if not the talent of the actual composer of The Windfires) and Spock found himself roped into attending the weekly music club recitals, though he stuck to his reluctance to actually perform himself. He was not used to socialising with the crew (Vulcans did not, as a rule, socialised frivolously with their colleagues) but found the quiet gatherings of the music club to be...pleasant.
Lieutenant Uhura, much like Kirk, was not without her own ambitions, and while the Vulcan she possessed was impeccable, Spock was quick to learn that it was also very limited.
"They don't teach much at the Academy, which is so stupid," she said, echoing Kirk from many months previously, and smiled at him almost shyly - which she was not, and so caught Spock by surprise. "Would you mind teaching me? You have no idea what fluency in Vulcan can do to a communications career."
And so a friendship was born, out of music sessions and Vulcan lessons, and Spock found someone to fill his empty hours that Kirk had filled before. Uhura was a pleasant student, and what she lacked in knowledge of the Vulcan language she made up for in her knowledge of the Vulcan culture. Spock typically disliked teaching female students, for their tendencies to flirt shamelessly and overstep cultural lines, but Uhura made no such moves or mistakes.
Over the four weeks after her invitation to the music club, she became one that Spock would count as a friend, unVulcan as the designation was, and she began to share her personal thoughts and ideas with him. He learned of the engineer she was seeing (when possible) that served on another ship, and of her hopes that she could get a posting as the primary communications officer on that ship in the future, and of her dreams of one day starting a family, but "not until after I have a good career and a good posting under my belt, because I'm not giving up all of this effort just to pop out half-Scottish babies, thank you very much!"
Spock's social circle had quite suddenly doubled, and he suddenly understood that value that Kirk placed in his own friends, and wondered how he had not missed it before.
"Come," Spock called, and the doors to his quarters slid open to Kirk, lounging in the frame and smiling tiredly at him.
"Yeah, I know," Kirk trudged, exhaustion written in every line of his movements, to Spock's chair and hauled it back with impressive strength. "I'm too tired to do anything, I could fall asleep standing up right about now, and I can't pay you the attention you deserve. But I really, really wanted to come and see you."
With that, he dropped heavily into Spock's lap and curled both arms around his neck, bringing them together in a slow, tired, but pleasant kiss that chased away Spock's doubts easily, brushing them aside like fragile cobwebs, and setting up residence in their place.
"I've been neglecting you again," Kirk murmured against his mouth, and kissed away any reply. "And I can't fix it right now, but I reiterate my promise. You, me, the observation lounge, and thoroughly."
"I look forward to it," Spock said quietly, brushing his hand up under Kirk's shirt to feel the smooth skin of his warm back, and the skittering pleasure and contentment and Kirk's usual possessive edge lurking in his nerves.
"Come to bed," Kirk whispered. "I just want to hold you for a bit, but I'll fall asleep. So come to bed with me."
He dragged himself from Spock's thighs and stripped efficiently, leaving his uniform in haphazard piles on the deck, before pulling Spock up and stripping him down as well, pressing kisses to the bared skin as he worked, and pushing him towards the bed.
"I miss waking up with you," he said, as some of sort of unasked-for explanation, and Spock allowed himself to be pushed down into the bed and rearranged into Kirk's position of choice. They settled with Kirk's arms locked in a lazy embrace around Spock's chest, and a stream of idle thought washing over Spock's skin and ghosting along the hairs on his arms.
"Sleep well, Jim," Spock murmured, and felt a kiss land at the juncture of his neck and shoulder.
"I love you."
Spock brushed his slack hands, where they twisted together at his own waist, and hummed a soft agreement as the love - tinged with a strange anxiety - washed through to meet him.
"So there's a different title for the priests of Gol, but not for ordinary temple priests? Hey, Kirk," Uhura added as Kirk appeared with his lunch tray and sank into the seat beside Spock.
"Affirmative," Spock returned, bumping Kirk's fingers with his when he noted the tense expression. "Is everything alright, Jim?"
"Fine," Kirk shrugged, glancing between the pair of them. "Learning Vulcan, Uhura?"
She nodded, rather than speaking through a mouthful of pasta.
"Fair enough," Kirk said, and began to attack his replicated whatever with undue anger.
"Jim, I do not believe that your meal is still alive and in danger of escaping," Spock admonished quietly.
"Yeah, well, I have to be back on the paperwork before the command meeting this afternoon," Kirk said tightly. "Busy again."
And within thirty seconds, only consuming a third of his meal, he was gone again, leaving behind confused stares and bewilderment.
"What's the bug up his ass?" Uhura wondered aloud.
"I do not know."
"Dismissed," Pike said, sitting back at the end of the weekly command meeting. "Spock, Kirk - a moment."
The rest of the command crew filed out, leaving a still-tense Kirk (who had had a collection of padds at his elbow throughout the meeting) and Spock seated, both eyeing the Captain in mute confusion.
"I'm not going to beat around the bush here," Pike said. "Spock, Moore wants you to transfer to his ship for the next contract year."
"What?" Kirk exploded.
Pike held up a hand to silence him. "Moore's Science Officer, Commander Choi, is under question of compromise and has requested a year's transfer to another ship to counter such question. She's married to Moore's CMO," he added helpfully.
That made sense. Officers high in the chain of command often came under question of being compromised when it came to their spouse or significant other, particularly when said partner was also a high-ranking officer. A common - and usually successful - way of counteracting such questions was to accept service contracts aboard separate ships for a lengthy period - usually a year or two years - before returning to shared duty. It was not, of course, mandatory, but many officers found their careers stalling without such proof.
"Captain Moore proposes...an exchange," Spock surmised.
"Exactly," Pike said, and glanced between the two of them. "Frankly, it wouldn't hurt the two of you either."
"Hold it, Kirk. Your official records are quite clear - according to them, you entered a committed relationship when you both appeared aboard my ship. Since then, neither of you have left it. Kirk, you know as well as I do that you are very unlikely to make Captain of any vessel if you've got a compromise question hanging over your head - and it will be your head, because nobody in the brass is going to believe a Vulcan can be compromised. We all know that's bullshit, but it's you they'll be questioning."
Kirk was going an alarming shade of pink.
"The exchange is only for a year, and it would be excellent ammunition against compromise charges when you're up for promotion again, Kirk," Pike said, and glanced sideways at Spock. "Nobody's going to make you do it, but I suggest you both seriously think about it. And a little distance could help the strain you're both under."
"With all due respect, sir, I don't appreciate outside comments on my relationships," Kirk said through gritted teeth, and Pike rolled his eyes.
"Then reprimand the whole ship," he said, "because everybody's noticed it. Just talk it over. Spock, I'll need your answer by the end of the week."
"If..." Spock said, and Kirk shot an icy glare at him. "If I were to accept such an exchange, what would happen at the end of the service year?"
"We'd swap you back," Pike replied. "Moore is quite clear on that one; he wants Choi back. Looking at her service record, I can see why. You'd be right back here at the end of the year, Spock; hell, I wouldn't be considering it if it meant permanently losing my best scientist."
Kirk was still wearing an expression somewhat similar to that of a man being slowly strangled by someone that he very much disliked.
"I'll leave the two of you to discuss it," Pike said, and bowed out gracefully.
The doors had barely slid shut behind him when Kirk slammed both hands down onto the table and snapped, "If?"
"It was merely a hypothetical question, Jim."
"And an unnecessary one! You can't possibly be considering it!" Kirk exclaimed.
"Oh my God," Kirk groaned, closing his eyes. "You are."
"Captain Pike is correct; a separation would be beneficial to your career and your chances of promotion, and..."
"And six weeks ago, you wouldn't even be considering this," Kirk snapped, "and suddenly you want to go off with Uhura to some other ship and leave me for a whole damn year - tell me, Spock, what am I supposed to think about that?"
"Lieutenant Uhura has applied to transfer?"
"I was unaware..."
"No you weren't."
Spock tensed, very aware that Kirk had, effectively, accused him of lying. "Jim, I was wholly unaware of the lieutenant's career choices and I certainly have no intentions of 'following' her to another posting. But a separation would be..."
"Spock, what the hell am I supposed to think? You barely speak to the woman, then suddenly you're going to the music club with her and teaching her Vulcan and eating every meal with her!"
Spock clenched his jaw. "You are supposed to trust me, Jim. She is a friend; nothing more."
"Well, it sure looks like more."
Spock rose. "I will not discuss this issue while you are so agitated."
Kirk shot to his own feet. "I'm telling you what it looks like, Spock! She takes up more of your time than I do, and you don't even work with her, not really!"
"If she 'takes up' my time, then it is purely because I see very little of you. I have tried to be understanding, Jim, but what else am I to do? Sit in my quarters and wait for you to have a gap in the paperwork in which to see me? The lieutenant approached me in friendship, nothing more."
"I know I've been busy, but..."
"Jim. Last night was the first night in four weeks that we have slept in the same bed. We have not had sexual relations in longer, and our last conversation that was not about your duties occurred on our 'date' on Deep Space Four."
"So your response is to go running off to some new posting for a year and never see me in that time?" Kirk exploded. "What the hell, Spock? Is this some passive-aggressive way of breaking up with me? Are you breaking up with me?"
"No," Spock said evenly, "but I have the distinct feeling that you, or rather your jealousy, is breaking up with me."
With that, he swept from the room, without pause to hear Kirk's reply.
Two days later, he found himself in the transporter room with five others who had accepted transfer requests or deals to the Hellenica, including Lieutenant Uhura. He had not seen Kirk in those two days, and felt married to the pain in his side that spoke of the loss of quite possibly the greatest relationship in his life - past and future - and wondered if a year would be long enough for that pain to die, or only grow and defeat him.
"Did Kirk not take it well?" Uhura whispered as they stepped up onto the transporter pad.
"No, he didn't," Kirk's voice interrupted as he swept into the room. "Commander Spock, a word? I won't keep you long."
Spock remembered Pike's enquiry into the status of their relationship with those very words, and felt a pang of bitter humour at the thought as he stepped down.
"Ensign, I'll send the Commander over once I'm done debriefing him," Kirk threw coolly at the transporter operator's head, and marched Spock across the hall into a small conference room, engaging the privacy lock before turning to Spock.
He looked haggard, for lack of a better term. His eyes were painfully dry, and his lips raw from what Spock could only assume was continual biting. He looked tired in a way that Spock had rarely seen him - pinched, almost, as he had after Spock's near-death from hypothermia only a few months ago.
"I'm sorry," Kirk blurted out. "I'm so sorry. I'm a completely jealous, selfish, self-centred prick and I'm so sorry."
"I just...shit, I was so overworked and stressed, and then suddenly you were going off to the music club with Uhura when you'd always ignored her before, and started teaching her Vulcan and eating every meal with her when I never got to see you and...and shit, Spock, she's a knockout. She's a complete knockout, and so are you, and I got...I got scared. I got scared and I got jealous and I got angry, and it's no excuse for any of it, but I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."
He ran both hands through his hair, staring down at the deck for a moment before glancing back up at Spock and resuming.
"I'm just...I'm a possessive bastard. I know I am. And you were suddenly spending all your time with this gorgeous, clever woman and I could just see it. I could just see you choosing her over me, because she wouldn't neglect you like I've been doing, and she'd be with you all the time, and...and it was stupid and idiotic and I'm sorry. It was completely illogical because I know you wouldn't, I know you wouldn't cheat on me, but I just...I let these stupid, stupid doubts get in the way and now you're going to go away for a whole year, and I'm going to miss you so much and I'm..."
He paused, struggling, then his face twisted in a crumpled picture of sheer desperation.
"Please don't leave me," he croaked.
Spock opened his arms.
In a moment, Kirk was there, collapsing into the embrace with fervour and clinging to Spock's back and shoulders like a lifeline. He was shaking slightly, a fine trembling working its way through his muscles, and his breathing was shaky against Spock's neck, where he buried his face and inhaled sharply through his nose.
"Please don't break up with me," Kirk begged. "I love you. I love you so much; I love you with my whole being, and please don't break up with me. I love you more than anything in the world; you are the world, and I've been neglecting you and just a stupid, jealous bastard, and I'm so sorry, but please don't break up with me, please."
"I will not break up with you, if you do not break up with me," Spock said.
"Never," Kirk breathed, squeezing tightly. "I couldn't. I couldn't ever. I love you so much, and I'll be better, I promise. When you come back, I'll be fucking perfect..."
"I doubt that."
"But I'll be better," Kirk insisted. "I won't be so stupid; I won't take you for granted anymore; I won't get jealous of your friends. I promise. Just, God, come back. Don't leave me over this, please."
"I will return, Jim," Spock murmured, smoothing a hand over Kirk's hair and cupping the back of his neck briefly. "It is only for a year."
"You have to comm. me, every week. Every night if you can," Kirk insisted, still clinging on. "And you have to tell me how you are, honestly how you are. And you have to see off all those people who aren't blind and who notice just how amazing and attractive and gorgeous you are. And you have to come home, at the end of that year. You have to come home. Promise me you'll come home."
"I promise, Jim."
Kirk drew back, and kissed him hard, as if trying to steal Spock's soul out from under him and keep it on the Enterprise.
"Be safe," he breathed against Spock's mouth. "Please be safe."
"I will endeavour to..."
"No. You will."
Spock did not reply, opting to return Kirk's kiss instead, and he felt the shaky sigh of acceptance against his mouth as he drew back.
"You...you better get going," Kirk swallowed, still not letting go. "You, um, don't want to be late. Comm. me tonight. Please."
"I love you," Kirk whispered, eyes wide and pleading. Spock registered the look of guilt, and wondered when it would fade.
"I will be back, Jim," he murmured.
"You better be," Kirk finally let go, stepping back but taking Spock's hand with him. "I'll hold you to that. And...and when you do, I'll take you out again. Another big date. Fancy meal and everything."
Spock squeezed his hand and let go.
"I love you," Kirk said again, disengaging the privacy lock.
"And I you," Spock said.
Kirk walked him back into the transporter room and, without a care for the gawping ensign, drew Spock into a long, heartfelt kiss, in which guilt and love and possession and shaking anxiety crossed between them.
"Same time next year, then?" Kirk chuckled wetly, stepping down.
And he was gone.